Out on the East End of Long Island Wednesday night, the world premiere of Philip Haas' "The Situation" kicked off the 14th Hamptons International Film Festival. Set in contemporary Iraq, the film stars Connie Nielsen and Damian Lewis and will be released by Shadow Distribution early next year. Three competitive sections make up the main program of the festival, with spotlight and sidebar screenings rounding out the roster.
Festival artistic director Rajendra Roy joined executive director Denise Kasell and board chair Stuart Match Suna in welcoming attendees on a relatively warm opening night in East Hampton on Wednesday. Celebrating his fifth year at the festival, Roy noted that this is the first world premiere kicking off the festival. "I cannot think of a more urgent, compelling world premiere," Roy noted, welcoming filmmaker Haas, director of such films as "The Music of Chance" and "Angels and Insects."
Described as the first U.S. narrative film to capture the current war in Iraq, the feature is the story of a journalist (Nielsen) caught up in the civil strife plaguing post-invasion Iraq. It depicts the bleak realities facing both the local citizens and the occupying U.S. forces.
"The whole situation in Iraq had been troubling me," Haas explained, describing his reasons for embarking on the project. He worked with freelance journalist Wendell Steavenson who has spent a great deal of time in Iraq, writing for Time Magazine, Slate, and numerous other publications. In just a few months she quickly wrote the script for the film, which was shot in Morocco.
While Haas added that he watched a number of documentaries about the situation in Iraq to try and accurately capture the experience, he believed a scripted film would offer a unique perspective. "[I felt that] fiction and narrative could get you into the story more," Haas told the audience after the world premiere, explaining that he felt, "If [the story] was humanized it could have a different kind of impact."
Nielsen detailed that she researched the experiences of journalists working in Iraq, talking with CNN's Christiane Amanpour and U.S. newspaper journalists about their work in the war torn region. "What I tried to convey the most," NIelsen told the audience during the post-screening Q & A session, "was a feeling of moral and physical broken down-ness." She added, "It was a really depressing situation."
The film is well-suited to a festival that specifically offers a competitive feature film section for work that explores challenging international issues. The Films of Conflict & Resolution compete for a $5,000 cash prize. This year's list includes Keren Yehezkely-Goldstein's "About The Body" (Israel, East Coast premiere), David Gleeson's "The Front Line" (Ireland, world premiere), James Moll's "Inheritance" (U.S., east coast premiere), Sedika Mojadidi's "Motherland Afghanistan" (U.S., world premiere), Annette K. Olesen's "One To One" (Denmark, U.S. premiere), and Hugo Latulippe and Francois Prevost's "What Remains of Us" (Canada, N.Y. premiere).
Six titles are competing for this year's Golden Starfish Award at the Hamptons festival, vying for a more than $190,000 goods and services package. In the Golden Starfish narrative competition are Brad Gann's "Black Irish" (U.S., world premiere), Jens Lien's "The Bothersome Man" (Norway, U.S. premiere), Sven Taddicken's "Emma's Bliss" (Germany, North American premiere), Guy Moshe's "Holly" (U.S., east coast premiere), Dina Zvi-Riklis' "Three Mothers" (Israel, North American premiere), and Rajnesh Domalpalli's "Vanaja" (U.S./India, U.S. premiere).
Competing for a $10,000 goods and services prize in the documentary competition are Lincoln Ruchti's "Chasing Ghosts" (U.S., world premiere), Sara Lamm's "Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox" (U.S., East Coast premiere), Jeremy Gans' "No Past to Speak Of" (Canada, U.S. Premiere), Benjamin Niles' "Note by Note" (U.S., world premiere), Bradley Beesley and Sarah Price's "Summercamp!" (U.S., East Coast premiere), and Georgi Lazarevski's "Voyage In G Major" (France, U.S. premiere).
The Hamptons International Film Festival continues through Sunday in East Hampton and other Long Island, NY towns.