For a "long-weekend" event, the Hamptons International Film Festival manages to pack quite a wallop. This year's five-day fest, which ran October 19 - 23, included a 125-plus-film lineup in addition to a slew of panels, parties and other events that can easily fill up any festival itinerary. For two reporters on the beat, it's impossible to fully capture everything. The village of East Hampton has long been the festival's nucleus where a majority of screenings and panels took place, while ancillary screenings were given to surrounding towns. This year, however, HIFF shifted a significant part of its events to Southampton, enlarging the festival to other areas of the famed ritzy enclave on Long Island's east end, but also posing a bit of a challenge for some festival attendees. Despite the festival's October dates, well past the warm Hamptons high season when the area is overrun by weekenders packing into their expensive summer rentals, the region's main drag -- The Montauk Highway -- was quite busy during the event, making trek's between venues in both towns quite difficult at times.
Nevertheless, there was still more than enough going on in East Hampton itself. The east coast premiere of Scott McGehee and David Siegel's "Bee Season" launched the festival with two busy theater screenings followed by the fest's opening night party in Montauk. Compared with years past, opening night was unusually warm allowing guests to wander the grounds of the party venue with its sweeping views of the Atlantic. The weather deteriorated, however as the festival continued into the weekend, with quite a bit of rain and plunging temperatures luring festgoers indoors.
[indieWIRE's iPOP coverage from the Hamptons International Film Festival is available here online and will be updated this week with more photos.]
"It was cold... bump this [festival] up a month," joked "Piggy Banks" director Morgan J. Freeman, chatting indieWIRE after the fest. "I wanted to go to the beach." Freeman's film, which had its world premiere at the festival, playing in the fest's Spotlight Films section, is about a young man who lead a transient life as a serial killer, but eventually believes he can find redemption after uniting with his long-lost sister. "This was the first screening of 'Piggy Banks' and I was very nervous," said Freeman whose past credits include "Hurricane Streets," "Desert Blue" and "American Psycho 2." "[The film] is a little different from other things I've made, so I was a little scared [because] it's polarizing, but Hamptons audiences embraced the film and gave it a boost." Continuing, Freeman joked that famed Raiders football player Marcus Allen, who served as a producer on the film, would've stopped anyone who might have tried to leave the theater. "Marcus Allen was there guarding the door in case anyone tried to leave," said Freeman laughing. "I had a blast [at the festival] and almost everybody stayed for the Q&A."
Between screenings of his film, Freeman managed to take in other movies at the fest. "I loved 'The Fall of Fujimori' and liked 'Favela Rising'. I also really liked the Michael Winterbottom film ("Trishtam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story"). Up next for Freeman is "Just Like the Son" starring Rosie Perez, Mark Webber and Brendan Sexton III. "It's about Mark [Webber] who plays a troubled man who attempts to rescue a six-year-old from foster care to find a better life for him," said Freeman. The film, which has already been shot, will be completed by December.
Freeman was just one of many filmmakers who traveled to the festival with their films, along with a number of celebrities. Charlize Theron, Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Alec Baldwin, Miranda Richardson, Alan Cumming, Dyan Cannon and Debra Winger were some of the stars adding glitz to the fest this year.
Theron made a quick appearance at an intimate event for Picturehouse Films president Bob Berney who was this year's honoree at the Hamptons and indieWIRE Industry Toast. "You really deserve all this ass-kissing," Theron said to much laughter at the ceremony, which included accolades from producer Christine Vachon, New Line co-head Michael Lynne and hosted by actor Paul Reiser. Theron, whose latest film "North Country" opened over the weekend, won an Oscar for "Monster," a film championed by Berney when he served as head of Newmarket Films. Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon, meanwhile took a moment to offer an homage to two Bob's: Berney and Dylan at the event, singing a song with the refrain "...the answer my friend, is Bob Berney again" (to the tune of "Blowin' In the Wind"). Bacon and Sedgwick also were the featured guests at this year's "A Conversation With..." program, featuring an intimate hour-long chat with the couple moderated by indieWIRE editor-in-chief, Eugene Hernandez.
