The Hamptons’ First Film Festival

Film festival reels in the Hamptons
What will you see at this year’s film festival?
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The Hamptons International Film Festival will be showing movies here from October 7 to October 16. The festival was founded in 1992 and, from its very first year, was a big hit, with producers, directors, actors, screenwriters, distributors and cameramen flooding into our community to exchange ideas, make connections and do deals. On its last day, awards are announced. It’s a wonderful thing.

But HIFF, as it is known, was not the first film festival in the Hamptons. The first film festival was founded by Dan’s Papers seven years before HIFF. And if its existence had anything to do with creating the grand and glorious film festival that is now in place, I’m willing, as the editor and publisher of that paper at the time, to take full credit for it.

Of course, it’s also possible that when HIFF came along with all its international financial backing, it might not have even noticed that, when that happened, the “Dan’s Papers Film Festival” stepped aside to let the big boys have their day.

Ours was, indeed, but a trifle. But I think people ought to know a little bit about it.

The first of our film festivals took place in 1985. At that time (unlike today), people were hoping to draw more visitors to the Hamptons to help our little communities prosper. I hoped to help with that.

Our film festival had an awkward name. It was called the “Dan’s Papers They Made the Movie Here Film Festival.” And if you went, that’s what you saw. From Rudolph Valentino through to Cary Grant, Sophia Loren and onward to Woody Allen and Alan Alda, many filmmakers during the prior half century had filmed either all or part of their productions in our small towns. I would showcase them.

The annual budget for HIFF today probably exceeds $10 million a year. For my film festival, the cost was about $100.

Here’s how it worked. At the time, you could go down to any store that sold 8-track audio tapes and buy a film for about $12. Rent it for a day? About $4. It was for personal use only. Slide it into your VCR player, press play and a wire took the video to the back of your TV. Then you sit at home and watch it.

Seemed to me it would be legal to play a VCR anywhere so long as you didn’t charge admission. And so, in 1985, our little festival premiered, showing six films on six consecutive Saturday afternoons in a theater or lecture hall in the Hamptons. Those venues included the Arts Center at Southampton College, the John Drew Theater in East Hampton, LTV Studios in Wainscott and the gym at Southampton High School.

We’d put a large wooden sign in front of the venue announcing what was playing. We’d publicize it with free ads in Dan’s Papers. All come. We’d use the existing equipment at each venue. We’d have someone introduce the film beforehand, then, afterwards, serve wine and cheese in the lobby, and it would be a nice thing to do. We asked to use each venue for free. It might be a feather in their cap and good publicity for them. And we’d clean up afterwards.

Because the schedule was published in the paper ahead of time, sometimes a producer or actor from the film might show up and introduce the film beforehand. One year, we had a judge from the Academy Awards arrive unannounced asking to do that, and we were happy to do that. Here are some of the movies we showed.

Edith Bouvier, "Big Edie" and her daughter, Edith Bouvier Beale, aka "Little Edie," at Grey Gardens
Edith Bouvier, “Big Edie” and her daughter, Edith Bouvier Beale, aka “Little Edie,” at Grey Gardens, Photo: Courtesy Criterion Collection

Dan’s Papers They Made the Movie Here Film Festival Movies

Annie Hall (1977)Most of this was filmed in and around an oceanfront beach house in Amagansett. It starred Diane Keaton and Woody Allen, who also directed it.

Grey Gardens (1975) This was a stunning documentary by the Maysles brothers about two formerly wealthy women, a mother in her 80s and a daughter in her 50s, living in squalor in their home in East Hampton.

Rocket Gibraltar (1988) About an extended family enjoying a summer weekend in Westhampton Beach at a beach house where the patriarch of the family played by Burt Lancaster conspires with his grandchildren to be cast off to the sea in a small boat set on fire. It’s time for him to die.

Masquerade (1988) A film starring Rob Lowe about some villains up to no good. One scene was filmed in the dining room patio at what is now Oceanbleu in Westhampton Beach. Myself and a friend were extras in a scene, but it wound up on the cutting room floor.

Sweet Liberty (1986) This film starring Michael Caine and Alan Alda making a film (within the film) about a Revolutionary War battle between redcoats and patriots was shot in Sag Harbor. Alda also directed this film. Myself and a friend were extras in this, too.

Deathtrap (1982) A movie about murder and mayhem that takes place mostly inside a wooden windmill home in East Hampton. It takes a horrifyingly wild twist in the end. Starring Christopher Reeve, Michael Caine and Dyan Cannon.

Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) Starring Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, Morgan Freeman and Kim Cattrall. From a book written by Tom Wolfe, who lived in Southampton.

Serpico (1973) Starring Al Pacino, directed by Sidney Lumet. About gangsters in New York City from a book written by East Hampton’s Peter Maas.

Houseboat (1958) Starring Cary Grant and Sophia Loren aboard such a boat docked in a canal in Westhampton Beach. That’s what the owner of a marina in East Hampton told me. It was then a ruin in the weeds on one side of the passage into her boat basin. On seeing the film, it seemed to look nothing like what was in the Hamptons. So maybe it was just a
legend.

There were two films I had hoped to get but was never able to find. One was The Sheik, a 1921 silent film starring Rudolph Valentino and Agnes Ayres reportedly filmed at the Walking Dunes in Napeague. And a silent film called Hulda From Holland (1916), which film people told me was the first film ever made in the Hamptons. It featured our windmills. The only copy of it in existence, they said, was in a library in Czechoslovakia, but I was never able to get it.

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