John Waters has penned all his books in Provincetown, Mass., and most of his movies, too. The iconic indie filmmaker of such campy classics as “Female Trouble” and “Hairspray” was born and raised in Baltimore, but it’s the “gay fishing village” on the tip of Cape Cod where he’s been summering for the past 53 years, writing in the mornings and bicycling about town.
Waters has also been a steady and celebrated fixture at the Provincetown Intl. Film Festival, kicking off its 20th edition June 13, enticing filmmakers to attend the event.
“I usually write one of the letters to every director that’s come to the fest talking them into coming, and I think every one of them has had a great time,” says Waters, who will present “Tangerine” and “The Florida Project” writer-director Sean Baker with the fest’s Filmmaker on the Edge award.
“Baker would make the best spy,” says Waters. “He really should, because he can sneak into any community, ones probably very different from the ones I imagine in which he was raised, and get complete trust from the actors he puts in his movies. ‘The Florida Project’ was an amazing movie, but I also really liked ‘Prince of Broadway,’ which is one of his lesser-known films, but just as good, and I think it’s very important to point that out.”
The fest will also have a heavy female slant this year, with all five of its Spotlight films directed by women. Madeleine Olnek’s “Wild Nights With Emily,” starring Molly Shannon as reclusive 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson, will open the fest, and Shannon will receive PIFF’s Excellence in Acting award from author and film scholar B. Ruby Rich.
“It’s is the New England premiere of ‘Wild Nights,’” says Shannon, who earned an Emmy nomination for her work on “Saturday Night Live” and plays an erratic and emotionally charged housewife on HBO’s “Divorce,” created by Sharon Horgan and starring Sarah Jessica Parker. “The movie was inspired by an article in the New York Times [entitled “Beethoven’s Hair Tells All”] that documented how science is allowing us to understand new things about historical figures. In Emily Dickinson’s case, it was about infrared technologies that were being used to examine erasures in Dickinson’s letters. These were the letters Emily had written to her brother Austin, when she learned of his engagement to Susan [with whom Dickinson was in love].”
While historically personified as a depressive martyr and eccentric feminist who never married because she failed to find romantic love with a man, “Wild Nights” presents a much different reality, one in which Dickinson’s love poems were not addressed to men, but to Susan Gilbert Dickinson, the real object of her affection. But Susan’s name was erased.
“I usually write one of the letters to every director that’s come to the fest talking them into coming, and I think everyone of them has had a great time.”
“We worked with a historian who is very well versed on Emily, so it’s a very accurate account,” says Shannon. “They sold Emily as a spinster to the public because they thought that would be easier to sell, but the truth is that she was in love with her brother’s wife. She did the best she could do at the time, and they kept their romance hidden for years. Emily was was actively trying to get published, but she was up against a lot of men. She was hungry, she wanted her writing published. That’s the whole reason I wanted to do this film. We need to tell more true stories about what it was really like for women, these historical figures. Emily wrote these poems for Susan. She was her everything. So now, when you read Dickinson’s work, you can read them with different feeling. They painted her as a woman who had all these broken romances, but really she thought these men were just goofy.”
Chloe Grace Moretz, recipient of PIFF’s New Wave award, brings another female-driven film to P-Town crowds in the way of “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” the Sundance Grand Jury winner about a teenage girl in the 1990s whose guardian forces her into gay-conversion therapy.
“Coming from a family with two gay brothers, it was never a question in my mind as to whether or not advocate for LGBTQ+ rights,” says Moretz. “It was just how our lives were and what we fought for on a daily basis. Being able to step into the shoes of my character Cameron taught me so much, emotionally. Learning her strength and perseverance taught me to recognize the strength which is inside all of us. I learned so much about conversion therapy and the reality that LGBTQ+ youth in our country face. I hope the movie opens people’s eyes. We should all be out there advocating and fighting for LGBTQ+ rights.”
Other fest events includes A “Modern Love Live” podcast event, featuring live readings of the popular New York Times column essays, and a closing night screening of Ondi Timoner’s “Mapplethorpe,” which stars Matt Smith as the countercultural photographer from the 1970s and ’80s.