"The festival made huge strides in terms of attracting filmmakers, industry attendance and perhaps most visibly, big name talent," festival programmer Rajendra Roy told indieWIRE Monday via email. "In a way, it felt exactly how I always imagined a festival in The Hamptons should feel: sophisticated, fun and glamorous as all hell." Adding to the glamour quotient was a late addition of a special benefit screening of James Mangold's "Walk the Line," with star Joaquin Phoenix in attendance. The film played the fest as a benefit screening for The Peace Alliance at Phoenix's request.
Also among the stars adding a bit more glamour to the Hamptons festival this year was Liza Minnelli, in town with the restored and re-mastered version of her 1970's TV production, "Liza With A 'Z'." With music by Kander and Ebb and cinematography by Owen Roizman, the performance doc directed by Bob Fosse aired on television just once. Michael Arick began a restoration of the original film footage years ago and the version has been rescued by Minnelli with producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron who struck a deal with Showtime to air the film in the Spring before it will he released on DVD. After cocktails and dinner at The Palm at the Huntting Inn Friday night, Minnelli made her way over to Guild Hall where she was warmly received by fans and photographers. Backstage before the show she was beaming with pride and even seeming a bit nervous. Taking the stage, she was greeted with a standing ovation, and told the crowd, "I'm so excited that I'm here, I feel like I'm about to do the show!" After chatting a bit more, she teased the crowd with a hint of Norma Desmond in her voice, "Its 1972...one night only...one performance...and this is it!" Making her way off stage she added, "Hang on," before walking into the audience and taking a seat to watch the show.
The festival's honorees for the Golden Starfish for Career Achievement in Acting, Alec Baldwin and Miranda Richardson participated in a conversation on Friday afternoon at the festival. The duo also worked as mentors with the festival's 2005 Rising Stars (Emily Blunt, Eugene Byrd, Florian Lukas, Jake Muxworthy, Kip Pardue, Elizabeth Reaser), a group of emerging actors from fest films selected to participate in mentor sessions in the Hamptons and later this winter at the Berlinale. On stage at Guild Hall, Richardson explained that having guidance from more established actors was something she always wished for as a younger performer. "I didn't have that, it's so valuable." Talk about their early days in the business morphed into a discussion about working with emerging filmmakers. In what he called "the fully realized day of the writer/director" Baldwin bemoaned that "the world is cluttered with first time directors" who often seem too inexperienced on set. "They don't have the ability or the courage to tell us what to do (as actors)," he said, adding, "The most experienced people want you to do your thing." Although, he interjected, that often times when making bigger films he finds it hard to resist the temptation to direct himself, after having to do so on smaller films with younger directors.
Oscar-winning director Claude Lelouch ("A Man and a Woman") was another heralded name making the journey to the Hamptons in support of his latest film "Le Courage d'Aimer" (The Courage to Love), which screened in the fest's World Cinema section. A mostly full audience joined Lelouch for a Thursday screening of his romantic drama that interweaves the stories of a talented street singer, the woman who initially captures his heart, a pair of twin sisters and a wealthy food magnate. Several audience members gushed about their love for the film to Lelouch during the Q&A following the screening - often in French. Lelouch, who has had a dozen-and-a-half films released in the U.S. seemed weary regarding the film's American distribution potential. "It's very hard for a French-language film to be released in the U.S.," he told the audience adding, "But we're talking to people now."
Also in town for his World Cinema section film "Modify" was director Greg Jacobson. The movie, which carried a "Late Night Audiences Only" warning in the festival's catalog, examines extreme body modification exploring graphic scenes of genital piercing, tongue and penile bisection, skin cutting and branding, as well as cosmetic and sexual reassignment surgery. "I became interested in the subject after taking a cultural anthropology class in college," said Jacobson, who himself has no tattoos or piercings, chatting with indieWIRE at a festival party. "The film shows procedures and lets [the subjects give their stories] in their own words." And reps said over the weekend that an offer for distribution has already been made,
Decidedly less graphic despite its title, Kimberly M. Wetherell's short "Menage A Trois" screened as part of the festival's Women and Film series, which is a collaboration, produced with New York Women In Film & Television. The film tells the story about a man who wants to spend time with his girlfriend before departing for France, but finds himself competing with her cell phone for her affections after he gives it to her as a gift.
