FESTIVALS: The Show Goes On; Hamptons Remains Topical, with Bomb Threat and Films from War-Torn Yugoslavia
by Brian Brooks/indieWIRE
(indieWIRE/ 11.01.01) -- Aaaaahhh, the Hamptons International Film Festival. . . the location, a perennial weekend resort for any weary New York urbanite seeking solace and tranquility and lucky enough to have (or know someone who has) a home in one of the legendary string of posh towns at the end of Long Island. Couple that setting with an intimate film festival and anticipated films like "Italian for Beginners," "No Man's Land," "Enigma," "The Devil's Backbone," just to name a few, and this is the perfect recipe for a jaded post-September 11th New Yorker searching for a reprieve from the relentless barrage of discomfort broadcasting on CNN.
Desire to "get the hell out of town" reached a new crescendo for Hamptons Jitney riders waiting on the corner of 40th St. and 3rd Ave. in the afternoon prior to the festival's opening as a wail of police cars, fire trucks and special emergency units of the FDNY and NYPD gathered across the street in the building housing offices of New York governor George Pataki. Anthrax had been discovered inside, giving waiting Hamptons weekenders and festival attendees including Golden Starfish Documentary entrant Tamar Rogoff ("Summer in Ivye") a heavy dose of anxiety before the escape. "I hope the bus gets through," one waiting passenger was overheard saying. "Oh totally!" said another. Fast forward several hours: attendees gathered inside the main festival venue, the UA in East Hampton, for the opening night screening of Yurek Bogayevicz's "Edges of the Lord" where the chatter of "even here?" could be heard from the crowd when asked to exit the theater due to a bomb threat. The world did not stop at the border of the Hamptons.
Nevertheless, the show went on after an "all clear," and "Edges" star Haley Joel Osment introduced the film about a Jewish boy from Krakow hiding with a rural Catholic family in WW II-era Poland. Escapism is undoubtedly not on the minds of festival organizers as the event touted its second series of "Films of Conflict and Resolution" sidebar. Last year's inaugural C&R program focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which became apropos following a fresh wave of violence in Israel and the bombing of the USS Cole on the festival's second day. This year's edition featured six programs screening films dealing with the complex issues of the break-up of Yugoslavia.
The C&R section included Adis Bakrac's "The Abyss" (Bosnia), an investigation into the uncovering of mass graves, "Crime and Punishment," by Norwegian director Maria Fugelvaag Warsinski, which documents war crimes in the so called "safe areas" of Srebenica, Jasmila Zbanic's "Red Rubber Boots," which follows Bosnian women searching for their children (one woman repeatedly tells investigators to look for her son's red rubber boots). Serbian Janko Baljak's "Ethnically Clean" looks at ethnic cleansing and former Serb President Milosevic's plan to advance his republic's domination in the Balkans, while Bosnian director Pjer Zalica's "A Man Called Boat" is a personal story of a Bosnian sniper following his escape from the army.
Many films screening in C&R showed underlying symbols of hope amidst the Yugoslav tragedy in the '90s, including Danis Tanovic's "Portraits of Artists in Sarajevo," a survey of cultural resistance to war among the city's artists. Tanovic also screened his feature, "No Man's Land" in the festival's Spotlight Films section, which won the Best Screenplay prize during Cannes 2001, and opens in theaters next month. The permanence of art is also uniquely captured in Adis Bakrac's minimalist short, "Cinematheque" (Bosnia), which shows film running in a movie theater, despite a lonely room. Indeed, directors in the "Conflict and Resolution" panel consistently agreed culture served as a form of resistance and strength throughout the conflict and that sentiment was echoed in the CBS Sunday Morning segment by Bob Simon, "Once Upon a Time: A Segment on Sarajevo" that screened Saturday afternoon, offering glimpses of hope in the besieged city by focusing on the work of a child piano prodigy, among others.
Hampton's Golden Starfish Award Documentary winner "Promises" by directing trio Justine Shapiro, B.Z. Goldberg and Carlos Bolado is a heartwrenching look at the Middle East conflict. Filmed between 1995 and 1998, the film captures the opinions of a group of Palestinian and Israeli children living in geographically close, yet culturally and psychologically distant neighborhoods in and around Jerusalem. The film takes place during a time of relative peace (compared to the present), and the meetings between these children seemed to suggest that it is not impossible to overcome the hostilities between their respective communities.
No less thought provoking though less political, Hamptons screenings such as Wonsuk Chin's "E Dreams" offered filmgoers a peek back into America's go-go dotcom era of the late '90s. The documentary takes a journey into the meteoric rise of Joseph Park and Yong Kang's venture Kozmo.com and its subsequent harsh demise as the bubble burst in the NASDAQ meltdown of the spring of 2000. Unlike the characters in "Startup.com," which many considered unsympathetic, Kozmo's Joseph Park and Yong Kang's humor, enthusiasm and excitement enveloped the screening's attendees so much so that Chin was immediately asked about Park following the film. Fellow doc, "Strut" by Max L. Raab, takes a look at the colorful yet evasive phenomenon around the south Philadelphia mummers who compete in a yearly street party each New Year's Day in an eccentric display of dance, costume and, well. . . the strut. Perhaps particularly shocking about the film was that supposedly none of the people interviewed were drag queens.
The 9th annual event also included many other events, including programs for Women in Film (including a screening of Faye Dunaway's directorial debut, "The Yellow Bird"), Artists who make Movies, The Artistry of Cuba and three Short Film Programs that kept attendees away from the beach during the surprisingly warmish late fall weekend. indieWIRE editor-in-chief Eugene Hernandez also interviewed "The Business of Strangers" (IFC Films) director Patrick Stettner who touched on many topics regarding the making of the film he also wrote that stars Stockard Channing and Julia Stiles. Stettner spoke about the influence of the Sundance lab, which kept him "defending the script constantly," he said.
Roger Ebert gave Orson Wells' "Citizen Kane" a fresh look from his point of view in a program hosted by the world famous uber-critic. This year's surprise guest in "A Conversation With..." was artist/director Julian Schnabel who's 2000 release "Before Night Falls" screened in the festival's World Cinema program. Incidentally, Schnabel also designed this year's minimalist Hamptons Film Festival poster.
The state of the world did not disappear in a dark cinema while attending the Hamptons Festival. Instead, lucky fest-goers were offered a complete menu of thought-provoking film. While sometimes disturbing, there were also plenty of other movies to give the mind a reprieve. And let's not forget, the parties are always good.