Hamptons Fest Enters Sixth Year With A New Staff And A New Focus on Glitz and Glamour
by Mark Rabinowitz
Since the closing night of last year's event in October, the Hamptons International Film Festival has undergone a complete makeover. Gone is the entire primary staff from the 1997 fest, including Executive Director Bruce Feinberg (who has remained a member of the Board of Directors), programmer Stephen Gallagher, and others including Bari Perlman and Liz Latanzio. Since indieWIRE reported the Hamptons' hiring of the Hudson Valley Film Festival's Denise Kasell as the new Festival Director, several others have joined the team, including Director of Programming David Schwartz (American Museum of the Moving Image), Associate Director of Programming Deena Juras (Gen Art, Seattle, Edinburgh and Newport International Film Festival) and Programming Consultants Lynda Hansen and Linda Blackaby. Gallagher was offered a position on the new programming staff, but the two sides couldn't come to an agreement. Last year's festival was programmed entirely by Gallagher, so Schwartz and his team will of course be working quite differently. indieWIRE spoke with Schwartz and Kasell on Wednesday, and they outlined the shape they hope that the 1998 festival (running October 14 - 18) will take.
With a history of instability at the top, and the sort of nagging problems that face many film festivals (including disorganized volunteers and poorly-run press offices), both Schwartz and Kasell indicated that they are determined to make a marked shift in the tone of their festival. "The idea is, that having four people is going to help us have greater out reach and a greater range of films," said Schwartz, continuing, "Linda Blackaby is really a specialist in world cinema and documentaries, Lynda Hansen and Deena are both very strong in American Independent films and I'm think I'm pretty wide ranging." There are problems, however, with cleaning house a lack of continuity. "We had a meeting yesterday with the programming committee," said Schwartz, "and we were asking about how the juries work. Nobody knew, and we realized that there was actually nobody to ask (among the current staff)."
Both Schwartz and Kasell are adamant about re-working much of the festival by bringing some glitz and glamour into an event which has historically been solidly programmed, but often lacked the panache that some of the new faces think belong at a Hamptons-based festival. In addition to the usual opening and closing night screenings and galas, there will be similar events planned each night of the fest, bringing the total number of high profile evenings to five. Schwartz pitched the idea of bringing some glamour into the festival, which he felt had been missing from the event. "I admire the integrity of the festival...I think they really have supported an interesting range of films," said Schwartz. "But," he added, "maybe it's been anti-glamorous to a fault." Returning this year, after a one-year hiatus, is the outdoor summer screening at the East Hampton High School. This year's event is scheduled for Saturday August 1st, and the film is Peter Chelsom's Sharon Stone-starrer, "The Mighty." The film opened the recent Newport International Film Festival.
Another major theme that the two are determined to bring to the festival is a greater amount of participation by filmmakers and the film industry in general. They hope to achieve this, in part, by increasing the number of panel discussions as well as introducing a series of breakfast and luncheon discussions with festival guests. Schwartz indicated he felt that the Hamptons' festival was ill-served by those who would attempt to turn it into a market-type of festival, like Sundance and Toronto. "When I first heard about the Hamptons festival, I had an idea that it would be an informal setting, almost like Telluride," thus giving attendees the chance to mix with filmmakers and industry leaders. The Hamptons also looks to have more high profile attendees, with Schwartz indicating that the festival, while keeping its focus on independent and international fare, would not be opposed to filling a couple of the gala screening slots with Hollywood product. Kasell seemed to echo this thought, saying that she thought that it was "important for filmmakers to meet people that have already perhaps gone on and made movies for a little higher budget, and to have an interaction between both communities."