Five Questions With... Tim Wilkime (MILTON)

In MILTON, a guy makes a bad first impression when he meets his girlfriend’s family as they gather at her grandfather’s deathbed.

We spoke with Writer/Director Tim Wilkime about the film. The first screening is sold out, so catch the second in the Laugh Out Loud block on Sat, June 22 at 4:15pm!


NFF: Please say a little about your inspiration for the film.

TIM: Milton was based off of a personal experience I had watching my wife’s grandmother take her final breath in hospice. The family was in the room but they were catching up with each other so there were unaware of the grandmother’s passing. I had to break the news to them. It was a very surreal, uncomfortable and emotional experience but it all played out pretty normally. Years later, when I started writing shorts, I thought it would be funny to revisit that experience and write it as if it were an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” but with a meek man that keeps putting his foot in his mouth.

NFF: Why (or how) do you use comedy to tell your story?

TIM: My background is in comedy directing so comedy is naturally where I go as a storyteller. Usually I work in sketch where the jokes and performances can be pretty broad but with Milton, being a dramedy, I wanted to ground the humor as much as possible. I thought if the comedy came from a honest and relatable place the emotional moments would be more impactful.

NFF: What do you find the biggest advantages and challenges of making a short as opposed to a feature?

TIM: One of the great things about shorts is that you can take bigger risks than with features. My short is pretty grounded in reality but I have kind of an abstracted ending that I don’t think I’d be able to get away with if this were a feature. Audiences embrace bold choices from a short because shorts don’t really have a traditional structure and set of rules that you have to follow. The biggest challenge with making a short is just putting the production together. You usually end up self-funding it and wearing a lot more hats than you’re used to. It can get discouraging at times but the key is just surrounding yourself with a team of people that believe in the project as much as you do.

NFF: What are you working on currently, and/or where can we see more of your work?

TIM: Currently I’m writing a feature that I hope to be making in the next year. I also directed two episodes of “Adam Ruins Everything” that will be airing later this year on TruTV. You can find my work at

NFF: Why are you excited to screen in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences might relate to or takeaway from the film?

TIM: As an audience member, there’s no better feeling than being in a theater full of people laughing. The hope is for MILTON to do that for the people of Nantucket. 

Five Questions With... Thomas Matthews (LOST HOLIDAY)

Back home in Washington, DC, for the holidays, a young woman and her irresponsible friends find themselves embroiled in an unexpected adventure involving kidnapping, drugs, and extortion. LOST HOLIDAY features Kate Lyn Sheil, Thomas Matthews, William Jackson Harper, and Joshua Leonard.

Writer/director/producer/actor Thomas Matthews answered our five questions in the video below - take a look, and see LOST HOLIDAY on Thurs, June 20 at 6:45pm and/or Sat, June 22 at 2pm!

Five Questions With... Alison Chernick (JACKSON POLLOCK: BLUE POLES)

JACKSON POLLOCK: BLUE POLES is the true story behind the extraordinary price tag of Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles—now considered one of the most expensive paintings in the world, and one whose purchase almost brought down the Australian government.

We spoke with filmmaker Alison Chernick about this documentary short - learn more, and see it on Thursday, June 20 at 9am in the “Show and Tell” block!


NFF: Please say a little about your inspiration for, or how you found your subject of the film.

ALISON: I was a close friend of collector/dealer Ben Heller who was responsible for getting Pollock’s work into the mainstream. He had followed my work for a while and asked me to do a film on Pollock and abstract expressionism.  When The National Gallery of Australia came to him regarding Blue Poles- which he had sold to them in 1973 - he referred me to them and this jumpstarted the project.

NFF: You're in the documentary block. How do you balance entertainment value with a factual accounting of events?

ALISON: For me I stick to facts. Truth is often stranger than fiction. It’s about how you weave the story. 

NFF: What do you find the biggest advantages and challenges of making a short as opposed to a feature?

ALISON: A short is much easier in terms of story, financing, time management.  It’s harder in terms of traditional viewer platforms. But you can’t worry about any of that you just have to let the story / subject dictate the length. Many stories can be told concisely. 

NFF: What are you working on currently, and/or where can we see more of your work?

ALISON: Working on a narrative project. Along with another documentary involving the art world.

