The Hamptons International Film Festival was founded in 1993 with the showing of a dozen or so new films at the East Hampton cinema over one October weekend. It was a modest affair, organized by Joyce Robinson, who was a former Hollywood casting director with a summer home here. But then, one day several years later, something happened that made me realize that the festival had come of age.
I was walking along in front of the East Hampton Theater on Main Street that weekend when off in the distance I thought I saw a giant butterfly coming down the street. I stopped to watch. It got closer. And soon it arrived at the curb just in front of the theater. It was a slender young woman on a bicycle with a spangled bikini, a crown and these colorful five-foot-tall wings that fluttered when she pedaled and came to a halt when she stopped.
She had arrived. I had arrived. And the film festival was now enjoying one of the first film promotions put together for everyone to enjoy. I do not recall the name of the film. And I don’t know if it won any awards. But I recall what happened. She’d stay a while, talk to people, then flutter off down the street and pedal back. And then the police came, apparently at the instruction of the mayor, and after explaining to her there were all sorts of local ordinances she was violating (although they couldn’t explain exactly which ones they were), they escorted this cute butterfly out toward Wainscott from the direction she had come.
I watched this and I thought, the Hamptons International Film Festival has arrived.
Nearly 20,000 people come to the festival every year. There are more than 100 films shown—murders, horror, documentaries, comedies, short features—they are almost all new and all the people, or many of the people, who either made them, starred in them, produced them or filmed them, are here, hoping to impress some film company executives enough to get them to sign on the dotted line to bring what they made to a movie screen near you.
Over the years, many new films shown here have gone on to fame and fortune or, sometimes, one but not the other. They have included 12 Years a Slave, 127 Hours, Amour, Argo, The Artist, Black Swan, Casino Jack, The Cooler, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Hotel Rwanda, How to Survive a Plague, Kill Your Darlings, The King’s Speech, Kinsey, Labor Day, The Messenger, My Week with Marilyn, Nebraska, Paperman, Philomena, Pollock, Searching for Sugar Man, Silver Linings Playbook, Slumdog Millionaire, Solitary Man, The Triplets of Belleville, Up in the Air and The Wrestler.
You as a theatergoer are part of the process, because as you enter each film, you are given a little card that allows you to rate what you saw. See if you are any good at predicting what is the best. At the end of the weekend, among other things, there are Audience Awards given at the end of the festival. What fun!
It’s not easy to choose the best, though. There are as many as five screenings at one of 14 theaters around the Hamptons every day (this includes multiplexes) from Thursday to Monday. Nobody expects you to, and surely nobody hopes you will, try to watch every single film in five days, but you could try.
The list of famous actors who have attended HIFF to speak of what they have done or to just enjoy what others have done is long and remarkable, and it includes Danny Aiello, Alan Alda, Joan Allen, Robert Altman, Julie Andrews, Kevin Bacon, Alec Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, Maria Bellow, Marisa Berenson—and I have only gotten through A and B.
Call 212-279-4200 or visit hamptonsfilmfest.org to arrange to see a film, go to a party, an awards ceremony, a lecture or an interview. But don’t try showing up with butterfly wings on. They’ll flutter you back where you came from.