Most festivals don’t want protests. This one encouraged a picket line to form.

The Nantucket Film Festival, which took place June 21-26 on the foggy isle 30 miles off the Massachusetts coast, is uniquely oriented toward the craft of screenwriting. Stars certainly appear — Allison Williams brought the glamour this year — but pen and paper are more important here than primping and pompadours.

The WGA has been a longtime partner of the festival, and the biggest gala event was a Screenwriters Tribute honoring Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, the “To All the Boys I Loved Before” scribe Jenny Han, and Nicole Holofcener, whose “You Hurt My Feelings” screened in the lineup. That film is literally about an author, and so were several others that showed, including Christian Petzold’s “Afire.” (“My Sailor, My Love” won the Narrative Feature Audience Award, while “The Saint of Second Chances” and “Hung Up on a Dream” won the Documentary Feature Audience Award.) And the biggest competition isn’t built around established names at all, but a screenplay contest geared toward finding new talent.

At a time when the WGA strike has caused many writers to avoid FYC events and simply apply their way with words to creating pithy signs for the picket line, the Nantucket Film Festival stood apart from the march to awards season and focused on supporting the ability of writers to write. It culminated with a festival-sanctioned picket line at the island’s main public library, the Atheneum.

Writers Guild of America writer and supporters rally at the Dreamland Theater for the WGA strike
Writers Guild of America writers and supporters, including Nantucket Film Festival leadership, rally at the island’s Dreamland Theater for the WGA strikeAndrew Walker/Shutterstock for Nantucket Film Festival

“We’re not a marketplace,” festival director Mystelle Brabbee said. “But we take pride in helping to form connections for writers.”

“This is not a marketplace where everyone’s selling, selling, selling,” said veteran TV writer Donick Cary (Letterman, “The Simpsons,” “Silicon Valley”) at a “Screenwriters’ State of the Union” panel I moderated. “But there’s a lot of very creative conversations going on with people across the entire entertainment spectrum and also people outside of it. It’s a really great place to wander around and have conversations. The documentary I made for Netflix, ‘Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics,’ came out of just a conversation at the film festival. [Ben Stiller and Fisher Stevens were] like, ‘We should make that. Let’s talk about it.’ That otherwise would’ve taken six months to set up that meeting and do a pitch.”

The festival is especially an incubator for writing talent via its screenplay competition, which recognizes outstanding writing among features, shorts, and episodic offerings. None of the writers are “names” — yet. (Debra Granik was a winner of this award at the start of her career.) But winning their category means a return trip to Nantucket in the fall for a month-long writers’ retreat and mentorship program. Last year’s feature screenplay winner, Michael Lei, received hands-on assistance to make his screenplay that much better from the mentor assigned to him, “Judas and the Black Messiah” director Shaka King.

“This mentorship program was really special because [the mentors] stay with you for a weekend,” Lei said. “You are eating, drinking, hiking, watching films with them. It’s a very organic personal connection.”

That personal connection expresses itself during the festival as well with a unique event called Late Night Storytelling, where writers take the mic and show off their storytelling ability, each story existing in that space between rehearsed and extemporaneous. “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” writer Opus Moreschi particularly rocked the crowd with his raucous story about getting appendicitis while on a cruise to Saint Martin.

Sophie Barthes, the director of this year’s Sundance premiere “The Pod Generation” helped get her start because of this mentorship program when she won the feature screenplay award in 2006. She wrote that film, “Cold Souls,” with Paul Giamatti in mind to star, and met Giamatti at Nantucket after winning the award, pitched it to him, and he indeed agreed to star. The film was released three years later.

Christian Blauvelt, Donick Cary, Sophie Barthes and Opus Moreschi during Morning Coffee
Moderator Christian Blauvelt, and panelists Donick Cary, Sophie Barthes, and Opus Moreschi during the “Screenwriters State of the Union” panelAndrew Walker/Shutterstock for Nantucket Film Festival

Helping to develop writing talent is one thing, but advocating for an equitable business environment in which they can work is another. And that’s where the Nantucket Film Festival is particularly unique, splashing photos from the picket line on their Instagram and incorporating messages of what the WGA strike is advocating for throughout. (“Good luck making it without a paid writer,” tribute gala host Brian Williams said, amid jabs about the Nantucket weather and bawdy jokes about his daughter.)

In the Screenwriters’ State of the Union panel, Barthes acknowledged the difficult financial reality of being a feature writer in particular. “When you’re asked for a rewrite, it’s actually two months that you’re going to be rewriting, unpaid. Unless you’re directing as well, for the amount of time your screenplay is in development you’ll be paid less than the intern.”

Roughly at the same time the festival began, some news broke from the nearby Cape Cod town of Chatham: a WGA picket line had forced a work stoppage of the new six-part Netflix series “The Perfect Couple,” starring Nicole Kidman and Liev Schreiber and based on Elin Hilderbrand’s novel.

“I think this is affecting the industry in a lot of places, not just LA and New York,” Cary said. “It’s North Carolina and Atlanta too, and everywhere there’s production.” The film festival in Nantucket itself underscored that — the issues facing screenwriters are the same everywhere, even on this rocky outcropping of an island that can feel cut off from the rest of the world.

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