By Indiewire | Indiewire October 17, 2008 at 7:11AM
A previous guest of the Hamptons International Film Festival, former European Film Market leader Karen Arikian yesterday emphasized the international focus of HIFF's event in its 16th edition. Arikian is back in the U.S. from her previous post in Berlin and is now the new executive director of the Hamptons event on Long Island. The fest opened Wedenesday night with Matt Tyrnauer's acclaimed documentary about famous Italian fashion figure, Valentino in the doc, "Valentino: The Last Emperor. The following night, and keeping with a tradition started several years ago, indieWIRE and HIFF collaborated on the annual "Industry Toast" - this year, saluting Fortissimo's Wouter Barendrecht. But, back on the fest's world focus at the opening night party, a Hamptons-based artist told the local TV channel, "The more international it becomes, the less local it becomes."
Lauded as a "playboy of the Pacific Rim," Fortissimo's Wouter Barendrecht was praised on Thursday night as a passionate advocate for international film who travels the world to take his movies to festivals far and wide. A former publicist at the Berlin International Film Festival and a programmer at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, Barendrecht founded Fortissimmo 17 years ago - and the company now has a library of 250 films. Its roster has included films from Wong Kar Wai, Todd Solondz, Killer Films, Jim Jarmusch, and many others. John Cameron Mitchell, director of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" and "Shortbus," served as the M.C. for the night, which included hilarious and poignant moments.
Noah Cowan, head of the Toronto International Film Festival Group's Bell Lightbox, and a longtime friend of Barendrecht's, hailed him for what he did to "change the discourse, to change the way that films from Asia were talked about."
Former Picturehouse head Bob Berney, a previous recipient of the Hamptons fest honor who is currently without a gig (as he seeks to put together a new company), complimented Barendrecht and his work. Referring to the current "indie business in turmoil," Berney noted, "all this makes Wouter and Fortissimo so important for audiences and festivals around the world."
In a video tribute, Jarmusch praised Barendrecht for his "exquisite taste in weird movies," while clips from Sony Picture Classics Tom Bernard & Michael Barker and filmmaker Wong Kar Wai also saluted the Fortissimo founder.
Modest and apparently a bit uncomfortable with all the attention, Barendrecht likened the event to attending his own funeral. Thanking his colleagues and accepting their warm (and sometimes quite funny) wishes he noted that he ended up working in the film business because, "no one else in the world would accept me."
"He convinces us," noted Claudia Landsberger from Holland Film in Barendrecht's native country, "that film is the most glamorous job that you could have your career in."
"Normally the Dutch people conquer the world with warships," quipped Berlinale festival director Dieter Kosslick in the final spoken salute of the evening, "but Wouter conquered the world with friendship." [Eugene Hernandez]
Israel at 60
As so often occurs when the subject of the Middle East comes up, sparks flew at HIFF's "Israel at 60" discussion Thursday afternoon, moderated by Full Frame Documentary Festival founder Nancy Burski and attended by "Lemon Tree" director Eran Riklis as well as Asi Burak, co-creator of the "PeaceMaker" video game and Tali Cherizli, director of Film & Theater at the Israeli Consulate in New York and Ravit Turjeman, founder of distributor Dragonman Films.
Riklis, who directed "The Syrian Bride" opened the discussion saying he was not a political filmmaker, but that it was impossible to make film without the reality of the MIddle East situation coming into play. "We live in a country that everyday has the situation of war. So whether you are telling a story of a couple having rent problems in Tel Aviv, the conflict still has some influence." In Riklis' film, screening here as part of the Hamptons' Spotlight Films section, a Palestinian woman, played by Hiam Abbass, tends to her lemon grove planted by her father in a remote part of the country. Her solitary life, however, gets interrupted when the Israeli Defense Minister moves in next door with his family and he decides the trees are dangerous. His wife, who admires the woman and her trees from afar though, finds herself caught up in the conflict which becomes much larger and politically charged then could be imagined.
"If you look at 'Lemon Tree,' it's the human side of a political situation," said Riklis. "It's multi-layered. It's impossible to just make propoganda films anymore, people are too sophisticated for that. It doesn't work..."
The discussion suddenly became heated when one member of the audience, who said she'd be hosting an event for Riklis during the festival questioned why "all films" coming from Israeli directors had to be critical of the country, and why it couldn't focus on the nation's economic and developmental success. Asi Burak, whose video game will be demonstrated during the festival this weekend and is a game that allows players to take both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, chimed in on the argument.
"I think it's powerful that Israelis can make films that are both critical and positive. I also think for instance that it's powerful that Oliver Stone can make a movie called 'W.' two weeks before an election. We wouldn't ever see a movie called 'Mubarak' before an [Egyptian] election." [Brian Brooks]
While Valentino didn't make the trek to the Hamptons, his presence was felt on the fest's opening night. The new documentary offers a window into the world of priviledge, celebrity, and fashion that the retired designer inhabits. Directed by Vanity Fair writer Matt Tyrnauer, it takes a verite look at Valentino and his fifty-year relationship with longtime business and life partner Giancarlo Giammetti. It captures high and lows, tantrums and affection.
With the doc, Tyrnauer hoped to offer a deeper look at the icon, but it wasn't always easy. "He is a real person, and he shows that in this movie, I think for the first time," Tyrnauer told WVVH in the Hamptons, reiterating that Valentino quit the warts-and-all portrait many times.
"We went through every emotion of love, hate, and then love again," Tyrnauer said about the film last month at the fest in Toronto. Meanwhile, his subject added, "We were not always in a good mood together, but I must tell you he (Tyrnauer) did a most beautiful job."