Q&A: Mystelle Brabbée, Director of the 18th Annual Nantucket Film Festival

Brabbée talks yearly attractions, celeb sightings, and the screenings you absolutely can't miss this year.

Coming to the fine island off the coast of Cape Cod for the last week in June is the 18th annual Nantucket Film Festival. It distinguishes itself as a festival that honors storytellers, and promotes “cultural awareness and appreciation of the art of screenwriting in the world of cinema.”

From year to year, the Nantucket Film Festival features original screenings—this year includes Casey Affleck’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and Monsters University—as well as its signature yearly programs. This includes Late Night Storytelling (this year with host Ophira Eisenberg), the All-Star Comedy Roundtable presented by Ben Stiller, and the Screenwriter’s Tribute. The Screenwriter’s Tribute will be given to director David O. Russell this year (Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter), and will be presented by Academy Award-nominated actress Glenn Close. The Comedy Roundtable is always a promising event as well. Although the guests have yet to be announced, previous years’ guests consist of Seth Meyers, Bill Hader, Jim Carrey, and Jerry Seinfeld.

The director of the Nantucket Film Festival, Mystelle Brabbée, assumed her role last year, but has worked tediously on the festival for sixteen years, including as the role of artistic director. She’s basically been with the film since its baby years, having set up some of its signature events including the Screenwriter Tribute, Late Night Storytelling, the All-Star Comedy Roundtable, and the Staged Readings series. Aside from her job as director, Brabbée has taught in the Graduate Film Department of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Brabbée talked with us about all the festival details including movies we can’t miss, celebs sightings, and her favorite parts of the festival.

What’s unique about the Nantucket Film Festival that sets it apart from larger festivals like Sundance or Cannes?

Well, to start, obviously the location is 30 miles out to sea! It’s a unique backdrop of a festival. It’s the allure and the magic that comes with being set apart from mainland. That said, people let their guard down. So it’s a combination of celebrating storytellings and screenwriting with the people who come—even the high-profile people—who believe in the body of work they’re there to celebrate. For example, Glenn Close is coming to honor David O. Russell. She believes in him as a writer.

What is the Screenwriting Tribute all about?

This has been part of the program since 1997, and this is our red carpet gala event, with Brian Williams as the host. We’re looking to celebrate a writer whose body of work has made an impact on American cinema. The number of guests we’ve honored have really spanned the gamut! Starting with [past tributes] from Ring Lardner Jr. and Paul Schrader to Judd Apatow and Steve Martin. Even if you Google their bodies of work, it just gives me a thrill. David O. Russell certainly has his spot in American cinema. His work is undeniably unique. It’s an honor to get him, but also to get him at this point in his career coming off of one incredibly well-written and directed film, and going into the next. He’s on a roll.

You also mentioned the Comedy Roundtable. Has the All-Star cast been announced yet?

No, it has not been announced just yet. But it’s an event that always sells out, even before the names are announced. And it’s always a slam dunk in terms of the quality of guests. Ben Stiller presents the Roundtable, too. It was his idea so he puts it together, and he reaches out and asks the guests. We had Jerry Seinfeld and Sarah Silverman and Zach Galifianakis, and last year was Chris Rock and Jim Carrey. But this year will be equally as fun.

Are there any specific events that are new, or events you’re bringing back that you think audiences will particularly enjoy?

Our Conversations have done very well in the past. Chris Matthews does one-on-one interviews with guests—this year, one is with David O. Russell and the other is with Glenn Close. And then we started a whole new afternoon series called Tea and Talks. With the guests featured here, the audience will want to have a much deeper conversation than just a Q&A would allow. Lake Bell, an actress turned writer, director, and producer, stars in this film called In a World…, and she is receiving an award at the festival for being a powerful new voice in screenwriting. Another talk is with filmmaker Barbara Kopple. And another is with Sam Berns. You may not know him because he’s not an actor or filmmaker, but he’s the subject of a film we have called Life According to Sam. He is Massachusetts-based, and he has progeria which is a rare aging disease. He’s 17 years old and has the body of a 90-year-old. It’s a wonderful documentary made by Sean and Andrea Fine, who won the Academy Award this year for the short documentary film Inocente. They’ll also be here to support the film. So we’re having a Conversation with Sam because he is a big life force and he deserves much more than just [a 15-minute chat]. So that’s just a sampling!

What about yourself? What are you most looking forward to this year?

Ah, that’s a good question. It’s hard to single out just one thing when I care about every detail, from how people like the bags we’re giving out, to making sure the projection and tech is spot on. When you’re an event producer, you care about so many details that the audience doesn’t necessarily see—or at least they don’t think they see until there’s a problem. So for me, it’s the whole thing. I do look forward to seeing the whole festival put on and running smoothly as possible. But I also love reaching the end of the festival and finding out which film really spoke to people, what experiences the audience had with a particular filmmaker. I think that’s the magic of putting on any film festival. We put a lot of effort into picking and putting together a program that we think serves our specific audience.

That said, there must have been some surprises in years past—something more well-received over another?

Well, the one film that comes to mind, which we kind of understated [during the] presentation of it, was the French film The Untouchables. People were just wowed by that film. Nobody walked away from that film having had a bad experience. We also opened with Beasts of the Southern Wild last year, which is not necessarily a film that I would say is “spot on” for our audience, but they loved it. It was obviously critically acclaimed. We highlighted the screenwriting in it and it’s always satisfying for the audience when they’re able to see a film that is later getting awards. Like, it was Oscar-nominated. It’s always fun for an audience to know a film early on and know that they were a part of a group of people that really celebrated that person for their writing.

The Nantucket Film Festival will take place on Nantucket June 26-30. Ticket and event information can be found at nantucketfilmfestival.org.