Too Many Movies, Too Little Time During a Busy, Festive Weekend in The Hamptons
by Eugene Hernandez
Marty Sader's "Most High" and Leslie Sullivan's "A Touch of Greatness" were the top prize winners at this year's Hamptons International Film Festival on the east end of Long Island, NY over the weekend (October 20-24, 2004). The films won the top juried narrative and documentary prizes respectively at this year's event. Among the international films, Reza Bagher's "Capricciosca" from Sweden won the top jury prize.
"Most High," which also stars Sader, co-writer Laura Keys, and producer Kenyon Robertson, looks at the life of Julius (played by Sader), a survivor of a drug-addicted childhood who aims to help his friends recover, until he meets someone who changes his life. The filmmakers were awarded a good and in-kind services prize valued at more than $180,000.
In the documentary category, Sullivan's "Greatness," winner of $5,000 cash and post-production services, is a profile of educator Albert Cullum. With footage from Cullum's plays and interviews at a reunion with his students, 40 years later, the 54-minute film explores Cullum's unique approach to teaching. This year's doc jury also singled out another project in the five-film competition, highlighting Ralph Arlyck's "Following Sean," in which the filmmaker returns to Northern California to check in on Sean, the subject of his 1969 film about a 4 year-old kid living among the hippie turbulence of the Haight in San Francisco. The film was awarded an honorable mention by the jurors.
Over the years, the Hamptons fest has become a popular event for industry attendees, with companies taking the opportunity to showcase upcoming movies and scout new talent and projects. Last year saw "Open Water" gain attention before heading to Sundance and a Lions Gate deal. This year, Fox Searchlight debuted its upcoming "Kinsey" on opening night, Fine Line showcased Jonathan Glazer's "Birth" with weekend showings (and the terrific annual Saturday night dinner), Sony Classics presented Daniel Harris' "Imaginary Heroes," while THINKFilm offered two new films, Jonathan Nossiter's wine doc, "Mondovino" and the anticipated "Assassination of Richard Nixon," starring Sean Penn.
"The festival has become an increasingly important venue for new directors and new films, and the stuff often comes from slightly different sources, which is good. I also find the shorts marvelous for tracking new talent, and the networking possibilities for all concerned are numerous, yet manageable and cordial," noted THINKFilm's Mark Urman. Referring to his company's two movies in the festival, he added, "It was extremely gratifying to see them received so warmly and to see people in the audience whom I know for a fact can talk about the films, write about them, influence perception, and help them do better. The audiences in the Hamptons are unique in that they are often New Yorkers, and they are frequently well-placed professionally. A film that pops in the Hamptons can be transformed."
Other industry attendees echoed Urman's comments. Among the criticisms are that the fest is so large for an event that spans just three full days (with a fourth day of partial screenings on Sunday). The event presents numerous competitions intended to highlight new work, but with so much going including screenings, panels, parties and special programs, attendees are hard-pressed to catch many movies. While Urman's party toasting "Mondovino" on Thursday night was a signature Hamptons soiree, offering great food, a warm atmosphere, and guests mingling in an intimate, comfortable setting, Saturday's closing night bash in faraway Sag Harbor, celebrating IFC's 10th Anniversary, felt more like a party at Sundance, with a large, albeit festive crowd. The many filmmakers in town hoping to mingle with audiences and industry thrived at parties like the one for "Mondovino" but some seemed daunted by the massive, but well-organized Saturday night bash. Craving a more personal getaway weekend experience, a small group of guests gathered later that night at a local house to drink and play Texas Hold'em and charades.
A key challenge for the festival is how to maintain the intimacy and personal touch it has become known for (like fests in Telluride, Nantucket and other weekend resort towns) amid an apparent desire to show more and more movies, many only twice due to the crowded scheduled that fills so few days. Organizers said Sunday that more than 37,000 tickets were distributed at the weekend fest, which took over six screens at the local multiplex and multiple other venues, some near and some far from the East Hampton festival home base.
