Hamptons Doc Fest Is Back — But This Year it’s Virtual

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In 2016, Alex Gibney, left, was awarded the the Hamptons Doc Fest Career Achievement Award by Jacqui Lofaro and Ron Simon. C.B. Grubb photo.  

Jacqui Lofaro has long had a dream about how the Hamptons Doc Fest might look this year. The annual, all-documentary festival — which Lofaro founded in 2008 as the Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival —uses Bay Street Theater as its headquarters and is always held in early December, when the weather is crisp and the village aglow with twinkling white lights adorning the windmill on Long Wharf and the branches of live pine trees lining Main Street for the holiday season.

Now, with the brand new Sag Harbor Cinema totally rebuilt and ready to welcome audiences, Lofaro saw 2020 as the year that Sag Harbor would truly become a film festival village, with documentary lovers strolling Main Street as they went from one venue to the next to see movies.

“Our intentions were to take over Sag Harbor, like a mini-Sundance,” said Lofaro in a recent interview. “How perfect is that at holiday time? You go into the theater on a Saturday afternoon and come out at night and the trees are lit for the season.”

Of course, it was not to be since 2020 has turned out to be a year like no other.

“Maybe next year,” said Lofaro.

COVID-19 may have derailed the opportunity for Lofaro and her crew to use both Bay Street Theater and Sag Harbor Cinema for the 13th annual Hamptons Doc Fest, but that doesn’t mean the festival isn’t happening. Like many film festivals around the world, this year, the screenings will all be offered virtually.

“It was a big decision to do this festival online,” concedes Lofaro. “I see it as an opportunity and we have to embrace it. People are getting used to it and now they know they don’t have to go out in bad weather and can watch when they want — and the reach goes to more people.”

Jacqui Lofaro. C.B. Grubb photo

This year’s Hamptons Doc Fest, which has been expanded from five days to 10, runs Friday, December 4 to Sunday, December 13. The lineup includes 35 documentaries (including a shorts program of seven films) that can viewed at home over the course of the festival at the audience’s convenience.

Taking the festival online presented a huge learning curve for Lofaro and her team, who are working with the Canadian company CineSend to provide the platform for the films online. CineSend also coordinates with Elevent (goelevent.com) to provide the online ticketing platform to audiences.

Lofaro notes that several of the bigger films are geo-blocked — meaning they are restricted geographically by distributors so they can only be viewed by audiences in the United States, or the metro-New York region, for example.

“It’s a whole other language,” said Lofaro of the online model. “Who ever heard of geo-blocking? You’re dealing with totally different companies that deal with this online work. We send CineSend the films to be ingested. They put them into formatting for us.

“They can give us detailed analytics — when a film was watched and for how long, for example,” Lofaro added. “It’s helpful for understanding programming and subject matter.”

Fortunately, because the Hamptons Doc Fest isn’t until December, there has been ample opportunity to learn the virtual model from other festivals around the country.

“We’re a member of the Film Festival Alliance, a large organization of festivals, and they’ve done a lot of webinars,” said Lofaro. “Months ago, the Missoula film festival did a webinar — they were one of the first to go online.”

That festival — the International Wildlife Film Festival — was slated to run in-person in April, as it does every year. But Lofaro notes that just two weeks before opening, COVID-19 lockdown orders went into effect and the organizers scrambled to take everything online.

It’s a familiar tale for film festivals around the world. While the Sundance Festival ran as scheduled in Park City, Utah in late January, it was one of the only festivals that was able to offer in-person screenings in 2020. Not long after, the 73rd annual Cannes Film Festival, which was scheduled to take place from May 12 to 23, was cancelled altogether.

In the months since COVID-19 emerged, festivals have either had to cancel or adapt to the online model, and it appears that the cancellation of some of the bigger festivals has been a boon to smaller festivals like the Hamptons Doc Fest, in that more filmmakers are looking for places to screen their films.

“The number of submissions were higher this year and I think it was because the earlier festivals shut down,” said Lofaro.

With that, this year’s festival will offer a wide range of documentaries on all sorts of subjects. Bio-docs are always a festival favorite, and this year, Lofaro notes that among the offerings are Gregory Monro’s “Kubrick by Kubrick” about the life of legendary Stanley Kubrick, Sam Pollard’s “MLK/FBI” (the opening night film) which tells how J. Edgar Hoover worked to discredit Martin Luther King, Jr, and “Unstoppable,” Nick Willing’s profile, of artist Sean Scully.

