How the Hamptons International Film Festival Was Founded

The Hamptons International Film Festival says this year is their 20th birthday year, and to a certain extent that is true. The film festival was thought up in 1992, which by subtraction is 20 years ago. But its first festival was in 1993. On the other hand (pun coming up), if you count the years on your fingers, 2012 is indeed the 20th year since 1993. For the full story of the founding, read the account below, written in the summer of 1993 in Dan’s Papers.

One of the biggest events of the summer this year in the Hamptons is not going to take place in the summer at all. It is going to take place over five days at the end of October. It is the Hamptons International Film Festival.

This project was just a gleam in the eye of a casting director last autumn. Now it turns out it will rival some of the greatest of the world’s film festivals in its size and scope and will be a major feather in the cap of this community. It is a remarkable success story.

I spoke yesterday with Joyce Robinson, the founder of the festival who, until this project began to overwhelm her this winter, made her living as a Hollywood casting director.

“I only started coming here a few years ago,” she told me. “And then I felt like I was being torn in two. On the one hand, I love it here. I wanted to make my home here. On the other hand, my job was on the west coast, casting actors for movies. I thought, and this was last summer, how can I do something that could put my work and my home in one place, in the Hamptons, where I wanted to be? At three o’clock in the morning one day last August I sat up in bed and I said ‘Of course. A film festival.’”

Indeed, Robinson was centrally placed to get just such a project off the ground. As a casting director, she knows agents and actors and producers and directors.

Casting a film involves getting people with different talents together around a table and having them work it out. It was what she knew. Her approach to creating a film festival in the Hamptons would involve her tried and true technique. She would cast it.

I think what Robinson did not know, last summer, was just how ready this community would be for such a project.

In the past, projects such as this have been proposed and have fallen by the wayside. But in the last five years, the well-to-do of Manhattan have begun coming to the Hamptons not just in the summer but in the fall and winter and spring in droves. A fundraising project by Ralph Destino of Cartier in Manhattan demonstrated that fact. It was a benefit tennis tournament weekend in Southampton for the American Cancer Society and it raised an astounding $160,000. This was in September. The END of September. Out of Season. Everybody from the summertime was STILL HERE.

This remarkable flooding of the Hamptons with summer visitors out of season is most apparent on Saturday and Sunday when our downtowns are as packed as they are in the summertime. On a brisk October Saturday our Main Streets look like it is July Fourth. On Friday nights well into November the evening traffic coming out on Route 27 is tied up as if the season has never ended. The locals just shake their heads in amazement.

Another thing that has happened, and this Robinson certainly did notice, was that within the last five years some sort of critical mass was reached in the Hamptons involving the film industry. The East End has for 40 years been a gathering place for artists, and for 20 years a gathering place for writers. It is true that over the years there have always been a number of film people coming here, but they have been here more, it seemed, to kind of hide out away from Hollywood. Now Hollywood had followed them. In full force.

Robinson and I made a list of people who now live in the Hamptons who are connected with the film industry. It is quite formidable. Here it is. Alan Alda, Steven Spielberg, Alec Baldwin, Roy Scheider, Ben Gazzara, Chevy Chase, Michael Cimino, Griffin Dunn, Kathleen Tuner, John Advilson, Christopher Reeve, Barry Sonnenfeld, Frank Perry, Herb Ross, Alan Pakula, Marisa Tomey, Sidney Lumet, George Plimpton, Randy Quaid, Uta Hagan, Lauren Bacall, Eli Wallach, Ann Jackson, Larry Marcus, Martin Bregman, Robert Wise, Fay Kanin, Peter H. Stone, Marilyn Bethany, Ed Tivnan, Arthur Penn, D. A. Pennebaker and on and on and on…

If you needed a “critical mass” of people to be sitting down at tables networking and hiring and making deals and doing all the sorts of things they do at a film festival, well, there it was.

And so, the community was ripe for the creation of the Hamptons International Film Festival. The town boards endorsed it. Major corporations have funded it. At least two major motion pictures will be premiered at the festival. And the Mayor of Deauville, France, Countess Anne d’Ornano, will be on hand on behalf of the American Film Festival in Deauville, which has declared the Hamptons Film Festival to be its sister festival. Robinson, who until this day has run the project out of her home, a 200-year-old barn in East Hampton, is now looking for office space.

