Tag Archive | "Hamptons International Film Festival"

Chaisson Named Executive Director of Hamptons Film Festival

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The Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF) announced last week it has appointed Anne Chaisson as its executive director. Chaisson has served as the advisory co-chair for HIFF since 2003 and began her new post at the end of last month.

The festival has also promoted David Nugent to artistic director. Nugent has served as director of programming at the festival since 2008. He has also been teaching documentary film history and American Independent film history at The New School since 2004.

“I am humbled and honored to be taking over the helm of an organization that I have been affiliated with for over a decade and in a place where I’ve worked, lived and played for even double that time,” said Chaisson, in a press release issued last week. “I truly consider the Hamptons home and look forward to working closely with the board, David in his new role, staff and most importantly, the community and long time supporters that have made the festival a success for the last 20 years.”

“Having Anne onboard seems like a natural progression of events.” Said Hamptons International Film Festival Chairman Stuart Match Suna. “She has been such an integral part of the festival for the past 10 years and we are thrilled to have her here full time. Anne’s broad background in production, business and film education make her an incredible asset the festival and I look forward to watching it flourish under her direction.”

Chaisson founded Dirty Rice Films in 2002 and has specialized in fundraising and development for many entertainment non-profits, as well as garnered awards as an independent film producer. Over the past decade, Chaisson has spearheaded the corporate fundraising efforts for such organizations as The Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Nantucket Film Festival, as well as the HIFF. She also produced the annual IFP Gotham Independent Film Awards in 2010 and 2011. Chaisson co-founded an independent film school called The Reel School in 1996 and continued to produce a student film workshop each summer in conjunction with the HIFF and Guild Hall in East Hampton. She is a member of the IFP Producers Group and New York Women in Film and Television.

Hamptons Film Festival Reaches a Younger Generation

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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.

It’s Not What You’d Expect


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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.

Mystery in a Book

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From "Saving Caroline," a film by Amagansett's Devon Leaver.

From "Saving Caroline," a film by Amagansett's Devon Leaver.

Local student offers film in fest.

Though the festival offers films from around the world, it also recognizes the talents of local filmmakers as well. Being screened this year is “Saving Caroline” a 20-minute offering by Devon Leaver. Leaver, a freshman at Bates College in Maine, made the film as her Senior Project at the Ross School. The film won Guild Hall’s student filmmaking competition last spring, which secured its place in the HIFF lineup.

Leaver explains that “Saving Caroline” tells the story a 17-year-old boy who purchases a journal at a yard sale only to discover it’s been written in by a girl with an great imagination.

“He’s drawn into her fantasy world until they blur,” says Leaver, an Amagansett resident who adds that she came up with the idea for the film while on a Ross School trip to India her junior year.

“Every single night we’d go up on a balcony overlooking a beautiful field and the sunset,” she says. “Everything was really golden and we just talked about things. These images kept popping into my head and I knew I wanted to try to make those into scenes.”

When Leaver came back home, she built a script around those scenes and spent most of her senior year producing, shooting and editing her film.

“The entire script I was building off what I imagined. It all worked out just as I imagined,” she says.

While Leaver isn’t sure if she’ll be able to break away from college long enough to come home to see her film screened at this year’s festival, she did attend a lot of screenings last year and was inspired by what she saw.

“It’s the best — to have the festival there and that many more options rather than the run of the mill stuff is great. There was a lot of quality.”

“I love film in all it’s genres,” she adds. “I love watching narrative films the most just to see how creative people can be in terms of trying to think up new storylines. I’m always looking at films to see different ways that people use lighting or sound mixing.”

“I’m always looking for new tricks.”

“Saving Caroline” will be screened Monday, October 17 at 5:15 p.m. at the UA East Hampton Theater 6. Admission is free.