Also offered will be Frederick Wiseman’s four-and-a-half-hour film “City Hall.” Festival goers will have a four-day window in which to watch the documentary about Boston city government under the leadership of Mayor Marty Walsh. The film is this year’s Pennebaker Career Achievement Award in honor of the late filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker who lived in Sag Harbor and died in 2019. Before the screening, Lofaro will present the award online to Wiseman and a short career overview of his work will be offered by Josh Siegel, curator of the Department of Film at MoMA.

Another highlight, “Some Kind of Heaven,” tells the story of retirees struggling to find their footing in The Villages retirement community in Florida. The film will be co-presented with the Sag Harbor Cinema, whose artistic director, Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan, will lead a Q&A with the film’s director Lance Oppenheim.

“We have a couple foreign film ‘Acasa, My Home’ is really a beautiful, powerful film,” said Lofaro. “It’s about a family in Romania who live in the wilderness. Then the government decides it will create a park and makes them move. It’s really lovely. The director Radu Ciorniciuc, founded an independent media company and works on human rights. That’s one film that people might pass by, but shouldn’t.”

Films about music and dance are always well-represented at the Hamptons Doc Fest, and this year is no exception. Lofaro points to “Beethoven in Beijing” and “Behind the Strings” as two such documentaries

“They both relate to China and Mao, when there was no music and China shut off from the West and classical music,” explained Lofaro. “‘Beethoven in Beijing’ is about how in 1973, Nixon sent the Philadelphia Orchestra to open the Bamboo Curtain.

“‘Behind the Strings’ is about how the Shanghai Quartet played all over the world, but not in China, and follows their triumphant return,” she added. “‘Uprooted: The Journey of Jazz Dance’ is also very good — it’s an eye opener and an education.

“I’m aware of our audience and if I like the films, I know audience will,” said Lofaro. “They run the gamut.”

Traditionally, the film introductions and Q&A’s with the directors that follow screenings are a big part of the Hamptons Doc Fest, so Lofaro explains how that aspect of the festival has been reimagined.

“What is new this year, since we couldn’t bring filmmakers in, we had the directors do a two minute up-close piece, talking to audiences, giving an introduction to say why they made it,” said Lofaro. “Audiences like to have that connection to the filmmakers.”

While hopes are high that by next year, the pandemic will be behind us and we can, once again, gather in darkened theaters to watch documentaries with our fellow film-lovers, Lofaro finds that what she has learned this year is likely to remain part of the festival going forward.

“I think that virtual will be part of everybody’s business model going forward,” she said. “”I think we will always offer some films virtually.”

To purchase Hamptons Doc Fest passes and tickets, visit hamptonsdocfest.com. Festival passes are $125 and individual film tickets are $12, available now. The website for this virtual film festival also includes a full description of each film in a downloadable program booklet, with instructions on how to watch films on your computer, iPad/tablet or television.

Hamptons Doc Fest Line-Up:

Special Film Screenings

OPENING NIGHT FILM

“MLK/FBI” (2020, 104 min.)

One of the darkest chapters in the history of the FBI is how Director J. Edgar Hoover used every trick in his arsenal to discredit Martin Luther King, Jr. This film, based on newly-discovered and declassified files, is the first to uncover the extent of the FBI’s surveillance of Dr. King and other Black activists during the civil rights movement. Director Sam Pollard has been nominated for nine Emmy Awards, winning three, and has edited and co-produced a number of Spike Lee’s films, including “Four Little Girls” about the 1963 Birmingham church bombings, which was nominated for an Academy Award.

At the 2018 Hamptons Doc Fest, Pollard was the recipient of the Filmmakers’ Choice Award for his film “Sammy Davis Jr.: I Gotta Be Me.”

After the film, there will be a Q&A with Pollard and Variety’s film awards editor Clayton Davis.

PENNEBAKER CAREER ACHIEVEMENT AWARD TO DIRECTOR FREDERICK WISEMAN.

“City Hall” (2020, 272 min.)

The 43rd film of 90-year old documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, “City Hall” shows the effect of Boston’s city government to provide necessary civil services such as police, fire, sanitation, veterans affairs, elder support, parks, professional licensing, record keeping of birth, death and marriage, as well as hundreds of other activities to its residents. “I made ‘City Hall’ to illustrate why government is necessary for people to successfully live together,” said Wiseman.

At the Hamptons Doc Festival, Wiseman will receive the Pennebaker Career Achievement Award, sponsored by filmmaker Lana Jokel, who attributes her film career to Pennebaker, for his huge body of work that sheds light on American life and major metaphysical questions. His films have spanned a range of topics that include a state hospital for the criminally insane, a high school, welfare center, juvenile court, a boxing gym, Central Park, a racetrack, ballet companies in New York and Paris, and a Parisian cabaret theater.

