Hamptons International Film Festival 2021 Diary and Winners

HIFF VIPs: Randy Mastro, David Nugent, Anne Chaisson, Matthew Heineman, Alec Baldwin
HIFF VIPs: Randy Mastro, David Nugent, Anne Chaisson, Matthew Heineman, Alec Baldwin
Sonia Moskowitz

My wife and I went to some of the movies shown at the Hampton International Film Festival this past weekend. Many of these films were premieres, and various directors, actors, critics, producers, distributers and agents flew in to East Hampton Airport from points far away to preview the movies and make decisions about those they wished to become involved with. As a result, there were meetings and parties all over town. It made for a lively, busy Columbus Day weekend here.

As HIFF Artistic Director David Nugent told me before the weekend, many winners selected each year for the last eight years all received Academy Awards when the time came. No other film festival could make that statement. If you saw them at our festival, you could later marvel at everyone’s wisdom at the Awards.

HIFF Narrative jury — Sam Bisbee, Leah Greenblatt and Bill Collage — presenting the award for Best Narrative Film
HIFF Narrative jury — Sam Bisbee, Leah Greenblatt and Bill Collage — presenting the award for Best Narrative FilmChloe Gifkins

Could one see all 64 films selected by the festival? Yes, but only if you watch 14 hours every day without a meal, sleep or bathroom break for five days. Never been done. Go for it!

Anyway, to hold the film festival this year (after cancelling it last year), lots of restrictions were in place so people would feel safe attending. You had to show your vaccination card to get in. Masks had to be worn at all times. No drinks or food (not even popcorn) were available. And only two local theaters had what the festival felt were appropriate air exchanger systems. So, the John Drew Theater at Guild Hall in East Hampton and the two theaters at the new Sag Harbor Cinema were the only places where the films were shown.

After studying the elaborate festival program ahead of time, we got tickets (online reservations) to a total of five films. Here are our reviews of what we saw.

Scene from "Storm Lake"
Scene from “Storm Lake”Courtesy HamptonsFilm

STORM LAKE

Both of us loved this movie, particularly because my life’s work has been Dan’s Papers and here was a film, a documentary, about the troubles that a newspaper in a small town is going through. So far, troubles have snuffed out nearly 3,000 local weekly newspapers in America. (Though not Dan’s Papers. Did you see our 264-page weekly paper over Labor Day Weekend?)

The documentary profiles The Storm Lake Times, a newspaper that’s served the town of Storm Lake, Iowa, for the last 60 years. Its editor, Art Cullen, won an Pulitzer Prize several years ago for writing of a scandal at the town’s biggest employer, a Tyson Meat Packing plant. But then there’s this: farmers forced out of business by Tyson, immigrants in town who don’t speak English but work at Tyson, factories closing, the rise of Donald Trump’s fibs and the social media’s irresistibly delicious fake news. The movie is beautifully done. You are there. And it seems no good will come of this, unless the editor and publisher can engage everyone in proper small town journalism. That’s the plan.

Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson appear in "Passing" by Rebecca Hall, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Edu Grau. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.
Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson appear in “Passing” by Rebecca HallCourtesy of Sundance Institute

PASSING

This was a remake of a film first done in the 1930s about two African-American women who could pass for white and the problems that arise when one marries a white husband, moves to a white neighborhood, then, unhappy there, comes back. Done as a period film, the styles, cars and clothing are from that era, but current day dialogue in the screenplay seemed out of place. I also thought that Rebecca Hall’s directing was choppy and the acting not quite up to par. But others I spoke to loved it, including my wife.

Scene from "The Worst Person in the World."
Scene from “The Worst Person in the World.”Courtesy HIFF

THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD

This is a movie we both loved. It’s about a young woman living in Oslo, Norway, her choice of boyfriends, her inability to decide what she wants to do with her life, and how those around her have to cope with it. It’s bittersweet and compelling in every way. The star, Renate Reinsve, is an actress who, in my opinion, rivals Meryl Streep in talent. You’ll be seeing more of her, I predict. Subtitles.

But take note: even though we arrived a half hour before the film began, we had to stand at the back of a very long line outside, so when we got in, we had to sit way over in the corner and so close that the actors on screen were overly tall and thin. Still, as I said, we loved it.

BELFAST

Set in 1969 amid the Irish rioting between the Catholics and Protestants, the film is about an extended Northern Ireland family of Protestants trying to survive in Belfast. It’s passionate, explosive, violent, loving and compelling, but I understood absolutely nothing anybody said. The movie needed subtitles – the Irish spoke a form of English completely unintelligible to either me or my wife. So we came away thinking, boy this is a great movie, but what were the people in that family saying? Maybe it will hit Netflix with subtitles. We sure want to know what was going on.

Scene from "Petite Maman," playing at HIFF 2021
Scene from “Petite Maman,” playing at HIFF 2021Courtesy Hamptons Film Festival

PETITE MAMAN

A celebrated French female director named Celine Sciamma made a great movie. And this was her next movie. What was she thinking? It’s about two eight-year-old girls, unrelated, although they look alike, and their parents. It takes place at two adjacent cottages in a woods. There is no plot. It’s slice of life. But the two girls become best friends forever building forts, having sleepovers etc, etc. Love blossoms. Subtitles.

Oddly, to me anyway, none of the five movies we saw won anything.

Selma Blair attended HIFF 2021 to support Rachel Fleit's documentary "Introducing, Selma Blair"
Selma Blair attended HIFF 2021 to support Rachel Fleit’s documentary “Introducing, Selma Blair”

Here are the Hamptons International Film Festival 2021 winners:

MURINA won the award for Best Narrative Feature.

ASCENSION won for Best Documentary Feature.

EGUNGUN (MASQUERADE) won Best Narrative Short Film.

IN FLOW OF WORDS won Best Documentary Short Film.

Franz Rogowski won a special jury prize for exceptional performances in GREAT FREEDOM GROSSE FREIHEIT.”

BAD OMEN directed by Salar Pashtoonyar won the 2021 The Peter Macgregor-Scott Memorial Award, recognizing narrative short filmmakers and rewarding “creative approaches to solving practical production challenges in the service of storytelling.”

PAPER & GLUE won the award for Films of Conflict and Resolution. It also won the Social Justice Award.

GOOD GRIEF directed by Nastasya Popov won the Suffolk County Next Exposure Grant.

COW directed by Andrea Arnold won the Ethical Treatment of the Voiceless Award.

QUEEN OF GLORY directed by Nana Mensah and INTRODUCING, SELMA BLAIR directed by Rachel Fleit won NY Women in Film & Television Awards.

And Salar Pashtoonyar, Kathy E. Mitrani, Shaylee Atary, Jesse Zinn, Antoine Bonnet and Mathilde Loubes won University Short Film Awards.

Thank you, everyone, for making this weekend possible.

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