“It’s sort of a re-launch,” says Anne Hubbell, the Provincetown Film Society’s new executive director, of the upcoming 24th annual Provincetown International Film Festival. The event was shut down and largely online for the last two years because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We wanted everyone to be in town,” she says, though shorts programs will still be streamable online. All the screenings will be at four theaters — Provincetown Town Hall, the Art House 1 and 2, and Waters Edge Cinema — plus two revival screenings on MacMillan Pier (Waiting for Guffman and The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love). Unlike last year, nothing is scheduled at the Wellfleet Drive-In.
“We had to find the muscle memory of doing an in-person festival again,” Hubbell continues. “We wanted to get it right. Going to the cinema is such a great communal experience. And we’re Covid-minded. We’ll be asking people to wear masks in the theaters.”
Plans for the festival were tentative at first because of the explosion of the Omicron variant in January. “Sundance had to cancel its live festival just two weeks before it was to begin,” Hubbell says. “We had to start planning later than usual, and we weren’t sure what scope the festival would be.”
Hubbell was hired last fall, after two years of turnover at the film society, with two executive directors come and gone. Covid depressed revenues at Waters Edge Cinema, which the film society owns, and made fundraising deeply challenging.
Hubbell is a producer who works for Eastman Kodak, where she deals with filmmakers who want to shoot on actual film (as opposed to digital). “I’ve made movies that have shown at the Provincetown festival,” Hubbell says. “I’ve been here wearing a lot of hats before I took the job.”
She’s originally from Miami and got her B.F.A. in photography from the University of Georgia. An internship with a film production company led Hubbell to Boston, where she started producing theater. She ran a media center in Atlanta, then moved to New York City and started producing films. Since Covid, she has moved to Shelter Island, off New York’s Long Island, and, with her film society job, to Provincetown.
“I love Provincetown — who doesn’t?” Hubbell says. “I’ve been coming in the summer all the time. When this opportunity arose, it was exciting to me. Rebuilding something is a nice challenge. And the festival has a great reputation.”
This year, the programmers, led by artistic director Lisa Viola, have put together a “solid lineup,” Hubbell says.
Opening night (Wednesday, June 15) is Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, starring Emma Thompson as a retired schoolteacher who hires a hunky sex worker to help her experience her first orgasm. On Thursday afternoon, “Next Wave” honorees Bowen Yang and Jenny Slate will be in conversation with comedian Judy Gold. Yang is here with his new gay Asian romcom, Fire Island, and Slate is coming with a feature-length adaptation of her digitally animated character Marcel the Shell.
“I always remind people of the ‘I’ in PIFF — for ‘International,’ ” Hubbell says, and indeed, there are screenings of films from around the world at this year’s festival, among them One Second, from China’s Zhang Yimou; Both Sides of the Blade, from French auteur Claire Denis; Lonesome, an Australian gay male romance; and Klondike, about farmers in the war-torn Donbas region of Ukraine.
“We try to be as diverse as possible,” Hubbell adds. “There are works by women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ filmmakers.” Wildhood, for example, is about a Native Canadian teen, and Beba is an Afro-Latina coming-of-age chronicle. There are many queer titles on hand — such as Todd Flaherty’s drag comedy Chrissy Judy, partially shot in Provincetown — though a healthy mix keeps things interesting for a variety of audiences.
Documentaries are always a high point at the festival, and this year is no exception. Biographical portraits of radical feminist Andrea Dworkin, author Patricia Highsmith, and lesbian icon Esther Newton will be screened, along with documentaries on the proto-gay catalog International Male, Scottish imposter Brandon Lee, and the Gullah homeland deeded by General Sherman after the Civil War.
On Sunday, Filmmaker on the Edge Luca Guadagnino will be interviewed by Provincetown’s own John Waters, and Excellence in Acting honoree Dale Dickey will be in conversation with critic Thelma Adams.
In addition to the festival, Hubbell is energized by the year-round programming at Waters Edge Cinema. “I love that Provincetown has a full-time movie theater,” she says. “It’s a big asset to the community. It engages people by bringing storytelling to the arts scene.”
Future events have been planned at the Mary Heaton Vorse house, and there is a full lineup of titles during Women’s Week in October. And Hubbell is already eyeing next year’s film festival. “It’s the 25th anniversary,” she says. “We’re going to focus a lot of energy on that.”
Five Days That Screen the World
The event: The 24th Provincetown International Film Festival
The time: June 15-19
The place: Town hall, Art House, Waters Edge Cinema, and MacMillan Pier, with parties around town
The cost: Passes ($300-$1,500) and individual tickets ($20; $30-$35 for events and special screenings) at provincetownfilm.org