Before the screening of the over four-hour film, HDF executive director Jacqui Lofaro will present the award online to Wiseman, followed by his pre-recorded acceptance speech, followed by a short career overview of Wiseman’s work by Josh Siegel, curator of the Department of Film at MoMA.

WINNER OF THE ANDREW SABIN FAMILY FOUNDATION ENVIRONMENTAL AWARD

“Fish and Men” (2019, 85 min.)

“Fish and Men” exposes the high cost of inexpensive fish in the global seafood economy, and the forces threatening local fishing communities and public health. Few are aware that 91 percent of our fish is imported, and that the United States is flooded with six billion tons of imported seafood. The award will be presented by Sam Sabin. Following the film will be a Q&A with the co-directors Darby Duffin and Adam Jones, moderated by Bonnie Brady of Montauk, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association.

An image from “Fish and Men.”

RECIPIENT OF THE ROBIN L. LONG HUMAN RIGHTS AWARD

“Through the Night” (2020, 72 min.)

The modern reality of non-stop work has resulted in an unexpected phenomenon—the flourishing of 24-hour daycare centers. “Through the Night” is a documentary that explores the personal cost of our modern economy through the stories of two working mothers and a childcare provider, whose lives intersect at a 24-hour daycare center.

Presenting the award is Robin L. Long. Following the screening, HDF Advisory Board member Susan Margolin will host a Q&A with director Loira Limbal, Senior Vice President of Programs at Firelight Media and an Afro-Dominican filmmaker and DJ interested in the creation of art that is revelatory for communities of color.

RECIPIENT OF THE TEE & CHARLES ADDAMS FOUNDATION ART & INSPIRATION AWARD

“United We Sing” (2020, 75 min.)

Kevin Miserocchi, director of the Tee & Charles Addams Foundation will present the award to “United We Sing,” about a choral group from the University of Rochester that travels to Africa to sing with and then closely bonds with a group of AIDS orphans in rural Kenya. After the screening, Michael Lawrence, director of the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Society, will moderate a Q&A with the film’s director Dan Petracca and executive producers Aaron Sperber and Ross Pedersen.

 

Other Films:

“A Crime on the Bayou” (2020, 72 min.)

In this film by director Nancy Buirski (also director of Emmy Award-winning and Academy Award-nominated “A Loving Story” and “Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq”) young black teenager Gary Duncan bravely challenges, with the help of attorney Richard Sobol, the District Attorney Leander Perez, a powerful white supremacist in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, in a case that goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1960’s.

“Acasa My Home” (2020, 86 min.)

For four years, director Radu Ciorniciuc followed the Enache family from a life in complete harmony with nature in the wilderness of the Vacaresti Delta in Romania to the urban jungle of the capital. The film won seven film festival awards in 2020, including the Sundance Film Festival’s Cinematography Award.

“Barney’s Wall: Portrait of a Game Changer” (2019, 78 min.)

This film, directed by Sandy Gotham Meehan and Williams Cole, probes the lasting political and cultural impact of Grove Press publisher and political activist Barney Rosset, who inspired the Sixties counterculture rebellion. It focuses on his final act of creative expression, a sculptural wall mural, as a visual memoir of his life and his family and friends who considered him a formative influence on their work.

An image from “Barney’s Wall: Portrait of a Game Changer.”

“Beethoven in Beijing” (2019, 87 min.)

Directed by Jennifer Lin, a former China correspondent for The Philadelphia Enquirer, and Emmy Award-winner Sharon Mullally, this film uses classical music and the legacy of the Philadelphia Orchestra, which President Richard Nixon recruited to visit Communist China in 1973 in hopes of reopening China to the West. It ends in the present, showing through musicians like composer Tan Dun and pianist Lang Lang how China is energizing the world of music.

“Behind the Strings” (2020, 59 min.)

This documentary, directed by Hal Rifken, tells how a quartet of four young, classically-trained string musicians from China fled to the West, performed for 36 years in the United States and internationally, and are now invited back to China to perform the chamber music that was previously banned by Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

“Bloodless: The Path to Democracy” (2020, 89 min.)

This is a riveting political thriller, capturing the story of the non-violent, peaceful revolution in 2018 in Armenia, lasting one month, one week and one day, that brought down a 30-year old established oligarchic regime. Director Bared Maronian is a Lebanese-born Armenian-American documentary filmmaker.