Robin Singer on Playing the Femme Fatale

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By Danny Peary

One of the most highly-anticipated films of the upcoming Hamptons International Film Festival was shot in Hampton Bays and features Robin Singer, who is being touted as one of the event’s “Rising Stars.” Writer-director Stephen Padilla’s “Kisses, Chloe” has the title of a romantic comedy but is actually a provocative three-character exploration of sex and love, friendship, and self-destructive behavior–and other bad patterns people bring to relationships that viewers may find all too familiar. At the heart of the film is a young female who appears to have no heart, Singer’s young title character, who, like a ravenous, if cheery, vampire, sleeps during the day in her huge old house, and emerges mostly at night to suck the life out of those who enter her domain. Her new potential victims are her best and only friend Emily (Mikal Evans) and her boyfriend Alex (Brad Coolidge), who dare visit her Hamptons retreat. For Singer, who had a tiny part in Woody Allen’s “Whatever Works” and danced on “30 Rock,” playing Chloe has been her biggest and most satisfying challenge (“I surprised myself”) The versatile movie/television/theater actress/dancer/singer will be at the festival to support her film, but I had the chance to speak to her beforehand in New York City.

Danny Peary: What does it mean to you that Kisses, Chloe is debuting at the Hamptons International Film Festival?

Robin Singer: It’s a real honor and very exciting. We shot the film here in September 2009, almost exactly a year ago, and it’s like coming home in a way. The film was grown here and it feels that this is the festival where it should premiere.

DP: Why do you think Stephen Padilla set the film in the Hamptons?

RS: I never really thought about it before people started asking me that question. But now I can’t imagine it taking place anywhere else. Besides being so beautiful, there is a mystique and romanticism and luxury that’s associated with the Hamptons, and that stereotype is what this film explores. The house in Hampton Bays where my character Chloe lives alone is very secluded, which is difficult for a person who feels anxious when lonely and isolated, but it is so picturesque, right on the bay with a beautifully manicured lawn. It’s an old house that feels lived in and cared for. It seemed so appropriate.

DP: But didn’t you find it strange that Padilla set his entire movie about three young people in an old house?

RS: Not really. I know quite a few young people who spend time in family vacation homes, including in the Hamptons. The house is Chloe’s uncle’s property and it makes sense that when she got fired as a fashion-trend spotter in Europe she’d move to a place that exuded the lifestyle.

DP: In the production notes it says that the actors stayed in character during the twelve days of shooting. If you stayed as Chloe, who is vain, manipulative, tactless, and dominates every situation, did everybody try to avoid you?

RS (laughing): I wasn’t sitting alone between scenes, no! I was myself all the time but it was easy to step into character because I was surrounded by her world. Mikal, Brad and I were staying in the rooms our characters inhabited and everything was real in that sense for us. The first night, we moved in, had dinner, and just relaxed and there was immediate bonding of cast and crew. It was amazing. I don’t think Stephen could have chosen a better group of people to make this film because it was such an enjoyable experience despite how intense the shoot was.

DP: When did you get the script?

RS: In July 2009. I originally auditioned for Emily, because when I saw the casting notice it seemed that for Chloe they wanted a model, somebody who was very body-conscious, and I didn’t really think of myself that way. I thought of myself as the more reserved Emily and read two scenes as her. Then Stephen said, “Can you read the part of Chloe instead?”

DP: Had you read the whole script?

RS: I made it through four auditions before Stephen gave it to me. He wanted to know what my take on Chloe was from having read about eight pages total and I told him, “I think she’s a very innocent person.” He stared at me and said, “Okay, maybe I should give you the whole script.” When you’re an actor you root for your characters and want to think the best of them, so when I’d read the brief audition scenes I wasn’t convinced that Chloe is aware of everything bad she is doing. But when I read the full script I realized she is very much in control and driving the action. I came back to Stephen and said, “Oh, my god, I can’t believe I said she is innocent.”

DP: But after playing her, do you find her likable?