NFF: Why are you excited to screen in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences might relate to or takeaway from the film?

ALISON: Heard it was a great festival!


Five Questions With... Jeremiah Zagar, Director of WE THE ANIMALS

Adapted from the magical realist novel by Justin Torres, this Sundance award-winning film depicts three inseparable brothers growing up in a volatile household. Jeremiah Zagar brings the audience into intimate proximity with the boys, who watch, without always comprehending, the troubled relationship between their parents (Raúl Castillo, Sheila Vand), and, in their own ways, emulate them. The perspective of the youngest son, Jonah (Evan Rosado), who recognizes that he is different from his brothers, takes center stage in this poetic and impressionist coming-of-age story of self-discovery.

Read more with director Jeremiah Zagar below, and see WE THE ANIMALS on Wed, June 20 at 8:30pm and/or Thurs, June 21 at 5:30pm!

JEREMIAH ZAGAR photo credit Mike Kamber

photo credit Mike Kamber

NFF: Can you talk a little about the challenge in adapting a book to film?

Jeremiah: After I read the book and Justin Torres said yes to having me adapt it for the screen, I brought on my friend Daniel Kitrosser, whom I’ve known since High School, to co-write the script as he had a very similar sexual experience in his upbringing to the young man in the book. Our starting point was the two of us sitting there and translating the novel directly to the screen. After participating in the Sundance Labs program, we realized there’s much more work to do. We remained as true as possible to the book, but we had to change certain things for it to work cinematically such as having the story take place over the course of one year instead of many years so the audience could have a deeper emotional connection with the characters.

NFF: How did you come to the idea of using animation?

Jeremiah: We needed to get into the interior mind of the young main character, Jonah, so at first, we just had shots of the still drawings on the page. After watching the first cut of the film, it became clear that it wasn’t enough to see these drawings laying flat on the screen. With my background being in animation and using it in my previous films, it was a go-to that made complete sense to me. Everyone involved loved the idea so we went with it.

NFF: How did you find your remarkable child actors, and what was it like building a family with them on set?

Jeremiah: We had an incredible Grassroots Casting Director Marlena Skrobe. We worked with her previously, as she was actually an intern at Public Record, the production company Jeremy Yaches and I are partners in.  Marlena went around the city and saw around one thousand kids for the film. But not only did we have to find three incredible actors, but three incredible actors that felt like brothers. I’d say finding them was less of a challenge and more of a miracle.

Once we found our cast, it was all about creating an environment on and off set where they could feel like they lived together. That was important to us as it created a beautiful bond between the actors that is intangible yet still present when watching the movie.

NFF: Did you face any challenges or surprises while filming?

Jeremiah: Everything was a challenge and a surprise.

NFF: Why are you excited to screen in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences might relate to or takeaway from the film?

Jeremiah: I hear Nantucket is a beautiful place and I wish I could be there with you.

Five Questions With... Jesse Peretz, Director of JULIET, NAKED

Annie (Rose Byrne) is in a rut. Her long-term boyfriend, Duncan (Chris O’Dowd), is more devoted to the music of faded singer-songwriter Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke) than he is to their relationship. When an unreleased demo of Tucker’s acclaimed 25-year-old album surfaces—prompting the reclusive artist's own reemergence—Annie and Duncan’s routine existence is upended in unpredictable ways. Based on the best-selling novel by Nick Hornby, JULIET, NAKED is an insightful and charming romantic comedy.

We spoke with JULIET, NAKED director Jesse Peretz about the film. Read more with him below, and see the film on Thurs, June 21 at 1pm and/or Fri, June 22 at 3:34pm!



NFF: Can you talk about your inspiration for the film (visual or story-wise)?

Jesse: It is hard to be entering into the world of film adaptations of Nick Hornby novels without siting ABOUT A BOY and HIGH FIDELITY as key references. Both are movies I adore.  But I would also say that a key part of my life that I kept coming back to while we were developing this project was my days in the late ‘80s and beginning of the ‘90s when I was the bassist of the band The Lemonheads, and lived a life pretty ensconced in the pre-Nirvana punk/indie music scene.  This was the world that our character Tucker Crowe lived in back in his mythologized past, and so exploring those memories were key to defining who he was.