"The screening went very well [and] we had an overfilled screening, so it was a nice support for the women [filmmakers] there," said Wetherell in a conversation with indieWIRE Monday. "This has been the biggest festival our film has been a part of so it was a wonderful ending." Wetherell also complimented the festival's mix of offerings creating a well-rounded event. "It's great that studio films ad celebs were there too, it was a nice balance. This being my first 'big' festival was an eye-opening experience, plus seeing how the industry worked was exciting. It was nice to be able to interact with industry people in a relaxed atmosphere and be able to have a drink with people and not feel intimidated." After traveling the festival circuit with "Menage A Trois," the director is ready to begin her next project. "I'm [now] starting the development phases for my next feature film, a dark romantic comedy," said Wetherell who lives in New York City.
"thirtysomething" actress Polly Draper returned to HIFF for the second time with her latest, "The Naked Brothers Band," starring her sons Alex and Nat Wolff and a group of their friends, which screened as a world premiere. Part documentary and part mockumentary, the film is the story of a kids' rock band and all the travails that come with instant fame and superstardom at an elementary school age. Probably one of the most surprising aspects of the film, which took the fest's audience award for children's feature, was the original music, mostly written by eleven-year-old Alex Wolff, including the very catchy tunes "Crazy Car," "Got No Mojo," "Hardcore Wrestlers," and "Rosalina." Alex sings the tracks while his younger brother Nat plays drums for the songs that are astonishingly mature, and well... good. This is the second audience prize for Draper at HIFF, winning an audience prize for the 1998 film "The Tic Code," which she wrote and starred in (directed by Gary Winick).
In other winners, Oscar-nominated director Byambasuren Davaa's ("The Story of the Weeping Camel") "The Cave of the Yellow Dog" was the festival's big winner, taking the Golden Starfish Award for Best Narrative Feature ($150,000 worth of in-kind services), the Artemis Records Original Movie Score Award ($5,000 worth of in-kind services and the Kodak Award For Best Cinematography ($6,000 worth of in-kind services). Filmed in the Mongolian steppes, the feature shows the real day-to-day existence of the Batchuluuns--an actual Mongolian family, not actors--in a warm-hearted story of Nansal, the young daughter who finds a puppy sheltered in a cave.
David Zierger's "Sir, No Sir!" won the Golden Starfish Documentary Feature Film Award ($5,000 in cash and $5,000 of in-kind services). The film chronicles Vietnam-era military men and women on the frontlines of dissent come forward to recall their participation in the anti-war movement.
Other Hamptons '05 winners:
Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature: Marc Rothemund's Sophie Scholl: The Final Days" (Germany) and Writer/Director Ali Selim's "Sweet Land" (USA)
Audience Award for Best Documentary: Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine's "Ballets Russes" (USA)
Audience Award for Best Short Film: Eric Smith's "Irene Williams: Queen of Lincoln Road" (USA)
Audience Award for Best Long Island Film: Kevin Jordan's "Brooklyn Lobster" (USA)
Zicherman Family Foundation Award For Best Screenwriter: Director/screenwriter Stefan C. Schaefer's "Confess" (USA)
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Film Prize in Science and Technology: Su Rynard's "Kardia" (Canada)
The Brizzolara Family Award for Films of Conflict and Resolution: Jesse Atlas' "At the Green Line" (USA/Israel, USA)
Golden Starfish Short Film Award: Daniel Vernon's "Fountain of Youth" (UK)
Golden Starfish Award for Best Young Videomaker: Kelvin Redvers' "Sheep" (Canada)
[Eugene Hernandez contributed to this report]