By Amanda Wyatt; Photography by Laurie Barone-Schaefer
While the 20th Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF) brought a touch of Hollywood glitz and glamour to the East End last weekend, students at local schools were also able to get a taste of the silver screen — right in their own auditoriums.
On Friday, Pierson Middle School and Bridgehampton School students were not only treated to private screenings, but also to visits from the filmmakers behind two award-winning documentaries.
The screenings were part of the HIFF’s brand new Filmmakers in the Classroom program, which for the first time brought films and their directors and producers into East End schools.
The program was funded by a $20,000 grant from the Long Island Community Foundation to encourage community outreach and visiting artistic programing in schools.
Such an initiative is particularly important in an age of cuts to arts education, said HIFF community outreach coordinator Marianna Levine, whose own daughter attends Pierson Middle School.
“The foundation wanted to help bring the arts back to schools, because they think it’s a really important component to education,” she said. “I really wanted to be a part of it — as a parent, as a member of the local community.”
Just a few days before the film festival awarded “Best Short” to the film “Growing Farmers,” director Michael Halsband and producer Hilary Leff paid a visit to Bridgehampton students.
Sponsored by the Peconic Land Trust, the film focuses on how the organization has sought to revitalize agriculture on the East End. Particular attention was paid to the younger generation farmers, those in their 20s and 30s, making their way in the local agriculture industry.
Since Bridgehampton School has been a leader in the Edible Schoolyard movement, Levine believed the film was a perfect match. She also thought students would respond well to Halsband, a well-known photographer and director.
“[Halsband] discovered his love of photography when he was 10 or 11 — middle school age — so I thought it was a good fit,” she added.
And for Halsband, “Growing Farmers” was always designed to be an educational tool. He and Leff began filming with the intention of teaching the wider community about the efforts of the Peconic Land Trust and local farmers.
East End farms are “so visual and beautiful,” Halsband said. “So that was a draw for me, to explore that world deeper and to be the person discovering it for people who are going to eventually see the film.”
“I was learning as I was taking it in, like anybody else in the audience, just going along for the ride,” he added. “So in that respect it was an educational experience for me.”
At Pierson Middle School, students screened “CatCam,” which won an award at the South by Southwest film Festival. Charles Miller, the film’s director of cinematography and producer, introduced the documentary and handed out buttons with the image of its feline star, Mr. Lee.
The film tells the story of a German engineer who invented a miniature camera to track the whereabouts of Mr. Lee, a former stray. The images and videos taken on Mr. Lee’s excursions around his neighborhood transformed him — as well as Juergen, his owner — into Internet superstars.
“It’s really a dynamic film,” said Miller. “It’s about art and curiosity. It deals with technology. It’s just playful and fun on the surface, but it has a lot more depth to it.”
“This is the first time we’ve shown it to kids, and we’ve never heard audiences laugh like that. I think kids really respond to it,” he added.
According to Reilly Rose Schombs, a Pierson sixth grader, “CatCam” was “really awesome” and had an unexpected twist.
“I think that it teaches you that if you have a question in life, you should always try to find a way to answer it, ‘cause you never know what can happen,” she said. “You can always find surprises.”
Miller said that he and the “CatCam” crew were certainly open to invitations from other schools.
“I think it’s a perfect venue for the film,” he said.
According to Levine, the film festival is also interested in continuing Filmmakers in the Classroom next year.
“Our hope and dream is that we’ll have this year round, where we can bring local filmmakers into schools,” she said.
“I’m hoping in the future we can hook into the film community out here and also in New York City, and have them mentoring young people who are interested in film and photography, which is so accessible. It’s open to everyone,” Levine said.