NFF: Which music artists or musical forms are you personally obsessed with?

Jesse: My musical obsessions over the years have bounced around between ‘60s soul (I remember being given a Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrellalbum in 1977 that was spinning non-stop on my turntable for a year), Be Bop Jazz and Punk Rock.  In particular I would say that Elvis Costelloand Big Star are probably the artists I have clocked the most hours in my life consuming and re-consuming.  This is music that never gets old to me.

NFF: How did you decide or collaborate on the way the music in the film should sound

Jesse: Obviously for this film the music was of extra importance in the shaping of the film and the story, as who Tucker Crowe is/was as a musical figure is central to the story.  My friend (and musical collaborator on almost of my projects) Nathan Larson and I have a deep history of shared loved music (and being in bands that toured together), so we (along with our brilliant music supervisor, Maggie Philips) listened to a lot of music from the period and styles we thought Tucker Crowe would have lived and worked in, and narrowed in on what we found most compelling directions to follow.  But then we included a number of song writers in the process by putting out an appeal for original songs with these influences in mind, and saw what kind of songs came back.  We used the ones that we felt best served the vibe we were looking for - and of course the ones we liked the most.  Then Nathan and Ethan Hawke went and spent a bunch of days in the studio recording them, and putting their own spin and inspiration into the session.  It was a very exciting process, but also filled with dead ends that were often filled with frustration.

NFF: Did you face any challenges or surprises while filming?

Jesse: We shot the entire film in England (even though a bit of it takes place in New York State), and it was a shock for me to learn how strict the English were about sticking to a 10 hour day - something almost unheard of in the US.  I couldn’t imagine how we could responsibly go into each day knowing we would get what we need in those hours, but to my surprise it was not only completely doable (with a few exceptions) but also created a working environment that was mentally so much more focused, civil and calm.  People came to work having had a good night’s sleep and a life since we wrapped the afternoon before.

NFF: Why are you excited to screen in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences might relate to or takeaway from the film?

Jesse: I am very excited to bring the film to the audience in Nantucket.  I hope that people connect with what I believe are universal themes of second chances and the struggles to conquer our fears we have failed the ones who need us most.  Mostly I hope that people find it both entertaining and emotionally honest.

Five Questions With... Raúl Castillo, Actor in WE THE ANIMALS and ATLANTIC CITY

You may recognize actor Raúl Castillo from his TV work in such shows as HBO's Looking or Netflix's Seven Seconds. But he's also accumulated quite a film career, including his performances in #NFF18 feature film WE THE ANIMALS and short film ATLANTIC CITY. Read more with this dynamic actor, and see his films next week!


NFF: Both of these characters could be considered similar: working class men trying to do the best they can in difficult circumstances. Are these the kind of roles you seek out, or do people see these these roles in you?

Raúl: I shot ATLANTIC CITY right after WE THE ANIMALS - it was that same summer. I remember the process of ANIMALS was so intense and so beautiful, but I wanted something to jump into right away that was very different. It's great that you see through-lines, because in the moment, it felt very different to me. ANIMALS came through my representatives and I auditioned for it and I'm so proud of it. But the ATLANTIC CITY director, Miguel Alvarez  - I've known him for 16 or 17 years - I made my first short film with him. We've collaborated on a number of projects over the years. I guess now that we're talking about it, those roles are also similar to Richie on Looking - a combination of masculinity and vulnerability is what they're looking for.

NFF: And that seems like a new kind of man in film, at least in the last handful of years. Are you seeing or hearing a conversation around sensitivity in men being represented onscreen? 

Raúl: You know, my father didn't cook or change diapers. I see my friends and their relationships to their sons are way different now than in the past. I mean, I'm surrounded by artists and sensitive people,  but I do think the culture is shifting. I hope so. Even the way people are seeking these stories out and media is changing and stories are being told. People are demanding there be a broad range of cultural representation.

NFF: On one of these films you worked with friends that you've known for almost 20 years. Do you think chemistry is important? Do you like to have a personal relationship when you work?

Raúl: Yes, although not everyone is like that. It confuses me when I come up against that. I feel like as an art form it's all about getting personal, and sometimes that's not always comfortable. And then sometimes not being personal IS the chemistry. It depends on the character. Because I didn't train as an actor, I have to reinvent the wheel every time. 

