Is it wrong to compare every American weekend festival to Telluride? The venerable Colorado fest sets the standard with its mix of new works, classics, intimate networking, a laid back vibe and a beautiful setting. Notably, the Hamptons International Film Festival took a step in the right direction this year, offering a slightly more casual scene, a tighter program, events for industry insiders, and weather that cooperated all weekend. As with other favorite weekend getaway fests — such as Provincetown, Nantucket, and Woodstock — the Hamptons event has perservered. And this year, it found an even stronger international hook under the leadership of new executive director Karen Arikian (and new director of programming David Nugent), drawing a strong presence of filmmakers and industry from overseas.
Founded sixteen years ago the event quickly set its sights on becoming an East Coast Sundance, emphasizing world premieres, touting deal-making and boasting that it would expand to two weekends. Such goals were relatively short-lived, but the event faced a revolving door of leaders and programmers. Yet, as the fest became a stronger showcase for international work under the guidance of Denise Kassell and Rajendra Roy, it started to find its way. This year the off-season event seemed to strike a nice balance, with just enough parties to offer some socializing between the mix of new movies and festival favorites. Despite folks like Alec Baldwin, Frances McDormand and Bob Balaban wandering around, organizers kept their eyes on the ball and didn’t let the celebrity side turn the fest into a summer Hamptons scene – instead generally keeping the spotlight on the filmmakers and a young crop of emerging actors participating in fest mentorship programs.
Aside from the mix of new films, two events this weekend offered windows into the worlds of acclaimed artists who typically spend most of their time behind the camera.
Meet Bruce Weber
Fans of film and art came out Saturday afternoon in the Hamptons for a special spotlight on one of the world’s most renowned and reclusive photographers, Bruce Weber for a screening of a collection of his shorts and commercial work and a conversation moderated by MoMA’s chief film curator Raj Roy. Weber — a local Montauk resident — admitted off the bat that he mostly shies away from public attention, but mustered the energy to talk with the packed East Hampton theater. His friend Christie Brinkley even staked out a seat in the front row
“Honestly, I’d rather be with my dogs right now because this is very hard for me,” said a very affable Weber, only half-joking. “This is difficult for me because I’m always behind the camera.” The collection of shorts and commercial work featured some of Weber’s most identifiable imagery including very good looking men and women seemingly at play and various stages of dress frolicking together in fields, at the beach or at parties. In a music video for the Pet Shop Boys, Weber depicts a mansion full of partying young hotties indulging in youthful antics, while in other shorts, he features his treasured dogs playing and bouncing about in much the same gusto. He also screened selections from a new film, “The Boy Artist.” Raj Roy commented that along with art and film, America itself appeared to be an inspiration for Weber’s work. “As corny as Kansas in August,” joked Weber in return.
“I like the beauty in people [and] I’ve always felt my work is a reflection of life they’ve had. Actors in the ’50s saved me when I was growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania.” A serious and insightful side to Weber came in the form of his acclaimed short “Gentle Giants,” which describes the sometimes painful upbringing he had as a boy who had more interest in musicals and imagery than sports and machismo. In the short, Weber recalls that when he turned 16, he woke up and hoped he would see a car parked outside as a present from his parents. After his hopes were dashed, he disappointingly walked downstairs and opened his present – a camera. “It was a Canon Instamatic,” recalled Weber. “My first subjects were dressing up my sister and taking photos and I also had an uncle with this amazing body…”
On his work in the commercial world, including his ads for Abercrombie & Fitch, Calvin Klein and Pepe Jeans, Weber does not distinguish between his “art” and “jobs.” “I always took the attitude that I’d never have a job again,” said Weber. “I always wanted it to be fun…I’ve never wanted to put labels on things.” [Brian Brooks]
Meet Ellen Kuras
“We are a family, that’s what this industry is about,” reitered accomplished director of photography Ellen Kuras, during a weekend master class that included clips of her work and obversations on working on film. She noted that, as a key leader driving a production, treating people well and creating the right vibe on a film set is crucial to her work. One of only 5 women in the American Society of Cinematographers, which has a membership of at least 350 men, Kuras is best known for her work on such films as “Personal Velocity,” “Blow,” “I Shot Andy Warhol,” “Swoon” and a number of Spike Lee films (including “Summer of Sam” and “He Got Game“).
She has also been taking her directorial debut, “The Betrayal – Nerakhoon,” on the fest circuit and working as D.P. on Sam Mendes‘ “This Must Be the Place.” “I believe that the visuals tell their own story,” she noted, emphasizing that when directing her own film, she worked to make sure that the images worked as hard as a the doc’s narrative.
When things go well on her D.P. gigs, she and a director click and forge a bond. “My job,” Kuras explained to the crowd, is to, “get into the head and the mind’s eye of the director.” Making that connection can be tough sometimes, particularly in the case of brainy filmmaker like Michel Gondry.
Showing clips from “Eternal Sunshine,” Kuras recalled that she spent four days secluded with Gondry, working on the look of specific in-camera effects and scenes from the movie. Later, after production she got to work color-correcting the movie and brought in Gondry to check her progress. He watched about 20 minutes of footage then took an hour long nap on the floor. Upon waking up he said, “Ok, I trust you.” The next time she saw him, she quipped, was at the film’s premiere. Kuras later shot Gondry’s “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” and “Be Kind Rewind.” [Eugene Hernandez]