Hamptons 2014 Fall Preview: Hamptons International Film Festival

Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank in "The Homesman," screening at the 2014 Hamptons International Film Festival.
Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank in "The Homesman," screening at the 2014 Hamptons International Film Festival.

As Artistic Director David Nugent points out, the 22nd Hamptons International Film Festival will not be bigger this year. 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 increased ticket sales and more people at each screening. Seventy-five features will hold for 2014, when the festival opens over Columbus Day weekend, with a new venue added to the list. In addition to screenings at the East Hampton and Southampton Regal movie theaters and at Guild Hall and the Sag Harbor Cinema, the Westhampton Beach Performing Art Center is participating this year for the first time.

Though the lineup of films includes a number of dazzling firsts, buzz is already out about the Sunday night centerpiece showing of The Homesman, starring Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones, who also directed. The film, based on a 1988 knockout novel by acclaimed writer Glendon Swarthout, will also be the focus of one of HIFF’s signature “A Conversation With…” programs, with Swank in attendance. Also sharing buzz is the Saturday- night centerpiece, Foxcatcher , directed by Bennett (Capote, Moneyball) Miller, a psychological thriller based on the real-life tale of two Olympic gold medalist brothers and their tragic relationship with a multi-millionaire benefactor (Mark Ruffalo, who will join in “A Conversation With…”). Bob Balaban will also be front and center this year. The actor, author, producer and director, who has been with HIFF since 1994, is this year’s Honorary Chairman.

The winnowing of entries to the festival, 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. Though entries came from all over the world, many were from “our own backyard.” The committee put selections on a “programming grid,” which ensured that up-and-coming filmmakers were chosen along with the pros (“a healthy pairing”).

As in the recent past, documentaries are a prominent part of HIFF (the popular SummerDocs series, hosted by Alec Baldwin, just finished its sixth year). Each year they get more sophisticated from both a technical point of view as well as in terms of content. There seems to be an appetite for films about political and societal issues, particularly environmental issues, and certainly such films go beyond what viewers typically get on the news and in features on television. The docs also reflect a democratic leveling of the field, because filmmakers can now more easily deliver what just 25 years ago would have required expensive equipment and extensive editing time.

So what makes HIFF stand out from other film festivals opening around the country? “The Hamptons,” Nugent says without a moment’s hesitation. Nugent studied film at Syracuse University and took a Masters at Boston University, and he has a home in Amagansett.

The Hamptons can also boast having an engaged, activist community, as well as a 400-year history on which Long Island filmmakers can draw. Thus, the returning series “Views from Long Island,” which focuses on local filmmakers and films with geographic ties to the region. Among this year’s offerings, look for The Affair, an exploration of two marriages, set in the Hamptons; Gabriel, a film about a young man dealing with mental illness that examines America’s fixation with the nuclear household; Diplomacy, a timely look at Nazi-occupied Paris by a “legendary German filmmaker who is an Amagansett resident;” and Iris by Al (Grey Gardens) Maysles, 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 lest it be forgotten, the closing night film, Still Alice, a U.S. premiere about Alzheimer’s, stars Montauker Julianne Moore and the East End’s
own Baldwin.

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 Academy Awards. In the past six years, in fact, HIFF films received 150 Oscar nominations.

The festival runs October 9-13. For a full updated schedule and ticket info visit hamptonsfilmfest.org

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