Parker Posey/Photo courtesy of Tony Phillips
The true test of a film festival’s swagger lies in its when and where. Sundance in January? It’s easy to huddle inside screening rooms while Utah’s snowstorms howl. Cannes in May? Not so much. A truly audacious pairing is the picturesque tip of Cape Cod as it gently rolls into summer, but that’s exactly the setting and season of the Provincetown International Film Festival.
Opening night of the five-day festival kicked off with Leslye Headland’s raunchy, cocaine-fueled romp “Bachelorette.” “Don’t worry–” festival artistic director Connie White told the packed house at Town Hall. “–it’s not ‘Bridesmaids,’” as if there’s something wrong with a female-driven comedy ending in a screenwriting Oscar nomination for “SNL” alum Kristen Wiig.
After the screening, writer and director Headland revealed that her script started as a play, but after the first five minutes cycle headliners Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, and Lizzy Caplan through retail chain, restaurant, and airplane prepping for the nuptials of their high school scrub and festival double-threat Rebel Wilson, Headland saw the logistics of a film.
“Very few people made the transition from playwright to filmmaker,” Headland says, name-checking David Mamet and Kenneth Lonergan. “I’m a fan of all of them. I have the DVD of Mamet’s ‘House of Games’ and on the commentary track he says in plays people wonder what’s happening right now and in films people wonder what’s going to happen next so one of the things I focused on was changing the genre from drama to, for all intents and purposes, a romantic comedy.”
“In my movie plot is king,” Headland continues of what’s essentially a quest to find — then mend and dry-clean — Rebel Wilson’s wedding dress. “In the play, we’re introduced to a bunch of characters and they’re put into a room while I turn up the heat over the course of ninety minutes.”
When talk turns to the film’s penchant for drugs and strippers, Headland’s producer supplies they were “an easy R,” but festival stalwart John Waters, who arrived via a cross-country hitchhike for his forthcoming book Car Sick, commented that Headland’s sex contributed to the film’s sex going down easier with the MPAA. “They’re very hard on women enjoying sex,” Headland countered. “That’s also something that’s not okay.”
On another morning in Provincetown, “The Artist” star Beth Grant discussed her own silent short “The Perfect Fit” while “Frasier” alum Dan Butler talked adapting recent poet laureate Ted Kooser’s poem “Pearl” into a one-woman showcase for Frances Sternhagen. “Ted Kooser and I grew up in the Midwest,” Butler says, “and there’s something so accessible on the surface, but his poetry goes deep. We just tried to reach the simplicity of it. The biggest chore for me as a director was my actor was eighty-one, but Pearl is ninety-one, so Frannie said, ‘I won’t wear makeup.’”
Photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ HBO documentary “About Face” is also largely concerned with female appearance, and back in his East Village studio, he reveals that the supermodels discussing aging in his film are actually adapted from an Irving Penn photograph entitled “Twelve of the Most Photographed Models of the Period” that Penn shot for the May 1947 issue of Vogue. Greenfield-Sanders was re-creating the shot for Vanity Fair, but they killed it when the Tiger Woods scandal broke.
Greenfield-Sanders sent supermodel Pat Cleveland to Provincetown as the emissary of “About Face” and she quickly set up shop as resident it-girl, a must-engage at the festival’s many soirees. At one, I mention her frenetic runway style in the ‘70s is reminiscent of Diana Ross in “Mahogany” and she casually replies, “Oh, it was about me, that movie. It was inspired by my life … When I was in Rome,” Cleveland continues, “I was a coach for her to be a model on the runway. My friend Joel Schumacher said, ‘Come on over, you have to coach Diana Ross.’ I said, ‘I can’t coach her. She can coach me!’” When asked about Ross’ verisimilitude, Cleveland, currently penning her own autobiography with writer Tom Eubanks, replies, “It wasn’t too authentic. It was just a movie. You know, movies are dramatized, there’s not that much drama in fashion. There’s a lot of the back of the peacock.”
As the peacock crowed on day three, the hordes assembled at Bayside Betty’s for a panel on new queer cinema featuring Killer Films’ Christine Vachon, “Savage Grace” director Tom Kalin and actor, author and director Craig Chester, who hysterically kicked the identity-themed breakfast off by saying, “I no longer identify as an actor.” Chester detailed the adaptation of his 2003 memoir Why the Long Face? into an “Everybody Hates Chris”-type series called “Rapture” wherein a nine-year-old Chester’s born-again mom is played by Lisa Kudrow, who’ll reunite with longtime collaborator Don Roos if Showtime bites on the pilot.
The next day, brings Parker Posey to Provincetown, where she held court in the garden with her dog Gracie on her lap. Recovering from a night out on the town with Chester and John Waters wherein a local bucket of blood was visited primarily for her benefit, she rolls her eyes under smoked sunglasses when I ask if she might not be more comfortable up on the widow’s walk. In “Price Check,” Posey’s festival piece, she plays a high-strung supermarket executive. She’s thinking about the difference between this film, penned by director Michael Walker, and an adapted work like her role as Laura Linney’s free-wheeling high school friend in Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City.” “I loved working on that,” Posey says of ‘Tales,’ “I really did. I think that adaptation on PBS was really successful. Yeah, it’s shocking that it can’t get the other books made. We’re all available!”
Her more recent work adapting an actual historical figure is Papa’s last wife in HBO’s “Hemingway & Gelhorn.” “The director told me not to read anything about her,” Posey says of journalist Mary Walsh. “She’s just this ‘50s archetype of the woman who wants all the things in place. I put the wig on and the contacts and I was like, ‘There she is!’ I didn’t read anything about her.” Someone drops off a festival credential on a lanyard for Gracie, who yawns, our previously agreed upon queue to wrap the interview, but I quickly ask what she thought of the finished HBO biopic. “I didn’t see it,” Posey replies, “the sound came off on my cable and I haven’t gotten it fixed.” Proof positive that the Provincetown International Film Festival is the go-to fest for the footloose and cable-free.