NFF: I've heard the saying that you can't judge your character as an actor - do you agree? 

Raúl: I believe with few exceptions there are no good or bad people, just people who do good and bad things. When you judge your character, you die. You have to understand the why. With Pops [in WE THE ANIMALS], the more I learn about men in my own family, the more I can understand where he's coming from. Abuse is cycled and passed down and everyone is just trying their best. That's the way I have to approach people I'm playing and that character in particular. The novel is written with so much love, that even though he does frightening, at times horrific things, I have to honor the love that was there.

NFF: What do you hope audiences take away from WE THE ANIMALS?

Raúl: If we did the novel justice, the audience is in for a pretty beautiful ride. The kids in this film - I'm just so proud of them and their work and they were so fascinating to share that experience with. I hope people are infected by their charm and their brilliance the way I was. 





Five Questions With... Oscar-nominated Gabourey Sidibe, Director of THE TALE OF FOUR

We're so thrilled to host our Afternoon Tea Talk at #NFF17 on Sunday, June 25 at 2:15pm with Oscar-nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe (Empire, Precious), who will be presenting her directorial debut, THE TALE OF FOUR

This multi-layered story inspired by Nina Simone’s “Four Women” spans one day in the lives of four different women connected by their quest for love, agency and redemption. Featuring Jussie Smollett (Empire) and Ledisi.

Gabourey’s directorial debut is part of Refinery29’s Shatterbox Anthology short film series, which works to cultivate and spotlight the voices of women behind the camera, in order to provide emerging female filmmakers with the support to realize their creative vision.

We spoke with Gabourey about her film - read more below, and join us for tea, treats, a screening and conversation on Sunday!

Gabourey Sidibe

Gabourey Sidibe

NFF: What peaked your interest in directing? Was it this story specifically, or had you been thinking about it for awhile? 

Gabourey: One of my producers, Kia Perry had the idea to adapt Nina Simone's song, Four Women, into a short film and she let me hear the song and I could see the entire story unfolding as I listened. Listening to this song, is what peaked the director in me. I had never thought about directing before that moment. 

NFF: Are there directors whose style you wanted to emulate, and/or directors who inspire you?

Gabourey: I'm inspired by many of the directors I've worked with like Sanna Hamri, Victoria Mahoney and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. I'm also inspired by directors I want to work with directors who change the way people of color see themselves like Ava DuVurnay and Dee Rees.

NFF: Were you familiar with the Nina Simone song prior to the film and/or did you use it for inspiration in any way while you were preparing?

Gabourey: I'd never heard the song before the idea of turning it into a film but while prepping the film, I listened to the song over and over and googled Nina Simone performances pretty much non stop because we wanted the world of the film to feel and look as much like a world Nina Simone would fit into as possible. We wanted the film to feel the way Miss Simone's made us feel with her music. 

NFF: What surprised or challenged you the most while you were making the film?

Gabourey: What surprised me is how much I loved directing. How much I loved making decisions about everything. Big decisions from how a love scene should be shot, to small decisions like the color of nail polish on a teenagers hand. They are both really important decisions to make because every decision drives the entire story forward.  

NFF: Why are you excited to show the film in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences will take away?

Gabourey: I'm so excited to show the film in Nantucket! For one, I've always wanted to visit Nantucket. Among other locations, I've planned many excursions and weekend trips to Nantucket in computer class when I was a broke teenager in high school who obviously couldn't afford to go on an actual trip at all. I've always felt drawn to the beauty and serenity of Nantucket and finally I get to visit it in the most amazing way! Through my film! Through art.  And what my art is intending to do, is to encourage audiences to walk away feeling a greater connection to the humanity, the sensitivity and the grace of the quiet struggles our neighbor shoulder.  By telling the stories of these four women Nina Simone sang about, we are honoring Nina, we honor our mothers, our communities and ourselves. We hope to encourage the audience to do the same after watching our film. 

Five Questions With... Angus MacLachlan, Writer/Director of ABUNDANT ACREAGE AVAILABLE

Following the death of their father, brother and sister Jesse (Terry Kinney) and Tracy (Amy Ryan) must decide whether to continue to run the family farm or make a change in their lives. Their choice is complicated by the arrival of another group of siblings, who set up camp and claim a surprising connection to their land. Executive produced by Martin Scorsese and written and directed by Angus MacLachlan (Goodbye to All That, NFF 2014), ABUNDANT ACREAGE AVAILABLE wrestles with questions of family, legacy, and generational responsibility.

