Laurie Simmons has uttered the sentence, “Artists love movies,” more times than she can count.
So much so that those three words inspired an entire film.
And, coincidentally, “My Art” — starring Simmons as a film-obsessed artist — will screen in a new East End-based film series aptly eponymous with the sentence that motivated it.
The irony is not lost on Simmons, either.
“Artists do love movies!” she exclaimed. “I’ve always felt like all the artists I know had an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of film — an amazing, amazing sense of movie history.
“But another subset of that conversation is we often talked, and oftentimes despairingly, about movies about artists, because we felt like artists were never portrayed accurately on screen, that they were caricatured and made fun of and exaggerated,” she continued. “Those are some of the things that made me want to make a movie about an artist, because I was kind of making it for my people, in a way.”
Organized by the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center, “Artists Love Movies” is a series for and sometimes about artists — and the general public — selected by artists and fellow creatives at a time when the interconnection between film and visual arts is at an all-time high.
After all, two of the most anticipated releases this fall are movies directed by artists, including Julian Schnabel’s “At Eternity’s Gate,” a film about Vincent van Gogh, according to April Gornik, vice president of the Sag Harbor Partnership and participant in “Artists Love Movies.”
“Cinema and art, I think, are more conjoined than they had been,” she said. “It’s a time in the history of art, generally, where we’re reconsidering all the aspects of what makes a work of art great. And that can absolutely include film. We’ve all been just as moved by a movie as we have been by a painting.”
She paused, and laughed. “Maybe visual artists not as much.”
But the first time Gornik watched “Spirited Away” — the highest-grossing film in Japanese history and winner of the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature — she couldn’t help herself.
It was “one unexpected delight and pleasure after another,” she said of the film, which will screen on September 2 at the Pierson High School auditorium in Sag Harbor.
“It’s beautiful, it’s inspirited, it’s completely magical, and it’s nature and culture crisscrossing in this inspiring way. And, also, it’s a girl hero,” she said. “There’s everything to like about this movie. It’s right up there with my favorites.”
“I talked to David Salle about doing this series, and when we were emailing back and forth, he was like, ‘How can I possibly choose? There are so many movies that have moved me so deeply over the years to which I am literally indebted as an artist and as a person,’” she continued.
“To try to single out one and say, ‘This is it,’ is literally impossible.”
Under pressure, Salle did finally choose: “The Misfits,” starring the legendary Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Eli Wallach and Montgomery Clift, which will screen on Sunday, July 15, at the Pierson High School auditorium in Sag Harbor.
“It’s a movie I wanted to see again on a bigger screen — but why that film of all the films, I don’t really have an answer for you,” he said. “It’s the mood, the tone, the look, the period, the feeling, the specific time and place, the specific aspect of American history and culture, the dynamic between the principal characters.
The specifics from scene to scene, there’s some moments of clarity and emotional vulnerability that I think are way at the top of anything in cinema, as far as those elements go.”
Simmons did not find those kinds of moments in the first movies she was allowed to see alone: a double feature in the late 1950s — “The Blob” and “I Married a Monster from Outer Space.”
“It was a really big day. Amazing movies, but I knew I wasn’t in the presence of great art, particularly ‘The Blob,’” she said. “There was something about discovering, at 16 or 17, French New Wave cinema. It made me, as a young person living in the suburbs — and a person who saw myself as arty — suddenly feel elevated. I suddenly felt like I had access to another world, a much more romantic world being revealed to me through cinema, not movies. Cinema.”
At home in the northwest corner of Connecticut, Simmons recalls that this is where she shot the majority of “My Art” exactly three years ago, which included a cameo from her daughter, Lena Dunham of “Girls” fame.
“When I played Siri in my daughter’s movie, ‘Tiny Furniture,’ I was really aware of her portrayal of an artist, and I started thinking about the fact that even my daughter — who had grown up around artists — didn’t get nuance and the flavor of the day-to-day life of an artist. That she sort of caricatured it,” Simmons said. “I was so excited about her film and about participating in it, and it made me really think about that. From that point on, Ellie really just started writing herself.”
Autobiographical only in the sense that Simmons is also a working artist, Ellie finds herself reenacting scenes from her favorite films, using them in the same way a musical would use songs — to drive the narrative, and the characters themselves, forward.
“People get stuck in their lives and they keep pushing. They keep pushing to have some sort of breakthrough. And that breakthrough — an artistic breakthrough, an emotional breakthrough — can happen any time,” she said.
“And I think that all of the characters in their own way are very stuck in ‘My Art’ and they kind of need each other and feed off each other.“
“I wrote it for artists and I figured they would be my key audience, but I’ve found that a lot of people relate to Ellie’s challenge, to just be dissatisfied with where you are and push yourself further,” she continued. “This kind of breakthrough is between you and yourself; it’s almost not about the rest of the world. It’s the way we challenge ourselves and the way we feel dissatisfaction and the way we still want to push through it. I see it as a kind of coming-of-age movie and, yeah, Ellie’s 65, but you can come of age many different ways, many different times in your life.”
“My Art,” which will screen on August 26, and the “Artists Love Movies” series as a whole represents just the beginning of what the Sag Harbor Cinema will eventually offer, according to film curator Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan, head of the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center programming committee.
“It’s a very nuanced series and I hope it gives an idea of how lively this conversation is, and attracts different kinds of audiences, which is ultimately what we want to do at the cinema,” she said. “To reach out to all the different audiences that might be out there and bring them together for the love of film.”
The “Artists Love Movies” film series will continue with “The Misfits,” presented by David Salle, on Sunday, July 15, at 6 p.m. at the Pierson High School auditorium, located at 200 Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor.
Additional screenings will include “Boom For Real” with Sara Driver on Sunday, July 22, at 6 p.m. at Pierson High School; “SPF-18” with Alex Israel on Sunday, July 29, at 6 p.m. at the Southampton Arts Center, located at 25 Jobs Lane in Southampton; “The General” with Robert Wilson on August 5 and “Cuban Food Stories” with Maria Bacardi on August 12, both at 6 p.m. at Pierson High School; “Ceux de Chez Nous” with Wendy Keys on August 19 at 6 p.m. at Ross Senior Lecture Hall, located at 18 Goodfriend Drive in East Hampton; “My Art” with Laurie Simmons on August 26 and “Spirited Away” with April Gornik on September 2, both at 6 p.m. at Pierson High School; and “Leonard Bernstein: Reaching for the Note” with Susan Lacy and Jamie Bernstein on September 16 at 4 p.m. at Pierson High School.
A conversation with each guest will follow every screening. Tickets are $10 and free for children under age 14. For more information, please visit sagharborcinema.org/artistslovemovies.