Who doesn’t love a well-told story? A good story engages, informs, excites and seduces us. Storytelling has its origins in pictures on cave walls and later in the oral tradition, passed down from one storyteller to the next. Today, documentary films take us inside the stories of interesting people, events and issues. And nothing is more fascinating than a story that is true, based on facts, interviews and first-hand accounts. Truth is always stranger than fiction!
Beginning Thursday, December 5 and running through Monday, December 9, the Hamptons DOC FEST presents a diverse lineup of films both entertaining and enlightening. In its 12th year, the festival, founded by filmmaker Jacqui Lofaro, searches for strong storylines and character development, as well as unique and untold stories that spark imagination and conversation. Most screenings include a Q&A with a filmmaker, director or producer. And this year, the venues have been extended to include both Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor and the Southampton Arts Center. Lofaro discusses her passion for the documentary form and the highlights of this year’s festival.
Where does your passion for the documentary genre come from?
I saw the power a well-told story can have to bring awareness to a topic, to stimulate a conversation. In my case, it centered on social change. I am a documentary filmmaker myself and produced The Empty Chair: Death Penalty Yes or No and a companion film, The Forgiveness Equation, as well as a feature documentary, The Last Fix: An Addict’s Passage from Hell to Hope, about drug addiction, a problem of epic proportion, which premiered at the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. I knew so many talented filmmakers who were telling amazing stories. I was driven to bring them all together, while also searching for new, talented filmmakers and unique stories.
What makes the Hamptons DOC FEST different from the many other film festivals across Long Island?
We are the only festival on Long Island presenting nothing but documentaries. Many festivals include docs, but the Hampton DOC FEST focuses on the art of the documentary film. It allows us to immerse ourselves in the genre. We like to say, “All docs all day.”
What is new and noteworthy this year?
To me, it’s all exciting, and I wish everyone could see every film. By adding the Southampton Arts Center, we have made screenings more accessible to more people. I am also so pleased to have renamed our prestigious Career Achievement Award, the Pennebaker, for one of the giant pioneers and innovators in the field, DA Pennebaker. My last conversation with Penny, a few weeks before his passing, was about his delight with the growing crop of docs. His focus as a filmmaker was primarily the performing arts and politics. His body of work was recognized in 2013 with an honorary Academy Award. He is a true icon. The first Pennebaker goes to Robby Kenner. Kenner has been called a master of the documentary form and has won an array of awards for his entertaining and insightful documentary work over the past 30 years. He is probably best known for his film Food Inc. That’s our Saturday evening program.
You have carefully curated an enticing film schedule, but you must have some favorites. What are two films you are most excited for people to see?
That is like asking me to pick my favorite friend! The slate has more than 30 films and shorts, and I am a big fan of all of them. But we do have a cash prize Audience Award determined by ballots to recognize the crowd favorite. So viewers get to pick. But if I must tempt you just a bit, our opening night film is Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack about the iconic East End artist who is now 88 years young. She will be part of the Q&A. On Friday, the feature is Citizen K, a deep dive into the strange case of a one-time Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. On Sunday afternoon, we are co-presenting with Sag Harbor Cinema the film Very Ralph, about Ralph Lauren, directed by award-winning filmmaker Susan Lacy. And Monday is our Douglas Elliman Community Day and films are free.
What is the best way to navigate the Festival?
A festival pass gives you entry to any film throughout the weekend, so you don’t really have to decide. But you can go online for individual tickets and choose based on your time frame and interests. And since we have so carefully curated the films, any documentary you choose will be eye-opening in some way. We have deliberately kept the cost of the screenings reasonable.
Is there anything else we should know about the Hamptons DOC FEST?
While the big festival weekend is in December, and we look forward to seeing both old and new friends at the films, Hamptons DOC FEST is a year-round effort. We screen films all year long. So keep an eye out for our spring and fall screenings. We are also very proud of our educational programs that bring documentary storytelling into the schools. Young Voices is dedicated to our local community youth. We work with middle and high school students on a curriculum that includes storytelling and filmmaking. Students get the chance to act, direct, write, edit and operate cameras, while learning from industry professionals. And they get to see their films screened. This is a program that we are actively working to expand to more schools and students.
The Hamptons DOC FEST runs from December 5–9 at Bay Street Theater and Southampton Arts Center. Tickets are $15 adult, $13 senior, $25 spotlight films and $200 festival pass. For more information, visit hamptonsdocfest.com.