Honoring Marcie Bloom
Thursday night, the festival joined forces with indieWIRE for the first festival Industry Toast, a truly special evening. Held at the Wolffer Estates Vineyard, the intimate gathering included many of Marcie Bloom's closest industry colleagues and friends, from Joanne Koch of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Sony Classics colleagues Michael Barker, Tom Bernard, Dylan Leiner and Sony execs Beth Berke and Rob Wiesenthal, to a trio who flew in from Europe for the tribute, Beki Probst from the European Film Market, producer and writer Michele Halberstadt and producer Dominique Green.
Among the warmest remarks of the evening came from Barker and Bernard, Bloom's longtime partners at Orion Classics and then Sony Pictures Classics. Bloom was at work in 1996 when she was hit with an aneurysm that led to a coma and an ongoing recovery that has left her paralyzed on her left side. While no longer able to serve as the company's face on the international festival scene, she remains an active member of the film community. Joking, Barker said, "There has been a lot of speculation about Tom's and my relationship with Marcie. What you don't understand is that it's like a ménage a trios, without the sex!" Later her looked at her and said directly, "The extraordinary gift you have given us, especially in the last 8 years (since the illness), reminds us all of what is important in life. Past, present and especially future, you continue to affect our lives. I'm in awe of you."
Also warm and touching were video remarks from Pedro Almodovar, James Schamus, Warren Leight and Kevin Huvane, with letters presented from Lois Smith and Bette Midler. Barker clutched her hand as the audience witnessed some of Bloom's favorite film moments in clips presented before she was wheeled to the front of the room to address the group.
"Your thoughtfulness has touched me deeply," Bloom told the guests, with Bernard holding a microphone for her as she read prepared remarks. "What can I say about Michael Barker and Tom Bernard? They changed my life and made my head spin with their devotion and courage. They are my brothers."
Other Award Winners
Among other award winners, Reza Bagher's "Capricciosa" which was awarded a $10,000 airline ticket prize, is the story of turmoil within a Swedish family, and the top short film competition award offered $5,000 in cash to filmmaker Gary Lundgren for his film "Wow and Flutter." The $25,000 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Film Prize in Science and Technology went to the festival's opening night film, "Kinsey." Filmmaker Bill Condon told the audience on opening night that he will donate the money to charity.
The $10,000 Films of Conflict and Resolution Award went to Joshua Fauden and Pavla Flischer's "Blues By the Beach," while the Kodak Award for Cinematography went to Michael Fimognari for his work on Eddie O' Flaherty's "Fighting Tommy Riley." The Zicherman Family Foundation Award for Screenwriting, with a $5,000 prize, went to Michael Goorjian for his well-received festival film, "Illusion." It was co-written by Ron Marasco, Tressa DiFiglia Brendon and Chris Horvath. The $5,000 cash Brizzolara Family Inspiratoinal Film Award went to Keith Beauchamp for "The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till."
Student awards ($1,000 cash each) went to Sharat Raju's "American Made" (American Film Institute), Karen Dee Carpenter's "My Scarlett Letter" (Temple University), Scott Rice's "Perils in Nude Modeling" (American Film Institute), Todd Smith's "Young American's" (Columbia University), Debby Wolfe's "Cat's Bad Hair Day" (University of Central Florida School of Film & Digital Media"), David Lebensfeld's "The Counselor" (Emerson College), Sam Bridger Carroll's "Hungry in the Hamptons" (School of Visual Arts), and Alexander Woo's "Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher" (New York University). A $500 cash award for a young videomaker went to Andy Cahill.
Gena Rowlands and Anthony LaPaglia received the Golden Starfish Awards for Career Achievement at this year's festival.
In audience prizes, Vincent Rubino's "The Breakup Artist" won the award for best narrative feature, while Daniel Anker's "Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust" won the prize for best documentary. Rob Pearlstein's "Our Time is Up" won the best short film award, Dennis Gansel's "Napola" won the best international film award and Darko Lungulov's "Escape" won the award for best Long Island Film.