Read more with writer/director Angus MacLachlan below, and come see a screening on Friday, June 23 at 2:15 PM and/or Saturday, June 24 at 9:00 PM!

NFF: Do you have siblings? Was the story influenced or inspired by any personal relationships?

Angus: I do, actually, have two brothers. But that realization didn’t really occur to me until late in the project. I can’t say the specifics of this piece were inspired by actual events, but as we were making it there were many events that mirrored the story. In fact, my father died a week after we finished shooting the film.

NFF: Can you talk a little about casting, and how your actors came to the project? Did you write this with any of them in mind?

Angus: I do not write with specific actors in mind, wanting to create characters first. I had a relationship with a wonderful agent at Gersh, Rhonda Price, who read the script and suggested Amy Ryan. She then gave it to Amy’s agent. Steve Coulter, who plays Charles, had been in my last film, and we actually went to school together. Terry, Francis, and Max came about through luck and flukes and much good fortune.

NFF: The location is integral to the story. How did you find and decide on your location? Where did you shoot?

Angus: We shot it where it is set in East Bend, NC. Which is about 40 minutes from where I live. I had imagined the story there, and then wanted to shoot there. To find the actual farm I drove around East Bend and came upon the house, which was empty. It had been a rental, but empty for a year or so. I had to do some sleuthing to find out the owner, Thad Joe Matthews. And then had to convince him that we would take good care of his property. It was such a perfect embodiment of what I had imagined.

NFF: A few of your actors come from a theatre background, and film is notoriously short on time for rehearsal. Did having theatre actors on set change the way you rehearsed or prepared?

Angus: We had a day before we started shooting to rehearse with everyone. Of course I had had one on one discussions with each actor prior. And, yes, I would say all the actors had theatre technique and came prepared. This helped with the amount of dialogue that everyone had. And also resulted in a very close relationship between the cast.

NFF: Why are you excited to show the film in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences will take away?

Angus: My experience at the Festival with my last film, GOODBYE TO ALL THAT, in 2014 made me feel the Nantucket audiences were some of the most responsive, savvy viewers my film had. They seem appreciative of film. I hope this movie will be resonant. It truly is about ‘letting go’. And the idea that no matter what we possess, or earn, or hold on to, no matter who we love in this life - we will all have to let go of it at some point. And how hard that is to do. 

Amy Ryan in Abundant Acreage Available

Amy Ryan in Abundant Acreage Available

Five Questions With... Alexandra Dean, director of BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY

Screening on Opening Day of #NFF17, BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY shares with the audience an unseen side of Hedy's private life.

Good looks made Hedy Lamarr a 1940s Hollywood siren, but her beautiful mind earned her a spot in technology history. During World War II, the Austrian Jewish émigrée developed a secret communications system that she hoped would help defeat the Nazis—one that would later serve as the basis for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Weaving in archival interviews with the glamorous actress, this film for lovers of history, Hollywood, and science reveals Lamarr's under-acknowledged role as a pioneering inventor.

We spoke with producer/director Alexandra Dean - read more below, and join us for the film on Wednesday, June 21 at 1:30 PM and/or Thursday, June 22 at 9:30 AM!

NFF: What prompted your interest in/fascination with Hedy Lamarr?

Alexandra: I have always wanted to know why there aren't more female inventors. Inventing is so creative, and it shapes the world we live in. I wrote about inventors for Businessweek and did television segments and I was always surprised at how few women identified themselves as inventors. The women I did profile told me they felt like pioneers because they had no role models who came before them. That's changing now with Hidden Figures, but at the time it seemed true that women didn't see technology and invention as their domain. I refused to believe there were no female inventors that changed America and I suspected the women who came before were simply forgotten, but I didn't know for sure. Then a colleague gave me Hedy's Folly by Richard Rhodes and i was delighted to discover that hollywood star Hedy Lamarr was an amateur inventor. As I read and read my eyes turned to saucers... she really did invent something that changed the world, and the only reason we don't know it today is that she was so far ahead of her time. Her invention went unrecognized partly because it seemed so unlikely someone known as "the most beautiful girl in the world" could turn out to be among the most brilliant as well. But she was! The story seemed incredibly timely and surprising so I jumped at the chance to make a documentary about it.

