Letter from the Executive Director
Dear Uncommon Birds,
As we pass the middle of summer, we are celebrating some new beginnings.
Our cinema, Waters Edge, has opened for business after 15 long months of closure. We are continuing to mandate mask wearing, and have medical grade HEPA filters running at all times in both Cinema 1 and Cinema 2, and we are reducing capacities to allow for social distancing, offering the safest experience for our patrons. Going forward, we are also requiring patrons show proof of vaccination, and we can confirm that our staff is fully vaccinated. We know the Delta variant and the uptick of covid cases in July has been concerning and we are making sure your visit to Water’s Edge is as safe as it can possibly be.
PFS is also changing things up at the board level, after many years of incredible dedication as the President of the PFS Board, Anthony Lawson, son of longtime advocate and former PFS board president, Evan Lawson, is stepping down from his role to focus on his family and work as an architect. Former PFS Executive Director Gabrielle A. Hanna will be the new board president.
Gabrielle A. Hanna, President of the Board of PFS
“I am honored to be stepping in as President of the Board of PFS. The organization has continued to grow since my departure in 2013, and I am looking forward to working with Blythe Frank, the staff and board to continue to develop new programs and give a voice to underrepresented storytellers from around the world.”
We celebrated Family Week July 25-30th, with outdoor screenings in Motta Field, sponsored by WarnerMedia and Family Equality. Families were thrilled to be outside, and we offered food from Spiritus Pizza, John’s Footlong, Box Lunch and Ben & Jerry’s. When it got dark and the movie began, everyone settled in for a magical night under the stars and screen. A huge thank you to the Motta family for use of the field, the support of Provincetown by granting us a special entertainment license, our fabulous food vendors, our staff, the volunteers, and to WarnerMedia and Family Equality. We hope to do more of these in the years to come.
Stay safe, embrace joy where you discover it, and please remember that we are stronger together.
— Blythe Frank, PFS Executive Director
THE SUMMER DAY Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper? This grasshopper, I mean - the one who has flung herself out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down - who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away. I don't know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? -- Mary Oliver
MEMBER IN THE NEWS: Ilona Royce-Smithkin
By Tracy Pease
Undeniably, Provincetown Film Society’s grandest patron and member is Ilona Royce-Smithkin. Passing just days ago, Ilona’s involvement and support will live on in the hearts and minds of our staff at the Provincetown Film Society forever.
It has been a privilege to know her and have intimate conversations with her over the past 6 years. With humble trepidation even reverence, it is an honor to write this love letter celebrating a master…………a powerhouse packed in a four-foot-nine-inch canvas, pioneer, artist, philosopher, inn keeper, performer, teacher, style guru, business professional, feminist, influencer, swimmer, dancer, TV & Radio personality, author, conversationalist, documentarian, writer, bibliophile, trendsetter, storyteller, model, confidant, lady, and friend.
Of Polish descent, Ilona moved to Germany with her parents at the young age of 5. As a result, her distinguishable accent was classic German. The German language and my own German roots became the basis for our initial conversations blossoming like a garden of wildflowers.
Ilona studied art at the Reiman Schule in Berlin, the Académie Royal des Beaux Arts in Antwerp, the Art Students League in New York, and the Cape School of Art in Provincetown. Having heard few but troubling accounts of a strict and disciplined upbringing amidst a war-ravaged Europe, I have little doubt that those fearful experiences influenced her life choices and the woman she became – from her personality, whimsical style and fashion to her artistic choice to illustrate her subjects in passionate Impressionistic bravura – the worries of a 5-year-old, set the path for Ilona to live life on her terms.
Ilona is particularly known for her discerning portraits of celebrated personalities the likes of friend Tennessee Williams, Ayn Rand, Ethel Merman, the children of Edward Kennedy and many more. She once told me that she is the only artist commissioned by Eugene O’Neill himself to paint him. That very portrait has graced arts organizations in town including the Provincetown Theater and the Provincetown Arts Association and Museum.
Generously, Ilona has sponsored the film society for years, providing lodging for filmmakers and film society staff for the annual film festival, women’s week, staff planning meetings and retreats. She has donated her works enabling PFS to raise funds annually for the auction. Each year when the film festival concluded, I delivered a festival catalog, and we’d discuss the successes of the week.
A pioneer in television, ILONA’S PALETTE and PAINTING WITH ILONA – two television series produced in 1975 & 1982 respectively, aired 41 episodes. Television history was made through live instruction by a female artist. I watched Ilona-the-younger from VHS tapes with the added benefit of the later Ilona narrating to me in real-time.
Ilona’s will to refuse advice on fashion trends, certainly didn’t deter her from setting them. With color, scissors, a little thread, baubles, and embellishments she personified color, and texture. On several occasions she generously offered wardrobe pieces and advice on how I might supplement my own heavily black wardrobe with ‘flair’. “A little color or a scarf would spruce up your blouse, my dear. Try this.” she would smile.