 “In Case of Emergency” (2020, 80 min.)

In this documentary, award-winning photographer and filmmaker Carolyn Jones follows emergency nurses across the United States, shedding light on ERs stretched to the breaking point, dealing with our nation’s biggest public health challenges, such as COVID-19, the opioid crisis, gun violence and lack of insurance.

Still image from “In Case of Emergency.”

“Kubrick by Kubrick” (2020, 73 min.)

“Kubrick by Kubrick,” directed by Gregory Monro, offers a rare journey into the life and films of the legendary Stanley Kubrick, director of such films as “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “The Shining,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “Dr. Strangelove,” “Barry Lyndon,” “Full Metal Jacket” and “Eyes Wide Shut,” the latter completed shortly before his death in 1999. The film is based on a treasure trove of unearthed tape-recorded interviews that Michel Ciment, the French film critic, conducted with Kubrick over 20 years, for his biography of Kubrick, plus interviews with many actors such as Jack Nicholson, Marisa Berenson, Peter Sellers, Tom Cruise and Shelley Duvall, speaking about their experiences working with him.

“Love & Stuff” (2020, 80 min.)

Seven months after helping her terminally-ill mother at the end of her life in home hospice, award-winning director Judith Helfand becomes a new single mother at the age of 50 and overnight is pushed to deal with stuff—63 boxes of heirlooms, overwhelming her office-turned-baby’s room, plus the challenge of losing the weight her mother had begged her to lose, and the reality of being so much older than her daughter.

“Meat the Future” (2020, 88 min.)

Directed by award-winning Canadian filmmaker Liz Marshall, “Meat the Future” follows cardiologist Dr. Uma Valeti, co-founder and CEO of Memphis Meats, one of the leading start-ups in the field of “cultivated meat,” a revolutionary food science that grows real meat from animal cells in a controlled environment, free from disease and infection, and free from the need to breed, raise and slaughter animals.

A still image from “Meat the Future.”

“Opeka” (2019, 90 min.)

Winner of the Golden Palm Award at the Beverly Hills Film Festival in 2020, “Opeka” tells the story of Pedro Opeka, who declined a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play professional soccer in his native Buenos Aires to become a missionary and live in one of the poorest countries in the world. The son of a bricklayer, he convinced destitute families living in Madagascar’s largest landfill that he could teach them how to build their houses, build their dignity and prepare their children to build their country.

Director Cam Cowan, once a lawyer, became a documentary filmmaker to focus on social justice issues.

“Overland” (2020, 105 min.)

Husband-and-wife award-winning directors Revere La Noue and Elisabeth Haviland James made “Overland,” spending hundreds of hours in the field with three falconers from the United States, Middle East and Italy, filming in wild and pristine realms that had never been seen before, and along the way discovering a shared humanity across cultures and religions.

An image from “Overland.”

“So Late So Soon” (2020, 70 min.)

Director Daniel Hymanson, an art student of Jackie Selden’s as a child, embedded himself with the Chicago-based artist couple Jackie and Don Selden for nearly five years to create this documentary about the idiosyncratic aging couple, struggling to maintain their eccentric life.

“Some Kind of Heaven” (2020, 81 min.)

South Florida filmmaker Lance Oppenheim tells the story of married couple Anne and Reggie, widow Barbara, and 82-year old bachelor Dennis, struggling to find their footing in the fantasy oasis of The Villages retirement community in Central Florida.

Following the film, co-presented with the Sag Harbor Cinema, film writer/curator Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan, founding artistic director of the Sag Harbor Cinema, will lead a Q&A with director Lance Oppenheim.

Still image from “Some Kind of Heaven.”

“Surviving the Silence: The Untold Story of Two Women in Love Who Helped Change Military Policy” (2020, 73 min.)

“Surviving the Silence,” directed by Cindy L. Abel, is a powerfully-inspirational coming-out story that shines a light on the unknown history of how a closeted colonel, Colonel Patsy Thompson, forced to expel an Army hero, Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer, for being lesbian did so in a way resulting in re-instatement via federal court.

“The Dissident” (2020, 119 min.)

Director Bryan Fogel, 2018 Academy Award-winner for Best Documentary Feature for “Icarus” about illegal doping in sports, here documents the quest for truth about the brutal death of dissident Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s policies, who entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, and never came out.

“The Mole Agent” (2020, 84 min.)

When a family grows concerned for their mother’s well-being in a Chilean retirement home, private investigator Romulo hires 83-year old Sergio to become a new resident and a mole inside the home. The plan goes awry with comical, heart-breaking results as Sergio struggles to balance his assignment with his increasing involvement in the lives of other residents. Chilean director Maite Alberdi has become an important voice in Latin American documentary filmmaking.