NFF: Do you think Hedy was a product of or a victim of the time she was born into?

Alexandra: Both. I think Hedy was an extremely strong woman who rejected the idea that she was a victim of her circumstances at every turn (she convinced Louis B Mayer to make her a star while fleeing war torn Europe! She invented a secret weapon to fight the nazis! She was among the first movie stars to produce her own films!) but eventually, over time, she did become a victim despite her best efforts to remain in control and powerful. The world applauded her beauty and her style and ignored her mind and her achievements out of the spotlight. Finally, worn down by drug use and ridicule from the press, she did start to believe that her own self worth was in her looks and not in her other qualities. Thank God the world started to recognize her as a brilliant inventor just before she died and she did see a glimpse of the legacy she left behind, which was all about her mind and not at all about her famous face.

NFF: Why do you think women face the challenge of being beautiful or smart, but not both?

Alexandra: In my edit suite, I propped up a note that reads: "this is a film about power" to remind myself that the question of power is really what lies behind our endless discussions about women, beauty and brains. Being beautiful and smart are two forms of power, and for whatever reason women are usually allowed to own one of those forms of power, but not both. Perhaps its because, traditionally, being a great beauty is about having the timeless female power of seduction; being something that other people want to posses, an object of lust, obsession, reverence. It's a passive power. The power of "being smart" on the other hand, is an active power that allows the person wielding it to take control of their own narrative. In the great literature of the world pre-1950 that person was traditionally male: the subject in the drama of life, not an object. Hedy tried to transition from the traditional passive power of being a trophy wife and a renowned beauty into an active role as an inventor that changed the world. That transition is what the public resisted. Even today women struggle to exist on both sides of that line: powerful for their beauty and their brains. It's like society says: decide, you are either going to take the traditionally male role or the female one, but you can't have power in both spheres. Perhaps in the future the world won't remain so gendered in its power structures. In fact, I see those bright lines becoming dimmer all the time and that gives me hope. I think we will live in a much more interesting world when we can really mix it up. Why not?

NFF: What surprised or challenged you the most while you were making the film?

Alexandra: The biggest challenge when I started making this film is that I could not find Hedy's voice anywhere. She never talked about inventing in TV interviews and only mentioned it casually a handful of times in her print interviews. The invention and how she invented it remained shrouded in mystery. There was an autobiography but it was very salacious. I didn't want to base the documentary on her book "Ecstasy and Me" because she sued the ghostwriter for $21 million claiming it was all lies. So I would go to bed every night dreaming that somewhere I would find tapes of Hedy talking about her life and telling us answers to all the mysteries about her. Finally I decided that I had to stop dreaming about the tapes and just go out and find them. My whole team divided up the names of everyone who had ever talked to Hedy Lamarr on the record, and after about six months of searching we found Fleming Meeks, a reporter who interviewed her for a short article in 1990. When he picked up the phone he said, "I've been waiting 25 years for you to call, because I had the tapes." I got chills and half an hour later we ran into his office with the camera running and that's the scene you see in the film when Fleming says he just found the last tape hidden behind his trash can. Once we made that discovery, Hedy's voice took control of the narrative and we scrapped the film we'd been trying to make in favor of a new one with Hedy at the helm.

NFF: Why are you excited to show the film in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences will take away?

Alexandra: I'm excited to show the film in Nantucket because I think the crowd here are an incredible group of people really in love with film and storytelling. It'll be in this gorgeous place where we can drink wine on the water and talk power and gender politics and sexy movie stars. I absolutely can't wait.

I hope Nantucket audiences will come away from this film remembering Hedy's wisdom at the end: When you are bold the world might kick you in the teeth and everything you build may burn to the ground. Do it anyway. 

Five Questions With... Pamela Yates, director of 500 YEARS

Our first filmmaker to tackle this year's "Five Questions With..." series is Pamela Yates, director of the powerful documentary 500 YEARS, which is this year's Facing History and Ourselves selection. 