Ilona’s celebrated red hair and magnificent custom eyelashes framing her face for over 50 years, were the conversation of many, and the basis for the song EYELASHES by Zoë Lewis. Concerts on the Cape with Zoë at piano provided the name for their performance appropriately branded “Eyelash Cabaret”.
During one of our visits, she told me that it is a tradition of hers to gift to people she cares for, a sketch of their eye. “Why the eye?” I asked. “Because you can see to a person’s soul through the eye” she replied. “I’d like to sketch your eye if you’d let me.” At first, I wanted to ask if I could return another day to have my eye sketched. It worried me that I wasn’t prepared or worthy. What would she see through my eye? Were they things I didn’t want her to see. I hesitated. Fortunately, the conversation in my head flashed quickly and I merely replied, “I would be honored, Ilona”.
Ten years ago, during Women’s Week, the subject of a documentary called ADVANCED STYLE, Ilona graced the Waters Edge Cinema at a theatrical debut. In conversation with moderator and filmmakers, with her classic flair, she regaled the audience with stories, poetry, and philosophies – the hallmark of her approach to life. Although she lived to be 101, at 90 years young, she declared a pride in her age “because it took me a long time to get here” she laughed. In an interview she said “I have very limited time. I can’t buy green bananas anymore”.
On March 27th, 2020, her one hundredth birthday, the views and comments to her Instagram post thanking friends and loved ones for kind wishes, rivaled the Kardashians. Amidst a global pandemic, now experiencing the implications of two pandemics in her lifetime, she warmly sashayed across the deck of her studio home on Commercial Street with words of love and gratitude for the host of well-wishers on the beach below.
One day at low tide picking seashells, I was on the beach staring back at her building. My gaze roamed from the top floor to the bottom and back to the 2nd when I noticed a round window midway up, that when viewed from the dock below was blocked by a railing. I realized I’d never seen the building from 90 – 100 feet away. I stared at the portal style window trying to adjust my focus for a better viewpoint. There seemed to be something around the window that I couldn’t quite catch. When my eyes wouldn’t adjust, I took a photo from my phone to enlarge the image for a better view. A smile spread across my face, when I could see that surrounding the top of the portal were long black lashes framing outward replicating an eye……………..an undeniable facsimile of Ilona’s unforgettable lashes.
In the years of our friendship, she was prolific in watercolor, painting views of the ocean from the 3rd floor studio in a small postcard-sized book of Strathmore paper. Colors of the sea changed from page to page and day to day as the light and colors changed in Provincetown. She captured what she saw…… and felt. She loved the solitude of those hours spent painting. She would often remark that her body was growing tired. It took such effort just to be. I knew I should be grateful for the opportunity to be in her presence and in fact, I was. A prolific writer, Ilona offered me the opportunity to read several of her writings and letters even reading them back to her aloud. As I read, I would remark on her life’s viewpoints and we would discuss many that found their way to the pages of her final book entitled NINETY NINE: Straight Up, No Chaser. Months later, I was lost for words to express my pleasure when she presented me with an autographed version signed on the page of acknowledgements, next to my name. There are thousands of people in the world that can genuinely call Ilona friend. I’m glad to be one of them.
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SAVE THE DATES
WOMEN’S WEEK FILM FESTIVAL OCTOBER 8-17
JAMAICAN FILM FESTIVAL OCTOBER 19-21
LET’S GO BACK TO THE MOVIES!
Waters Edge Cinema is OPEN again and we can’t wait to see you at 237 Commercial Street, Whalers’ Wharf 3rd Floor. Due to the recent uptick in positive COVID19 cases in fully-vaccinated individuals, and based on the health advisory issued by the Provincetown Board of Health, we have decided to reinstate mandatory face coverings while inside the Water’s Edge cinemas. If you do not have a face covering, we will happily give you one. Masks must be worn at all times unless actively enjoying food or drink in your seat. Multiple HEPA air purifiers have been installed throughout each auditorium to improve air circulation and filtration. We are currently operating at 50% capacity. All guests are encouraged to wash their hands frequently and maintain social distancing when possible. Thank you for helping us to keep everyone healthy.
With Julie Rockett
When you started a new school, do you remember that person who helped you find your locker? Was your lab partner when everyone had paired off? Or just smiled and said hello when you didn’t know another person? The grown-up version of this person for me is Provincetown Film Festival Artistic Director Lisa Viola. She is too cool for school but she never makes you feel that way. She’s very busy, but never too busy to greet you like a VIP, even when I was a lowly intern.
Maybe all this friendliness and compassion stems from the fact that she does what she loves and is really good at it? Lisa’s favorite films and suggestions are unlike any that I’ve heard. So please take her film recommendations and go to a theatre, preferably Waters Edge Cinema, wear a mask and have a great night!
Julie Rockett: So, yesterday we lost Ilona Royce-Smithkin.
Lisa Viola: She had an incredible life as an artist. I was a fan of hers. Her longevity, her work, her presence in Provincetown. She was impressive. Did you know her?