“The Reason I Jump” (2020, 82 min.)

Based on the book by 13-year old Naoki Higashida, who gradually discovers why he acts the way he does, the reason he jumps, this immersive film, applying the book’s insights to five other young people diagnosed with autism, poetically explores the experiences of non-speaking autistic people around the world. The documentary, directed by award-winning filmmaker Jerry Rothwell, recently won an audience award at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

“The Road Up” (2020, 93 min.)

“The Road Up,” directed by Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel, follows four Chicagoans on their daunting journey from rock bottom to stable employment. Their lifeline is mentor Mr. Jesse, whose own troubled past compels him to help others find hope in the face of homelessness, addiction, incarceration and trauma.

“Unstoppable: Sean Scully and the Art of Everything” (2019, 84 min.)

In director Nick Willing’s profile, art dealers, critics and the artist himself tell the rags-to-riches story of Irish-born American contemporary artist Sean Scully—cheeky, fearless, self-taught, blunt and a shrewd businessman—who creates art as big as his personality. His work, often composed of geometric shapes, is held in museum collections worldwide.

An image from Nick Willing’s film “Unstoppable: Sean Scully and the Art of Everything.”

“Uprooted: The Journey of Jazz Dance” (2019, 94 min.)

The story of jazz dance is a complex one, rooted in slavery and going to the very heart of humanity. It is a story of triumph over adversity as well as a celebration because, ultimately, what all people have in common is rhythm and a basic human need to “get down.”

Director Khadifa Wong trained in all aspects of dance at the London Studio Centre, worked as a dancer for 10 years, and then realized her true passion lay in directing/producing, to increase diversity on both sides of the camera.

An image from “Uprooted: The Journey of Jazz Dance.”

“When Liberty Burns” (2020, 111 min.)

“When Liberty Burns,” directed by Dudley Alexis, examines the life and death of Arthur Lee McDuffie, a black insurance executive who died at the hands of Miami’s law enforcement officers in 1980, long before today’s Black Lives Matter took root. The film uses first-person accounts of those directly involved in the tragedy and in the prosecution of law enforcement officers who were subsequently acquitted.

“Zappa” (2020, 127 min.)

Billed as an intimate and expansive look into the innovative life of the iconic, iconoclastic and irreverent singer-songwriter and bandleader Frank Zappa, who died in 1993, this film directed by Alex Winter was made with unfettered access to the Zappa family and all archival footage. It was fully crowd-funded through one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns, involving more than 8,000 backers who invested more than $1,200,000 in 30 days to help preserve and digitize Zappa’s private archives, including thousands of hours of unreleased material in the Zappa vault.

DOC FEST SHORTS PROGRAM, 7 shorts, 86 min.

“All the Possibilities” (16 min), directed by Marsha Gordon and Louis Cherry, is a documentary about one of the most important American artworks that nobody has heard off—North Carolina artist Vernon Pratt’s 1,450 sq.ft., 256-panel abstract painting, ”All the Possibilities of Filling in Sixteenths (65,536),” completed in 1982 but only exhibited posthumously in 2018.

“A Long Walk to the Moon” (14 min.), follows former Grumman engineers who narrate the challenges and successes of being part of the historic construction of the Lunar Module for the Apollo program, in this doc directed by Connie Tais.

“A Syrian Woman” (11 min.), is directed by Khawla Al Hammouri and Louis Sayad DeCaprio, who hear six Syrian refugee women in Jordan recount their stories of survival, through displacement, child-marriage and trauma, to their hope of a better future for their children.

“Making the Case” (10 min.), by director Jennifer Callahan, examines aspects of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s everyday life, such as her handbags, which reveal a corner of her mind.

“Nine” (8 min.), directed by Jane Musky, is the story of a brave group of powerful young women who petitioned for the inclusion of woman’s crew as a varsity sport at Boston University in the mid-1970’s, going on to become national champions.

“ninety-two and a quarter” (11 min.), directed by Helen Herbert, celebrates growing old while still looking toward the future, through the story of feisty nonagenarian Sarah Hackett.

“The Little Tea Shop” (16 min.), tells the storyof Suhair Lauck, a Palestinian immigrantwho takes over The Little Tea Shop restaurant in downtown Memphis in 1982, continuing the atmosphere of connections and opportunities established by the two founding women in 1918, in this doc directed by Matteo Servente and Molly J. Wexler.

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