The 19th edition of the HIFF dishes up a cinematic smorgasbord.
By Annette Hinkle
The Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF) began nearly two decades ago as a quiet, off-season affair with a small gathering of filmmakers and a limited number of offerings.
But over the years, HIFF has developed a reputation on the filmmaking circuit and is now among the major festivals to watch. This year, the festival committee screened over 2,000 submissions from around the world before deciding on a program of 85 features and 50 shorts. In addition to screenings, film lovers can also expect panel discussions on topics not only related to the business of filmmaking, but several that deal with hard hitting issues addressed in the festival’s documentary line-up as well.
HIFF runs Thursday, October 13 to Monday, October 17, and while East Hampton Village is the center of the action, this year, there will also be offerings in Southampton, Westhampton, Montauk and Sag Harbor (films will be screened at Sag Harbor Cinema and Bay Street Theatre will host panel discussions).
Holly Herrick, a programmer and special programs producer for the festival, notes that there’s a lot to keep in mind when it comes to choosing a lineup for a festival like this.
“We try to provide something for everyone,” explains Herrick. “We offer a lot of opportunities not to just see the big exciting movies that will soon have a wide release, but also films that might not otherwise come to the area. There are a lot of documentaries, a wonderful shorts program and international cinema that is not often seen in the U.S.”
“We also think about the Hamptons community and the kinds of films that might interest people — things that will have a timely relevance or touch on an important issue here in the community.”
As an example, Herrick points to “The Bully Project” a documentary that tackles a topic of great concern not only in local school districts, but those across the country as well.
“There are a few things at HIFF that we focus on that are part of the programmatic structure. Films of conflict and resolution as they relate to social issues is part of that focus and we also take the time to discuss them with the filmmakers afterwards.
“The Bully Project,” which is directed by Lee Hirsh, chronicles five families whose children have been severely bullied — in some cases with tragic results. “The Bully Project” has already been selected by the festival as a “Films of Conflict & Resolution” award winner and a free panel discussion on bullying will be offered on Friday, October 14 at 4 p.m. in the East Hampton First Presbyterian Church Session House as well.
As far as other documentaries in this year’s lineup go, Herrick notes there are, “A couple that are a very big deal in the film world.”
Among them is Wim Wenders “Pina in 3D” in which the filmmaker documents modern dance pieces choreographed by the late Pina Bausch for her Tanztheater Wuppertal ensemble. Other docs include “Pelotero,” which looks at how Major League Baseball recruits players from the Dominican Republic, and “You’ve Been Trumped” which documents the reception developer Donald Trump receives in a small Scottish village when he tries to displace residents to make way for a luxury resort.
While documentaries are, by their nature, timely, when it comes to selecting the film line-up, though the HIFF doesn’t look for specific themes, Herrick has found that there are often trends across the board that appear in submissions.
“You do see a crop of films that have these themes that reference one another,” notes Herrick. “It’s not on purpose, but filmmakers latch onto the cultural zeitgeist and it comes through in the films.”
“In general, the themes present themselves,” she adds. “This year there are several films about people becoming caretakers for others when they fall ill. There are also issues of immigration in these films. We’re also seeing a lot of films with strong female characters and stories about women’s lives.”
When asked to name some of her favorite selections in this year’s line-up, Herrick demurs.
“For programmers, it’s hard to pick favorite films, it’s like picking a favorite child,” she says. “But some of those we’re focusing on are our opening, closing and centerpiece films. They are always a big part of the festival and set a big tone.”
This year’s opening night films include “Jeff, Who Lives At Home” in East Hampton, and “Butter” in Southampton. The centerpiece film is “Like Crazy,” and “The Artist” will be the closing night feature in East Hampton.
Like these bigger films, many offerings in the festival’s Spotlight Films category also tend to go on to enjoy wider release. But many hidden gems of the festival can be found in the narrative and documentary competition categories in which five films compete against one another in both groups.
“Some of these are films that won’t necessarily go on to have a wider release,” explains Herrick. “It’s very specifically curated and the films are chosen for diversity. They’re usually by emerging filmmakers and these are their first, second or third films.”
For Sag Harbor filmgoers who like the idea of taking in festival offerings close to home, Herrick notes that Sag Harbor Cinema is one of the few venues left on the East End where 35mm film can still be screened.
“Some of the most hotly anticipated offerings will be in Sag Harbor,” says Herrick. “We have foreign films from Cannes and a lot of really great things there. Sag Harbor is a wonderful theater, we’re thrilled to be there.”
In addition to films from the World Cinema, and Spotlight Films line-up, the theater will present shorts, several documentaries and the centerpiece film “Like Crazy” (Sunday, October 16 at 2 p.m.)
Bay Street Theatre will host three discussions as part of “A Conversation With” over the weekend. First, Harry Belafonte talks with Dick Cavett about his work as a civil and human rights activist on Saturday, October 15 at 3:30 p.m., followed at 5:30 p.m. by Susan Sarandon (co-star of “Jeff, Who Lives at Home”) in a discussion moderated by Bob Balaban. On Sunday at noon, Rufus Wainwright will be at Bay Street to talk about “Kate McGarrigle: I Am A Diamond” a work-in-progress film about his folk-singer mother who recently died of cancer.
For tickets and full schedule, visit hamptonsfilmfest.org.