JR: I only really got to know her through Melissa Hammel’s short from PIFF2017, ILONA, UPSTAIRS. I loved watching her hoofing upstairs and around town.
LV: It’s what kept her mentally sharp.
JR: How did you get involved with Provincetown Film Festival?
LV: I had just moved back to Boston and I met Connie White who was running the Boston International Women’s Film Festival when she was hosting that festival at the Brattle Theatre. I had just come from working at Sundance and Connie asked if I could help out with programming. She then kicked off the Provincetown Film Festival and dragged me along <laughs>. I did a bunch of things that first year… some writing, some talent wrangling, and some hosting. I remember watching John Waters receive the first Filmmaker On The Edge award and thinking, ‘I’m sticking around here!’.
JR: Was there ever a crisis at PIFF that you’ve turned around?
LV: There’s never been a crisis at the film fest.
JR: Never. <laughs>
LV: It’s all seamless! <laughs> There was one time where it was raining sideways. I’m supposed to do an introduction at the Art House and the first two rows are under water. I had to leap over this enormous puddle to get to the stage. We were determined to hold the screening and the Q&A because, you know, the show must go on. And luckily no one got electrocuted!
JR: One of the films that I think you programmed was TICKLED. I love that film and I remember watching it and assuming it was going one way and then it just made my jaw drop. Is there a film that has made your jaw drop?
LV: There’s so many but the first one that comes to mind is HONEYLAND. Have you seen it?
JR: No. Not yet.
LV: You don’t know what to expect. It takes place so far away from Cape Cod and it is just so different. You’re immersed a place with these two women. You have no idea how old they are or what their stories are. You just drop in on them and are transported. It’s so unusual and it is one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. I recommend this film to a lot of people and I always say, ‘You just have to sit with it.’ People usually ask what is about and I say, ‘It’s not about anything I can tell you that will make you want to watch it.’
JR: To that end, is there a film that you wish more people had seen?
LV: Yes, WETLANDS. It’s this wild film from PIFF2014. It’s a coming-of-age film that is, uh, pretty daring. The lead character pushes the envelope in every way. It’s very interesting. I sent people at the festival to go and see it and they afterward they said, ‘What did we just watch?’ It’s not for everybody, but I’m sure John Waters loved it.
JR: Is there a film that people would be surprised to know you like, something like a guilty pleasure?
LV: For me it’s not a guilty pleasure because I think it’s one of the most brilliant films ever made–GREY GARDENS. It’s the film that I’ve seen more than any other film and I can never get sick of. I always find time to watch it and each time I see something new. The Maysles were Brookline High graduates, maybe there’s something in the water? <note: Lisa and I grew up in the same Brookline neighborhood. Yet another cool fact about Lisa.>
JR: Does any part of the film disturb you? I have an issue with the cats and the squalor.
LV: It’s challenging, for sure. Now that we’re becoming more attuned to mental illness, we realize that these women were suffering. They were women of means at some point. They were left to their own devices and no one was around to care for them. I mean, I do think the Maysles cared about them and I think that in some ways they even lost their objectivity as filmmakers. But I think that great documentarians like them go along on the adventure.
JR: Do you have a favorite PIFF memory?
LV: I think when people get to Provincetown they just become easier going then you’d even expect. Maybe it’s the fact that we’re all at sea level, no airs about them. Kathleen Turner was so cool and laid back. Kevin Smith was a sweet teddy bear. Aubrey Plaza was so genuinely excited to see John Waters. Cynthia Nixon was so gracious and truly honored to have her body of work and her activism recognized. A highlight for me was the year we honored Jane Lynch and Gael Garcia Bernal. They both really embraced the spirit of Provincetown.
JR: What was your first favorite film?
LV: I loved FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. I had the record and would sing and dance around to it over and over. My father was a cinephile and he would take me to all of these inappropriate films.
JR: You know, I hear that over and over again from filmmakers, and my family is guilty of it too, that they saw age inappropriate films when they were young. And I think that it really is a gift.
LV: Yes, I credit my Dad with giving me an education in off-beat films like THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH and ERASERHEAD. He took me to the ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW on my thirteenth birthday. He told us that people dress up for it so my friend and I wore these crazy costumes that weren’t anywhere on brand for the show. But we loved it. He also took me out of school when I was nine to see STAR WARS on opening day.
JR: Is there a film that you watch to get you out of a funk?
LV: LARS AND THE REAL GIRL.
JR: I love that you have answers that nobody else does!
LV: I saw it with my Dad, in the theatre, and I’ve seen it many times since then. It just puts me in a happy place even though it’s a melancholy movie. It’s not a comedy, but there’s something about that sweet, small and slightly twisted small town that pulls me in.
JR: And finally, what are you looking forward to in upcoming PIFFs?
LV: I get really excited about the next crop of films. I love that every year there’s a real sense of discovery and we have a chance to share those films with an audience!