Filmmakers’ Second Act: Festival for movies overlooked the first time around

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From Sundance, Cannes and Telluride to nearly every other big (and small) city in the world, for movie lovers there is never a shortage of film festivals to choose from. Those with frequent flyer miles to burn could probably spend a solid year traveling the globe doing back to back film fests and never see the same movie twice. 

But for filmmakers navigating the festival circuit, there are, in actuality, far fewer slots available than films to fill them. Documentaries, narratives, animation, short subjects —the categories are endless and cuts inevitable given the finite availability of festival screen time. Rules of acceptance can also be daunting — many organizers insist that films premiere at their festival and be made within the last 18 months. That doesn’t leave movie makers with a lot of options. Even locally, the Hamptons International Film Festival, which started out small, has grown in size and acclaim in recent years to the point where it is now very competitive to get in.

So what’s a filmmaker to do when she’s poured her blood, sweat, tears (and bank account) into a true screen gem that just can’t seem to find a spot at a festival?

The answer? 

Start her own.

That’s what Bridgehampton filmmaker Jacqui Lofaro has done through the creation of the “Hamptons Take Two Film Festival.” The newest festival on the circuit came about specifically to give local filmmakers whose films didn’t make the cut at the Hamptons International Film Festival a second chance, so to speak, with East End audiences. 

“Take Two” premieres this Sunday, November 23, at the Bay Street Theatre with a selection of four short films beginning at 1 p.m. Hosted by WLIU radio host Bonnie Grice, admission is free and the festival features three documentaries and one narrative — a Q&A with the filmmakers will follow the screenings.

“There’s a community of artists out here and we all try to get our films in the Hamptons International Film Festival,” explains Lofaro. “But not everyone makes that slot. Then what? Because most independently produced films don’t have an opportunity for theatrical release, there’s nowhere else to see them.”

“I was talking with Bonnie Grice,” says Lofaro, “and she said, ‘We should have a rogue screening of your film.’ I got to thinking, how about a festival for local filmmakers who didn’t get a slot in the Hamptons International Film Festival?”

“What’s the point in making a film if people can’t see it?” she adds. “This is much easier.”

Lofaro felt that given its central location between East Hampton and Southampton, Sag Harbor is the ideal location for the festival and as the heart of the community, Bay Street Theatre the ideal venue. Granted as far as film festivals go, this one is a modest affair — just one afternoon of short films all under 40 minutes in length — but Lofaro is hoping the festival becomes an annual event that can provide local filmmakers an outlet for their labors of love.

“There is a place for films that don’t get screened elsewhere,” she says.

Featured in the film festival’s student entry is “Elderhood: Reports From an Unknown Country” by East Hampton’s Lily Henderson who attends Hampshire College in Massachusetts and takes on the subject of aging in her documentary. Young people don’t typically contemplate what aging means in this society, but in her film, Henderson does just that and journeys to what is for her a “foreign land” where she explores what it’s like to be old.

In her film, Henderson interviews a number of senior citizens about the aging process — including poet Harvey Shapiro and activist Phyllis Rodin. The responses vary — some are reflective and philosophical about the aging process while others are angry and defiant. In the process, Henderson also reminds young viewers that youth is not forever.

Also screened this Sunday will be Max Scott and Vera Graaf’s “Stranger From Away” a documentary about a man who creates a Sardine Museum and Herring Hall of Fame on the Canadian Island of Grand Manan, and “Epicac” a film by Will Tully based on a short story by the late Kurt Vonnegut. “Epicac” is a super computer that is enlisted by a young man to write romantic poems for the woman he loves. In its exploration of emotions, the computer comes to understand what it means to be human — both the good and the bad.

“The subject matter could be from anywhere in the world, but the filmmakers are all from the East End,” notes Lofaro. “We have people like [documentary filmmakers] Tom Garber and Nigel Noble — you go through the list and it’s extensive. Why not celebrate our talent?”

Lofaro’s own offering in “Take Two” is film titled “70 x 7: The Forgiveness Equation,” which she co-produced and directed with Victor Teich. The film is a follow up to an earlier documentary called “The Empty Chair” by Lofaro and Teich which explored the death penalty and the concept of forgiveness.

“The Empty Chair tells four stories of murder victim families, the trials of the murderers and punishment,” explains Lofaro. “In that film there was a small end piece on forgiveness and healing.”

“The many screenings we did and in dozens of Q&As, that portion on forgiveness was the most intriguing for audiences and the part they most resisted.”

Lofaro and Teich saw an opportunity to further explore the concept of forgiveness and were inspired to make “70 x 7.” The film’s title comes from scripture in which Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who harms him. “Seven times?” asks Peter. “No.” Jesus tells him, “Not 7 times, but 70 x 7 times.”

“70 x 7” tells the story of two people who forgave those who murdered their loved ones. One of them is Sue Norton who appeared in “The Empty Chair” and ended up befriending the man who murdered her parents, frequently visiting him on death row. The other is Bud Welch whose 23 year old daughter, Julie, was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 along with 167 other people — many of them children under the age of six. 

“He, like all the other families, went through a process of anger and revenge,” explains Lofaro. “He said, ‘If I could have gotten my hands on [Timothy] McVeigh I would’ve killed himself.’”

But Lofaro notes that Bud Welch found his anger toward McVeigh, who was executed for the crime in 2001, came at a cost. 

“He realized his health and life were in such danger because of his anger,” says Lofaro. “So he finds out where Bill McVeigh, Timothy’s father, lives in Buffalo and goes up to visit him and tells him face to face that he doesn’t hate him and forgives him.”

“Bud says a tremendous weight was lifted from his shoulders,” says Lofaro who notes that the issue of forgiveness has taken center stage in the face of events like the Amish schoolhouse shooting in Pennsylvania in 2006 in which five young girls were killed by a man who then turned his gun on himself. The fact that the Amish community responded to the tragedy by forgiving the shooter and providing comfort to his family made a huge impression on many who followed the story. 

“It’s a very emotional documentary,” says Lofaro of “70 x 7.” “Yes it’s about forgiveness on the big issues — but the same mechanism applies to small forgiveness.”

“Hamptons Take Two Film Festival” runs from 1 to 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, November 23 at Bay Street Theatre, Long Wharf, Sag Harbor. A $5 donation will be taken at the door. No reservations or tickets are needed.

 

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