RS: I personally love Chloe. As Emily believes, she is likable although she doesn’t always do likable things. Like Emily and Alex, she is pursuing love, but doesn’t do it the right way. Having done quite a bit of comedy it was exciting to explore something so dramatic and juicy and play someone who is outwardly very strong but comes to learn the depths of her vulnerability and loneliness. Chloe doesn’t think of herself as a villain.

DP: So do you think Chloe comes on to Alex not because she’s a tramp or insensitive to Emily’s feelings but because she is trying to do Emily a service by revealing her boyfriend likes women on the side?

RS: I think Chloe believes that and her motivation isn’t entirely selfish for acting as she does toward Alex. Chloe is a perceptive, observant person who is really good at reading people, especially men, and she is able to quickly read Alex after provoking him with her shocking language and stories and lay her trap. What she does is a bit twisted, but she does want the best for Emily. That’s how I choose to see it. I wasn’t really thinking that way when I was playing it but watching the film now I think Emily’s pattern is to allow Chloe to seduce Alex, as has happened with her previous boyfriends. It makes her nervous having Chloe meet Alex, but it’s part of Emily’s issue to set herself up to be hurt. This may be how Emily tests Alex’s love for her. Or how she tests Chloe’s friendship. This film is about three people who have negative habits and patterns and whether it’s possible for them to change. Chloe has no one but herself to blame for her sadness, but I hope she can finally take a real look at herself and change.


DP: We first learn that Chloe isn’t made of stone when she and Emily walk back to the house while arguing about their one sexual encounter. When Emily says she never thinks of that night, Chloe breaks stride as if punched in the stomach. I assume there was little improvisation on this film, but at this key moment were you directed to hesitate momentarily or did you do it on your own?

RS: That was my choice. It was important to me that the audience understands that night meant so much to her and that she’s not just stirring things up because she’s a bad person but because she genuinely needs Emily’s love. Chloe always plays an upbeat, energetic, sexy, positive character, but here she finally reveals that it’s an act and that she’s really an emotional, vulnerable person. It’s important to me that she can be defended.


DP: Do you expect there to be cringing by viewers who identify with these characters, particularly couples with trust issues?

RS (laughing): That’s life! “Who is your text message coming from?” I would say that a goal of the film is to give people a forum, language, and situation and push them to look at themselves. Viewers might identify with some of the negative habits of the characters, but we’re not trying to break up anyone! It’s enough to start discussions and self-examination. The goal of any art is to provoke, isn’t it?

“The War Room” Sixteen Years Later



By Marissa Maier

At the 2008 Hamptons International Film Festival, Sag Harbor residents, and acclaimed husband and wife filmmaking duo, D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus will present their film “The Return of the War Room.” The work revisits material from their Academy-Award nominated 1993 documentary “The War Room,” which followed Bill Clinton’s talented and young campaign staff for the 1992 presidential election. Many of these Clinton staffers, including James Carville and George Stephanopoulos, were re-interviewed for the new film.

Despite the political nature of the original documentary, Pennebaker doesn’t believe “The War Room” is a political film. According to Pennebaker, the piece centers around a cast of entertaining characters who happen to work in politics. “Most of our films follow people who know how to do something well, are passionate, and are taking a huge risk. Running for president is one of the riskiest things you can do,” says Hegedus.

Hegedus and Pennebaker stumbled upon Clinton, who was then a governor from Arkansas best known for his long speeches. George Bush Sr.’s camp wouldn’t allow them to film his campaign, and at the time Perot refused to announce his bid to run for office, leaving Clinton as the only candidate willing to accommodate the two filmmakers.

In the beginning, Hegedus and Pennebaker encountered some difficulty in filming Clinton, who was already being followed day and night by a journalist and photojournalist. It was at the Democratic convention that Pennebaker decided to focus his lens not on Clinton, but on James Carville.

“Hilary had appointed him. I didn’t know who he was [at first], but he was the underground ruler of the whole campaign,” says Pennebaker. Hegedus adds, “We stumbled upon James [Carville] and George [Stephanopoulos], who were such unlikely characters and we stuck with them.”

