By Sophie Griffin
After its debut in 2019, the Montauk Film Festival (MFF) is back with a full slate of films, Q&As and other events. For one week, July 25 to August 1, across six venues and five categories, several films comes to Montauk in a big way. Recently, Jason Ferrante, MFF’s founder and executive director sat down to talk about the festival, the mission behind it and Montauk itself.
Q: Where did the idea for the festival come from?
JF: Well, the genesis of it [came] after attending other film festivals — Sundance, South by Southwest, Telluride, Tribeca, Hamptons International. All of these film festivals are great and they have their own initiatives, but I felt the speed at which Montauk is changing has really troubled myself and a lot of other people.
Montauk isn’t only a party place… Montauk is a natural environment, it’s 70 percent parkland, and it’s really a place for everybody who loves nature and loves being outdoors and having a good time. So we want to do what we can to preserve that element, in kind of the small context.
But in the broader context, with the environment, with global warming and climate change, we literally — no pun intended — have to hold back the tide. [With] problems this large, both in terms of the social element changing, but also the environment changing, it’s on us, the people who care and know, to activate the community to a certain level of awareness so that collectively we can make a change. That’s the big lofty goal of the festival. It was really born out of that [awareness] not being present broadly or being represented anywhere in Montauk.
Q: What was the reception like for the festival after that first year in 2019?
JF: You know, everybody loved it. They were happy we tried. When you go from zero to one, with anything — a business, any venture — it’s always hard. This year, we’re trying to go from one to 10. You might characterize this as our breakout year. And this year, hopefully everybody’s happier and more people know about it.
Q: Can you speak about the local filmmakers that are going to be featured?
JF: We are definitely trying to give a platform for local talent — artists and filmmakers. Because Montauk is on the map, so to speak, for everybody in the country. It’s rare that one small town at the tip of an island has such recognition. And so the talent and the artists and the filmmakers here have an opportunity to be highlighted on a national stage.
Q: The festival has five categories. Some, like comedy or drama, are pretty universal, but would you say that the others are to highlight Montauk’s, well, Montauk-ness?
JF: [ laughs ] That’s a way of saying it, yeah. Obviously Surf & Skate is, in terms of athleticism, it doesn’t get any more Montauk than that, from my perspective. The other category is obviously the environment. We are partnering with some other not-for-profits and the net proceeds of the festival will go to educational resources, about Montauk. The Social & Cultural [category] is obviously trying to broaden consciousness about where we are as our community and trying to broaden that horizon a little bit. Those three categories are really highlighting the Montauk we’re trying to preserve. We’re going to do that even better, not only by the film selection, but the panels occurring before these films. It will be literally juxtaposing old Montauk versus new Montauk and old Montauk fishing versus new Montauk fishing and old Montauk surfing versus new Montauk surfing. We’re trying to integrate a certain consciousness of where we have been and where we are today and trying to remind people of the good things.
Q: Is there any film or films in particular that you’re really excited about?
JF: We have two premieres this year, which for a small festival like ours, is a pretty big thing. The first one is by Josh Fox who’s an Oscar-nominated director, who directed and produced a film called “Gasland” that was up for an Oscar nomination. [His] North American premiere of his new film “The Truth Has Changed” highlights his art as a director from 9/11 to now, and the struggles he’s had with just being honest, telling people how things actually are. And so we’re very excited about that film because we feel it’s very current and these are things that should be talked about.
The other thing we’re very excited about is the world premiere of Albee Layer and Matt Meola’s film, “Rainbow.” That’ll be premiering Saturday, July 31, at Hero Beach Club. That should be a really great fun event, a lot of professional surfers will be there, a lot of people in the community that are around that professional surfing community will be there. Outdoor movie, under the stars, right across the street from the beach. You literally will look left and you’re going to see the sand dunes. You can probably hear the ocean as the movie is going on. All the other films that we have screening throughout the festival are also interesting. They’re independent and they’re new: all made within the last year or two. So I think it’s a very exciting festival for people who love film and love independent filmmakers, new, fresh ideas.
Q: This is only the festival’s second year, but what role do you think it plays in the film community in Montauk?
JF: We hope that it plays a supportive role and we’re hoping that it’s just the beginning of something really great. We’re blessed to have such a beautiful landscape and, you know, 70 percent of it is in its actual raw state. And so we feel that that is — no pun intended again — the perfect backdrop for any type of cinematographer or any filmmaker that wants to highlight nature, and we feel that more people that highlight nature, they’ll be more espoused to protect it and do what they each individually can do to protect this earth.
For more information, visit montaukfilmfestival.org. Tickets for screenings as well as the opening night party can be purchased at goelevent.com.