By Dawn Watson
For movie buffs, nothing beats sitting in a darkened theater and being transported to a different time and place. Especially for East End film lovers, there’s no better day at the cinema than Columbus Day weekend when the Hamptons International Film Festival arrives.
Screening more than 125 features, shorts and documentaries, and beckoning more than 25,000 audience members to South Fork theaters to watch them, HIFF brings the world to our doorsteps during its five-day schedule. From big name actors, directors and writers to obscure and emerging talent in front of and behind the camera, and drawing from subject matter as vast as the ocean that surrounds us, there’s sure to be something for everyone in the profusion of movies that are screened at the annual film festival.
In keeping with the high bar set in the past decade, this year’s HIFF is not to be missed, says Artistic Director David Nugent. Now in its 24th year, the films that will be shown at the 2016 festival are of similar superlative quality to previous outings, which have included the Best Picture Oscar winner in 7 of the last 8 years.
During the past eight years, HIFF films have garnered a total of 230 Academy Award nominations. Last year alone, movies screened at HIFF went on to earn 36 Academy Award nominations—including four Best Picture nominations and four Best Actress nominees—and five Oscar wins, including Best Picture for “Spotlight.”
“We try to pick the best,” Mr. Nugent says simply of how HIFF screens so many standout films.
The “big” films—the Opening, Centerpiece, Closing and Spotlight selections—are generally quite popular with audiences and critics alike, according to Mr. Nugent. And this year’s offerings are no exception, he reports, adding that there’s already been serious buzz about some of the main selections.
The two Opening Films, “Loving” and “Strange Weather,” will both be celebrating their U.S. Premieres.
“Loving,” which screens on Thursday, October 6, in East Hampton, tells the tale of a real-life interracial couple who were arrested after eloping in 1958. The film stars Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga.
“Strange Weather” screens on Friday, October 7, in Southampton. Starring Holly Hunter, the film follows her character on a journey into the Deep South, and into acceptance.
The two Centerpiece Films for 2016 are “Manchester by the Sea,” starring Casey Affleck and “20th Century Women,” starring Annette Bening.
Screening on Saturday, October 8, “Manchester by the Sea” focuses on how a family comes to terms with loss. Directed by Kenneth Lonergan, the film also stars Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler and features Lucas Hedges and Kara Hayward, who are both included in the “Variety 10 Actors to Watch” selection this year.
Screening on Sunday, October 9, “20th Century Women” shows how a family can be created out of community, and some of the life lessons one must learn when growing up. Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, Elle Fanning and Lucas Jade Zumann also star.
Screening on Monday, October 10, the Closing Night Film, “American Pastoral,” stars Ewan McGregor in his directorial debut. An adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel of the same name, the film offers a view into the lives of the seemingly perfect American family, which crumbles after a former star athlete’s and beauty queen’s daughter commits a violent crime after becoming radicalized. Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning also star.
There are 10 Spotlight Films that have been chosen to screen this year. Chief among the most anticipated movies to be shown at this year’s festival are “Lion,” and “Moonlight.”
Starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham and Rooney Mara, “Lion” is about a young man, lost in India and separated from his family as a child, who is adopted by another family. Two and a half decades later, he being embarks on a search to find them.
Relative unknowns—Alex R. Hibbert and Mahershala Ali, who is included in the Variety 10 Actors to Watch selection—star in “Moonlight.” The coming-of-age story centers on a shy gay boy who is bullied and struggling to get by in the drug-infested and violent streets in the underbelly of Miami.
Other Spotlight Films include: “Bleed for This,” a boxing movie starring Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart (who will also participate in a Conversation With at Guild Hall in East Hampton on Friday night); “Burn Your Maps,” a road-trip film starring Vera Farmiga, Marton Csokas and Jacob Tremblay (from last year’s Audience Award-winning film “Room”); and “Christine,” starring Rebecca Hall and based on the real-life of reporter Christine Chubbuck, who set herself on fire during a televised broadcast. There’s also “La La Land,” directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who play an aspiring actress and jazz musician in Hollywood, with John Legend, who is included in the Variety 10 Actors to Watch selection; “The Ticket,” about a blind man who suddenly regains his vision, which stars Dan Stevens, Oliver Platt and Malin Akerman; and “Wakefield,” based on a short story by E.L. Doctorow and starring Bryan Cranston as a man who decides to retire to the attic and observe life instead of living it among his family and friends. Rounding out this year’s Spotlight films are: “Julieta,” Pedro Almodovar’s ode to Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro, which stars Emma Suarez and Arianna Ugarte; and “Una,” a film about the devastating effects of love gone wrong, starring Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn and featuring Riz Ahmed, selected as on of the Variety 10 Actors to Watch.