As the campaign progressed, Carville and Stephanopoulos gained national notoriety. Carville was known for his short, biting slogans, such as “It’s the economy, stupid.” Stephanopoulos’ boyish charm, and academic achievements — he is a Rhodes Scholar — made him a press favorite.

“’92 was the first campaign were the behind the scenes people were so glamorous to the press, all of it coming together was really operatic,” says Mary Matalin, the noted Republican political pundit and wife of Carville, in “The Return of the War Room.”

“The War Room” focused on the friendship between these two characters, and tapped into the human element of the campaign story. “With Clinton it was all front parlor talk,” says Pennebaker, “[but with Carville and Stephanopoulos] we were much closer to the nerve centers of the campaign.”

The political tactics Carville and Stephanopoulos honed during the 1992 presidential campaign revolutionized campaign management. Commentators in “The Return of the War Room” recall the time before “The War Room,” when campaign staffers would compete with each other. Campaign employees used information as a way to launch their personal careers and each department within the campaign worked independently.

“[Carville] said people always want to have a War Room, but they don’t want to do the things that make a War Room … You have to share information, have a unified message.”

Carville shattered this previous campaign model. Everyone in the Clinton campaign shared information amongst each other, and staffers in all departments worked side by side.

“I think ‘The War Room’ took its nature from some of the people involved, particularly Carville. He liked [everyone working] in a room the size of a basketball court. He felt it bred the democratic spirit … And Stephanopoulos was a very smart person who saw how to make that work,” says Pennebaker, “They had a one-two punch, even when faced with unbelievable scandals.”

The staff of the war room were known for their aggressiveness when handling unsavory allegations, such as Gennifer Flowers alleged affair with Clinton, and had a talent for spinning a scandalous story into a positive one.

Since the 1992 presidential elections almost every major political campaign has incorporated political strategies pioneered in the War Room. Tony Blair hired Carville to recreate the War Room for his campaign in such detail that they used the same floor layout. Frank Luntz, a Republican consultant and pollster, told Hegedus, that “Clinton was able to use language. [Frank] told me that he put the spin on it that he wanted, but [Clinton] used it for the right instead of the left.”

More importantly, the war room changed the way the Democratic party was seen on the political stage. Before Clinton was elected, the Republicans controlled the White House for twelve years. Bob Boorstein, deputy communications manager for Clinton’s 1992 campaign, likens the shift to a scene in Brian De Palma’s film “The Untouchables.”

“The guy goes to kill Sean Connery’s character and the guy goes in holding a knife and Connery knows he is there and he turns around with this shot gun and says ‘isn’t that just like a whoop carrying a knife to a gun fight’ and that’s what Democrats were like before ‘The War Room.’ We were the ones carrying the knives,” says Boorstein.

Although, “The War Room” reinvigorated the Democratic party, and subsequently transformed campaign management, Hegedus and Pennebaker are doubtful whether an equivalent to it exists in this year’s election.

“The people who were involved in that campaign were a unique, wacky group. I am not sure if you find that in a campaign any more, [at least] not as a group.” In “The Return of the War Room,” Stephanopoulos says he wouldn’t know how to run a campaign today. The advent of user-controlled websites, like YouTube and Facebook, has created a level of transparency and flow of information absent in previous elections.

“People are more aware of the power of the camera. We are observing people’s lives non-stop. Everything candidates do is so covered. There are no private moments on the campaign trail.”

There are certain similarities between the issues raised in “The War Room” and this year’s election. During the 1992 campaign, Clinton widely discussed the nations failing economy. Clinton, aided by his campaign staff, transformed himself from a virtually unknown politician into an eloquent candidate with a fresh perspective. He represented himself as the voice for change. Barack Obama, this year’s Democratic presidential hopeful, has no doubt taken pointers from Clinton and the War Room staff. Obama has infused the Democratic party with new blood and a fresh message, much like Clinton, Carville and Stephanopoulos worked so hard to do sixteen years ago in “The War Room.”