HIFF: Planning What Movies to See Was a Kind of Military Operation

HIFF cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas
HIFF cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

The Hamptons International Film Festival lasted from Thursday, October 10 to Monday evening, October 15, when the last of the approximately 100 films got shown in various theaters around the Hamptons. No one person could possibly see all of them, of course. Or they could, but it would mean—considering between the shorts and the full-length stuff, you’d need an hour for each—you’d have to watch movies 24 hours a day for four days, and on the fifth day, rest.

The weather on the first three days was brisk and gusty. There were occasional sprinkles. But it didn’t deter the people in the long lines just outside the theaters, waiting to get in. They had umbrellas. They hung onto their hats and, if they’d gotten them, to the giant plastic sleeves hanging from ribbons around their necks that held a photo of themselves and in big capital letters indicating that they are very special people with a seriously good form of access to all films.

East and Southampton have multiplex auditoriums. There were so many films, many of them timed to overlap one another in the different venues.

So young, starry-eyed film volunteers guarded the multiplex entry doors and, when approached, peered down at the plastic sleeves—if any—and quickly motioned people this way and that to the backs of one of three or four different lines, or for the super-duper-sleeve few, to come right in and go anywhere. Some people paid $1,750 to be a FOUNDER, for example. Since the festival was 27 years old, there were some REAL founders and those who just were pretend founders. This has, sometimes, led to arguments. These theatergoers in the various lines were not used to being made to wait while others came late but got in first. But what can you do.

I don’t know if everybody realizes how lucky we are to be a place where one of these film festivals takes place. There is Cannes. There is Deauville. There is Sundance. And there is the Hamptons. And particularly here, where the busy summer season is over and the quiet autumn takes hold, there is a rush of activity on Festival Weekend that approaches the kind of rush we have on a crowded weekend in July. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience, out of season, to get this economic boost. And it is most welcome.

Needless to say, you need a 60-page program to list and describe all of the films, indicate when and where they will be shown, and explain in which category they are entered to win a prize. Categories included World Cinema, Conflict & Resolution, Compassion, Justice & Animal Right, Short Films and Spotlight Films and Special Presentations. Locations for showing included Guild Hall, UA East Hampton, Bay Street in Sag Harbor and the Regal Southampton.

At our house on Wednesday before opening day, we all gathered around the table and put together a battle plan of where to go and when. Not being in the industry, we had to fit them into family and work demands, to preferences, to locations, to meal times, to parking situations (you needed two and a half hours of parking for some of these films, with the before and after speakers, and the cops were out in the two- and one-hour zones) and, for some, even bedtimes, which came early in some cases.

The big dog among my friends and family sitting around that table sketched out a group plan, but unfortunately she loves documentaries about bad things happening to people. I love a good adventure, an entertainment, a comedy or something I know very little about, but these other things I push away from. It was all there.

One film was about how the bad water in Flint, Michigan got to be that way. Another was about a prison warden, a woman, in charge of organizing electrocutions in one particular state, who, it seemed, was having second thoughts about whether she really wanted to live that way.

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There was an Italian film about how, in 1987, the Mafia hold on Italy was broken as the result of a series of mobsters and their sons getting rubbed out in shootings, all graphically recreated. And there was The Report, a documentary about the cruel torture of Islamic terrorists at Guantanamo and one particular woman, a government employee who documents it happening—some of it is shown in graphic detail—and then files a report she is supposed to write, which then is basically hidden away and never made public. Another film was about an underground hospital attending civilians wounded in the Syrian civil war.

Then there was the lighter stuff, more pure entertainment.

Brian de Palma’s Blow Out, made in 1991 starred John Travolta as a man who by chance witnesses and makes an audio tape of a murder disguised as an accident. Citizen K was about a Russian billionaire, a really charming fellow, who Putin jails for 10 years. The Capote Tapes was about East Ender Truman Capote, Jo Jo Rabbit was about a six-year-old who joins the German Wehrmacht in World War II, The Parasite was about a hopelessly unemployable South Korean family who by trickery get to be servants for a South Korean billionaire, and finally The Aeronauts, a tale of two 19th century French balloonists who decide to take a balloon as far into the sky as it was possible to go.

HIFF is like a 10-course dinner you can’t possibly eat all of, but what the hell, you can try. Hooray for HIFF

Here are the festival winners:

A White, White Day, directed by Hlynur Pálmason, won the Award for Best Narrative Feature, sponsored by Warby Parker. Overseas, directed by Sung-a Yoon, received the Award for Best Documentary Feature, sponsored by Investigation Discovery. Just Me and You, directed by Sandrine Brodeur-Desrosiers, received the Award for Best Narrative Short Film, and Ghosts of Sugar Land, directed by Bassam Tariq, won for Best Documentary Short Film. (Both short films will qualify for Academy Awards consideration.) Narrative cinematographer Miguel Ioann Littin Menz received a Special Cinematography Award for his work on The Vast of Night, and The Best of Dorien B., directed by Anke Blondé, received a Breakthrough Achievement in Filmmaking Award.

In addition, these actors received Special Jury Mentions for Acting Performances: Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir for in A White, White Day; Mama Sane in Atlantics; Corinna Harfouch in Lara; Kim Snauwaert in The Best of Dorien B.; and Sierra McCormick in The Vast of Night. In the Documentaries category, Cunningham, directed by Alla Kovgan, received a Special Jury Prize for Artistic Vision; Talking About Trees, directed by Suhaib Gasmelbari, a Special Jury Prize for Indomitable Spirit of Storytelling; All Cats Are Grey in the Dark, directed by Lasse Linder, received a Special Jury Prize for Originality; and The Nightcrawlers, directed by Alexander A. Mora, got a Special Jury Prize for Creative Filmmaking. For Sama, directed by Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts, was awarded the 2019 Brizzolara Family Foundation Award to Films of Conflict and Resolution, which is accompanied by a $5,000 cash prize.

The Two Popes, directed by Fernando Meirelles, took home the Audience Award for Narrative Feature. Oliver Sacks: His Own Life, directed by Ric Burns, took home the Audience Award for Documentary Feature. Fire in Paradise, directed by Drea Cooper & Zackary Canepari, won the Audience Award for Best Short Film.

I saw nine films of the 100. None of them won.

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