Film Festivals | Massachusetts

20 Years in the Making: The Woods Hole Film Festival

31 Jul , 2011  

Written by K. Correia | Posted by:

Initially founded as a filmmaker Judy Laster’s venue to premier her short film, the Woods Hole Film Festival -- which is running this year from July 30 through August 6 -- has become one of the most anticipated film festivals in New England.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Woods Hole Film Festival (WHFF) of Woods Hole, MA, is a homegrown film festival born from a filmmaker’s need and sustained by the community’s desire to participate. “The festival started 20 years ago when I made a short film and a friend of mine had a trailer film, and we each got films from people we knew and we put together a one day, one hour event,” says Judy Laster, Executive Director and Founder of the festival.

The festival has since grown into an annual 8-day event beginning the last weekend in July. Without a specific genre or theme, the festival is open to short and feature length narrative, documentary, experimental, and animated films. The festival process begins each year with an open submission period running from September to May in which anywhere between 700 and 1,000 films are received from around the world.

The selection committee and the program director determine the eligibility of each submission and choose films for screening during the festival. The committee also designates films into categories for competition. “A filmmaker who is in competition has two opportunities to win an award,” says Laster: the self-explanatory audience award and the juried awards, with a judges’ panel is comprised of “people in the film industry… who rate the film based on specified criteria,” notes Laster. This year, the WHFF will be showcasing over 100 films, both in competition and those selected for special screening.

The festival, which commenced this year on July 30th, featured two special screening films on opening day. The first was Oceans, a feature documentary by Jacques Perrin and presented by Disneynature & IFAW that focuses on the mysteries of the deep. Animals Distract Me, a short comedy/fantasy feature by Isabella Rossellini, which delves into Rossellini’s fascination with animals and nature, was also shown.

Among the films slated to premier at the festival this year are Girlfriend, a narrative feature by Justin Turner about a young man with Down-syndrome, and the feature documentary Jimmy Tingle’s American Dream by Jimmy Tingle and Vince Straggas, which offers commentary from personalities and strangers alike on the American Dream. Also scheduled for screening are the films Calendar Girl, a black comedy about a young woman who tries to find love with her would-be killer, and the romantic comedy Losing Control, about a scientist who applies scientific reasoning to her love life.

In addition to film screenings, the WHFF will play host to a handful of panel discussions, focusing on filmmaking and production, as well as workshops, centering on social media marketing and documentary film production. The workshop in documentary film production will be led by Academy Award nominee Heidi Ewing, the WHFF’s filmmaker in residence for 2011.

The filmmaker-in-residence program, supported by grants from the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod and the Woods Hole Foundation, is just one of the ways the WHFF has continued its mantra of growth and evolution throughout the years. Since its humble beginnings, the festival has expanded to include a screenplay competition and holds a Kids Day, in its continuing effort and commitment to community involvement with the festival.

The community of Woods Hole and the seasonal visitors to the area are and have been essential to the endurance of the festival. “It’s a tight community of people who live all over the country, but have a relationship to Woods Hole and they love coming here. It’s a great place to be. It’s a great community,” explains Laster. By broadening the scope of the event, the WHFF has not only further opened its doors to the community, but also created a community of filmmakers.

The WHFF is fundamentally filmmaker oriented. “It’s about independent film and independent filmmakers,” says Laster. “We try to give people the opportunity to have their film screened by a supportive audience and take that opportunity and make what they can of it.” Often the feedback and constructive criticism filmmakers receive early on in their careers strengthens the vision and skill with which they tackle and complete future projects.

The connections and experiences filmmakers have and share with fellow industry members are also invaluable to a filmmaker’s work. Good festivals offer networking opportunities for filmmakers, but successful festivals, like the WHFF, offer networking opportunities for filmmakers and non-filmmakers alike. The WHFF sponsors several music events and parties where filmmakers, locals, and vacationers can socialize and review the day’s events.

However, the festival is not merely an annual singular event. Thanks to the local community’s interest and participation, the festival has further expanded to include year-round programming such as the Dinner & a Movie Film Series. “The festival happens at the height of summer, and there are often people on the Cape who can’t get there,” says Laster.

The ‘Series,’ also known as the WHFF Winter Film Series, is a weekly event where locals and guests can appreciate a good film & meal and also enjoy each other’s company. “It grew organically out of the festival and the desire from the community to be able to participate,” explains Laster. In addition to the Series, the WHFF has also ventured into acting workshops, focusing on the realities of the profession, and the brand new Television Writer’s Symposium, which examines the creative process of television writing and production.

As the oldest independent film festival on Cape Cod & the Islands, the Woods Hole Film Festival is a weeklong celebration of independent films from around the world. The commitment and vision of the WHFF organizers and the festival attendees has personalized the festival, making it a welcoming and supportive environment. This, and its passion for independent filmmaking, has allowed the Woods Hole Film Festival to create a thriving community in which filmmakers and non-filmmakers alike can flourish.

For more information and to visit the festival, running through August 6, please visit

For more information and to visit the festival, running through August 6, please visit