500 YEARS completes Yates’s epic trilogy about Guatemala, which launched in 1983 and contributed to the downfall of the nation’s dictator. Building on her previous work but accessible on its own, this sweeping story of resistance culminates in a genocide trial and the ouster of a corrupt president. The film bears witness to the experiences of the persecuted indigenous Mayan population and celebrates its emergence as a powerful political force poised to usher in a new age of hope.

Read more with Pamela below, and join us on Saturday, June 24 at 3:45 PM at White Heron for the screening, followed by a conversation with Yates, subject Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj, and Marc Skvirsky of Facing History and Ourselves. 

NFF: 500 Years is the third in a trilogy of films documenting the Mayan / Guatemalan struggle. What brought you to this story originally, and why have you felt compelled to return to it?

Yates: I was working as a location sound recordist in Nicaragua and El Salvador in the early 1980s when I heard about a hidden uprising centered in the indigenous highlands of Guatemala.  The Guatemalan journalists trying to cover this story were being disappeared, tortured and murdered. I knew that the United States had overthrown the democratically elected government of Jacobo Árbenz in 1954, leaving a legacy of brutal military dictatorships. So as a U.S. citizen and filmmaker, I felt a responsibility to investigate the continuing role of the U.S. in human rights violations and to get this story out.

Guatemala wrapped its arms around my soul and never let me go. There is something so beautiful and spiritual about the country and its people. Yet it’s a country rich in resources that keeps its citizens in poverty. I’ve continued to tell the story of Mayan resistance over 35 years, with 3 films, because it is one epic story of determined resistance. And the films have had and continue to have universal resonance because they embody themes of justice, the quest for a sustainable planet, and indigenous rights while decrying greed, corruption, and racism.

I think it’s important for documentary filmmakers to stay connected to people and places where we’ve told stories. Not necessarily to make another film, but to make sure our relationships continue. We’re not rich, but we have rich lives.

NFF: Is there anything you've seen or learned from these stories that give you hope for the power of resistance in other cultures?

Yates: The whole idea for The Resistance Saga, which includes our trilogy of films about Guatemala, When the Mountains Tremble (1983), Granito: How to Nail a Dictator (2011) and my new film here at the festival, 500 YEARS (2017), is to learn from the wisdom of Mayan resistance and how it may apply to better our lives. With the rise of authoritarian governments here and around the world, we will have to be smart and creative about resisting the advances of conservatism to take away our civil rights. It may be only once that I will get to present my lifetime of work precisely at the moment when it is most needed.

NFF: How willing were the interviewees you spoke with and documented to give you access to their lives and stories? 

Yates: When I was a young child growing up in the Appalachian mountains, and a new family moved into our neighborhood, my parents would send me over to find out all about them. I was naturally curious and interested, I was open to new people and ideas.  And that quality has served me so well as a documentary filmmaker.

Access is about building relationships, and it takes time and honesty. I make films independently because I want to take the time to get to know people, and to collaborate with the protagonists in the telling of each story. In 500 YEARS we are modeling a much more collaborative model of non-fiction storytelling by involving the protagonists not only during the production but also in our multi-year outreach and engagement campaigns, when we take the film out into the world together.

Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj, a Mayan leader, journalist, scholar and public intellectual will be with me here at the festival, speaking with the film.

NFF: Do you feel that you've now completed this story? Or are there more films to come from the Mayan / Guatemalan people?

Yates: The saga of the Mayans of Guatemala began well before I began making When the Mountains Tremble and will continue well after 500 YEARS. The next generation of Guatemalan filmmakers are coming on strong, and I’m confident that they will continue the story with vibrant innovations and their own style of storytelling.

NFF: What do you hope Nantucket audiences will see / take away from this film?

Yates: I hope that Nantucket audiences will know that resistance is a life long commitment to social change and that they will be inspired by the Mayans of Guatemala who have been resisting for 500 years, since the conquest. I want to galvanize newly minted activists – those who went to the Women’s March on Washington last January, or everyone who traveled to the encampment at Standing Rock – to be emboldened and energized by the creative movement building they’ll see in500 YEARS.  Our extended discussion after the film will center this idea.

Photo Credit: Daniel Hernández-Salazar

Photo Credit: Daniel Hernández-Salazar