In addition to the more commercial tent pole-type categories, the festival also has a number of Signature Programs each year. Film-based offerings include: Films of Conflict and Resolution, which feature complex issues and societal effects of war and violence; Compassion, Justice and Animal Rights, about animal advocacy, environmental and social justice issues; and Views from Long Island, which focuses on local filmmakers, the area’s unique landscapes, and the important social and political issues facing Long Island communities.
One such Views from Long Island offering that will surely be of interest to Sag Harbor residents is “Legs: A Big Issue in a Small Town” by Beatrice Alda and Jennifer Brooke. The documentary explores local reactions when two homeowners—Ruth Vered and Janet Lehr—install a provocative 16-foot Larry Rivers sculpture, “Legs,” in their yard. Based and filmed here, the film is full of real-life characters, conflicts and controversy, and has already sold out its Bay Street Theater screening on Monday, October 10.
Additionally, this year there’s programming in the Air, Land & Sea category, which launches at HIFF 2016 with the goal to generate awareness around man-made environmental issues and allow filmmakers and experts to share information and discuss solutions to these global problems, and a Focus on Norwegian Cinema, which brings the films of Norway to the East End.
This year’s film festival also includes World Cinema Documentary selections, which encompasses 14 features, ranging from award-winning festival favorites to one-of-a-kind world Premieres; World Cinema Narrative, which includes 18 feature-length films; Competition Films, comprising narrative and documentary selections; and a vast Short Films selection, which includes an abundant selection of programming themes, including Women Calling the Shots, Student Films, Films for all Ages, and more.
There will also be two Special Screenings films at HIFF this year. “Betting on Zero,” the Audience Award winner at this year’s Summer Docs program will be shown in Southampton on Sunday night. And “The Addams Family,” which has local roots—from creator, Charles Addams, whose imagination led to the popular cartoon series that inspired the film, and moviemaker Barry Sonnenfeld, in his directorial debut, who lived in East Hampton for three decades—will also screen on Sunday in Southampton.
But it’s not just solely film screenings that are the focus at HIFF. Other Signature Programs focus on learning about individual contributions to the world of acting and film, such as the Conversation With series, Winick Talks, Variety 10 Actors to Watch, the Awards Dinner celebrating the contributions of Edward Norton and an Awards ceremony for this year’s HIFF winners.
The 2016 Conversation With includes one-on-one talks with actors Edward Norton, this year’s Career Achievement Award-winner whose executive producing effort “Bunker77” makes its U.S. premiere at this year’s festival; Holly Hunter, who stars in “Strange Weather:” and Aaron Eckhart, who stars in “Bleed for This.”
This year’s Winick Talks include a Meet the Programmers Q&A session with David Nugent and Ina Pira; a Meet the Filmmakers: Documentary Competition with emerging talent and a panel featuring Moritz Siebert (“Those Who Jump”), Charlie Siskel (“American Anarchist”), Stacey Reiss (“The Eagle Huntress”) and Jonathan Rippon (“Fraud”); and a Women in Film: Lots of Talk, Any Action program on gender diversity with Terry Lawler, Thelma Adams, Jessie Auritt (“Supergirl”), Kat Coiro (“The Wig Shop”), Chris Hegedus (“Unlocking the Cage”), and Kahane Cooperman (“Joe’s Violin”).
The Variety 10 Actors to Watch selections highlight up-and-coming talent whose work is usually featured in films screened at HIFF, and who often attend the festivities. Past honorees have included: Lupita Nyong’o, Brie Larson, Oscar Isaac, David Oyelowo, Tatiana Maslany, Dane DeHaan, Emily Blunt, Jessica Chastain, Blake Lively, Rooney Mara, Ezra Miller and Alexander Skarsgård. This year’s group includes HIFF screener standouts Riz Ahmed, appearing in “Una;” Mahershala Ali, appearing in “Moonlight” and “Gubagude KO;” Kara Hayward, appearing in “Manchester by the Sea” and “Paterson;” Lucas Hedges, appearing in “Manchester by the Sea;” and John Legend, appearing in “La La Land” as well as actors Rachel Brosnahan, Ana de Armas, Alden Ehrenreich, Tavi Gevinson and Aja Naomi King.
In addition to bringing a bit of something for everyone, what makes HIFF so special is that every year there are a number of movies screened and events programmed at the festival that are rarely seen anywhere else, reports Mr. Nugent. From the films that might not get wide distribution to the one-of-a-kind talks with the people responsible for making the movies themselves, the Hamptons International Film Festival brings with it not just first looks but many incredible and rare opportunities to the East End.
“There are so many films, the likes of which so many you wouldn’t ever get to see otherwise,” he says. “Here we not only get the chance to watch them, but to sometimes even actually meet the people who make them—including those who have already had some measure of success as well as the ones who will be the superstars of tomorrow.”