I think it would be a good idea here to describe, physically, just what a visitor to the Hamptons International Film Festival will find during these five days at the end of October. All five of the movie theaters at the United Artists Theatre in East Hampton will be showing films from the festival. There will be films at the Sag Harbor Cinema, at the John Drew Theater in East Hampton and at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton. The movies will begin at 9 a.m., and there will be showings at 11:45 a.m., at 2 p.m., at 4:30 p.m., at 7 p.m. and at 9:30 p.m. There will be, in theory, a possible total of 150 films shown and a person could see five of them a day or 25 of them in the five days, which are Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Practically all of these films will be films not yet seen by the general public. There will be major motion pictures with big stars—Warner Brothers has promised to premiere two and Robinson believes Columbia Pictures will offer one. There will be student films, art films, shorts. At every screening there will be one short film and one long one.

Everyone going to see these movies—the general public—will be invited to vote for their favorite in three different categories. At the end of the festival, awards will be made to the winners. Other awards will be presented by a voting taken by members of the press.

“We’ve decided not to invite critics to make awards and prizes this first year,” Robinson told me. “We’d just like to get everybody to come.’’

The cost of seeing an individual film will be $7, Robinson told me. But there will be packages you can buy for seeing multiple films. There will also be student discounts.

“We expect to erect a large tent somewhere between the East Hampton Cinema and Guild Hall where people can come and get information about everything. It will be a kind of central point.”

I commented that late October might be too cold for a tent, but then I thought about it. Late October is jacket weather. The leaves are turning. It is beautiful out.

On Halloween all the school kids dress up and go out for candy door to door and it is not too cold.

Robinson showed me a paragraph she had written in the literature about the festival. “October is the glorious secret month of the East End Indian Summer. It is the best time to enjoy the casual elegance of the Hamptons that are simultaneously sophisticated and rural. The natural wonders are shared by an assortment of people; CEO’s, sailors, world-class authors, baymen, filmmakers, visual artists, gardeners, farmers and other taste-makers.’’

So Joyce Robinson wakes up in the middle of the night at her home in East Hampton last August with this idea. So how did it get from there to here?

“What I needed before anything was a corporate sponsor. Or several corporate sponsors.  I went to see Stuart Kreisler who has a summer home here and who is the principal in several major corporations. He came in with Arrow Shirts as our first sponsor. Then I went to see Toni
 Ross, the daughter of
the late Steve Ross of
Time-Warner, and the
co-owner of Nick &
Toni’s Restaurant on
North Main Street in East Hampton. Steve Ross was quite sick then and Toni, I know, is a film student. And she took me to see Gerald Levin who Steve Ross had just designated as his successor. And I made my presentation and we got a commitment from Time-Warner. The festival will be dedicated to the memory of Steve Ross.’’

Here is what is scheduled and what is happening so far. As Robinson told me, she needs an office and she is looking for volunteers and translators. She is also hiring.

Stephen Schiff, a film critic for The New Yorker, is currently in Europe at some of the film festivals there looking at films. He spent two weeks at Cannes.

There will be several benefits for the Festival during the summertime. Naomi and Christian Wolffer are planning one at Sagg Pond Farms on July 3. Another will take place at Jonathan Canno’s home though no date has been set.

Naomi Lazard of Amagansett, a writer and designer, is working on a competition for a poster design among local East End school children. She has been selected as the festival’s cultural coordinator.

Stony Brook University will offer courses in the history of film and workshops in film making on weekends over an extended period at East End locations still to be determined.

The courses can be taken for University credit.

Dan Ireland, a producer who founded the successful Seattle Film Festival (now in its 11th year), has been hired as director of the Hamptons International Film Festival.

Reciprocating with Deauville, one or two days of the Hamptons festival will be devoted to a program of films from France and the EEC.

An opening night party will be held at Nick & Toni’s. Other parties being put together are one at the Parrish Art Museum, at LTV in Wainscott, one at the Victor D’Amico Art Institute in Napeague and two at Manhattan restaurants, Planet Hollywood and Serendipity. There will be brunch sponsored by the Bank of the Hamptons.

There will be a producers and screenwriters symposium at Guild Hall with a moderator and questions and answers from the audience.

Three major film figures will receive tributes at the Hamptons International Film Festival. Each tribute will include 30-40 minutes of film clips followed by an onstage question and answer period.

Between two and four major international directors will attend, bringing with them their latest film, their favorite film and a protégé with his work.

A festival poster is to be created by artist Eric Fischl and will for sale beginning the end of June.

Among the educational workshops offered will be film editing by Viva Knight, the former director of the Victor D’Amico Institute of Art in Napeague.

And the list goes on and on. And it gets bigger every day. What a week this is going to be!

Click here for the full schedule of movies for the 2012 Hamptons International Film Festival. 














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