To see the bright star Sirius in our area, you have to get up at dawn, but not to worry—seriously—because the Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF), held October 9–13, is showcasing stars day and night. Look for, among others, Bill Murray, Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Bob Balaban, Mark Ruffalo, Julianne Moore, Rory Culkin, Patricia Clarkson, Laura Dern, Joel Schumacher, Jake Paltrow, Bruce Greenwood, Jaeden Lieberher, Riz Ahmed, Al Maysles, Iris Apfel, Miles Teller, Dakota Johnson, Eve Hewson, Zoe Kravitz, Kaitlyn Dever and Lola Kirke.
This year, a new venue has been added to the list. In addition to screenings at the East Hampton and Southampton movie theaters and at Guild Hall and the Sag Harbor Cinema, the Westhampton Beach Performing Art Center (WHPAC) is participating. Montauk Movie will also participate by showing the New York premiere of Welcome to Soldier Ride, with a percentage of the proceeds to go to The Wounded Warrior project.
Buzz is already out about the Sunday night centerpiece showing of The Homesman, starring Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones. (Jones also directed) The film, which debuted at Cannes, is based on a 1988 knockout novel of the same name by acclaimed fiction writer Glendon Swarthout. Swank will talk about the film in the popular HIFF interview series, “A Conversation With,” at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor on Sunday at 3 p.m.
Excitement is also building for the Saturday-night centerpiece, Foxcatcher, directed by Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball), a psychological thriller based on the real-life tale of two Olympic gold-medalist brothers and their tragic relationship with a multi-millionaire benefactor. Star Mark Ruffalo will join “A Conversation” on Sunday at noon.
Bob Balaban will also be front and center this year. The East End actor, author, producer and director has been with HIFF since 1994 and is this year’s Honorary Chairman. (Read an interview with Balaban here!)
What makes HIFF stand out from other film festivals opening around the country? “The Hamptons,” HIFF Artistic Director David Nugent says without a moment’s hesitation. To the New York Film Critics’ Circle members who will be attending as mentors, panelists and jurors, “Hamptons” means being part of “an intimate festival just as appealing as its surroundings,” says Nugent.
The Hamptons can also boast having an engaged, activist community, as well as an over-400-year history on which Long Island filmmakers can draw. Thus, the returning series “Views from Long Island,” sponsored by Showtime Networks, which focuses on local filmmakers and films with geographic ties to the region. Among this year’s offerings, look for an exclusive advanced screening of the pilot episode of The Affair. Set in Montauk, the television series is created by noted playwright and screenwriter Sarah Treem (House of Cards). It explores two marriages and what happens emotionally and psychologically as an affair surfaces. Treem will discuss the series with Vogue Director of Partnerships and Special Events Brigid Walsh.
Keep an eye out as well for Gabriel. Filmed on Long Island, Gabriel depicts a young man dealing with mental illness and examines America’s fixation with the nuclear household. Diplomacy, a timely look at Nazi-occupied Paris by Volker Schlondorff, a legendary German filmmaker who is an Amagansett resident; and Iris by Al Maysles (Grey Gardens), about the career resurgence of a nonagenarian fashion designer. Once again, the Suffolk County Film Commission will present its annual Next Exposure Award ($6,000) to a full-length Long Island feature. “Local” this year also includes Sag Harbor filmmaker Dan Roe’s Weenie, about a 16-year-old who wants to go to a party but has been grounded. And Still Alice is a U.S. premiere about early onset Alzheimer’s. It strikes a happily married, prominent linguistics professor who begins to forget words. It will be the festival’s closer on October 13 at Guild Hall and stars Montauk’s Julianne Moore as Alice, with Alec Baldwin and Kristen Stewart in supporting roles.
The winnowing of the festival’s films, as usual, was arduous, competitive and ultimately satisfying, Nugent notes. By submission deadline this past February, the program committee had received a few thousand entries, most sent as DVDs. Though entries came from all over the world, many were from “our own backyard.” The committee put selections on a programming grid to help ensure that up-and-coming filmmakers were chosen along with the pros—“a healthy pairing,” according to Nugent.
As in the recent past, documentaries are a prominent part of HIFF. The popular SummerDocs series, hosted by Alec Baldwin at Guild Hall, just finished its sixth year, and the winner of the 2014 SummerDocs Audience Award, Keep On Keepin’ On, will be given a special screening. “Audiences enjoy documentaries,” Nugent says, and each year they get more sophisticated from both a technical point of view as well as in content. There seems to be an appetite for films about political and societal issues, particularly environmental issues, and films go beyond what viewers get as news and features on television. The docs also reflect a democratic leveling of the field because filmmakers can now deliver what, 25 years ago, would have required more expensive equipment and extensive editing time.
HIFF kicks off with 125 spectacular screenings, main features and shorts, starting October 9 when Guild Hall leads off with the wistful, wacky St. Vincent with Melissa McCarthy, Bill Murray, Naomi Watts and young Jaeden Lieberher. The comedy about what it means to grow up was 2nd runner up as “People’s Choice Award for Best Film” at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Southampton will have its own opening night with Wild, which stars Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed, who hiked the Pacific Coast Trail on a path of self discovery.
As Nugent points out, this year’s festival, the 22nd annual, will not be bigger than ever, but for that very reason, it will be better. In 2012, HIFF had a lineup of 99 features. In 2013, it cut back to 75, and the reduction proved successful. Concentration led to more selectivity, resulting in more attendees at each screening. The new number of 75 for the main films will hold.
As usual, U.S. premieres abound, many trailing clouds of glory from debuts abroad. These include the thriller Elephant Song, The Imitation Game about Alan Turing, Laggies with Keira Knightley, Sophie Barthes’s adaptation of Madame Bovary, as well as Nightcrawler, Song One, The Last Impresario, Dancing Arabs and the Swedish drama Force Majeure. Also abounding are World Cinema premieres, films from more than 29 countries, including Banksy Does New York, Wildlike, My Italian Secret and The Forgotten Heroes.
HIFF must be doing something right. As Nugent points out, an overwhelming number of films first shown at HIFF go on to win major awards, including Best Picture at the Oscars. In the past six years, in fact, HIFF films have received 150 Oscar nominations. And related special events keep growing, such as HIFF’s fourth annual Rowdy Talks (held at Rowdy Hall in East Hampton on October 10, 11 and 12, from 10–11 a.m.), with prominent panelists from the entertainment industry discussing hot topics such as how video-on-demand has affected movie distribution. Variety is also back for a third year, hosting “10 Actors to Watch,” with moderator Steven Gaydos to talk about what it means to be a Breakthrough Performer. So turn off your TV and get read for big events on the big screen!
HIFF runs October 9–13. For a full schedule and ticket info visit hamptonsfilmfest.org.