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Hamptons ’97: The final word

Hamptons '97: The final word

Hamptons '97: The final word

by Eugene Hernandez, Anthony Kaufman, and Mark Rabinowitz

The fifth installment of the Hamptons International Film Festival concluded
earlier this week with attendees (and possibly organizers) trying to put
the event into perspective and determine its future. In a season full of
film festivals, the Hamptons has had the reputation of being a glitzier,
more industry-focused event, undoubtedly due to its location in the heart
of New York’s elite summer hideaway on Long Island. But just as the
village of East Hampton is a mix of rural charm and opulence, the festival
is on the one hand fueled by celebrity and status, but at the same time
driven by a desire to present the unexpected.

Marred by financial difficulties earlier this year, the festival’s board
was infused with new members, who selected an existing board member Bruce
Feinberg to become the festival’s new Executive Director. Organizers were
clearly successful in raising a substantial amount of money from a handful
of high profile sponsors. The festival named Stephen Gallagher its sole
programmer; he was a member of the programming team last year, but in his
new role chose to become the events’ sole programming voice. What resulted
was a boldly diverse lineup of films, incorporating new independent cinema,
issue-oriented documentaries and a wide array of contemporary and classic
international cinema. Besides closing fest films “The Wings Of The Dove” and
Alan Rickman’s “Winter’s Guest“, Gallagher’s choices strayed from the often
star-driven work showcased at other festivals in favor of films that
represented the under-represented.

Of the new independent works competing for the Golden Starfish, three were
recognized early on as likely crowd favorites, and the industry followed
suit. “Sparkler” directed by Darren Stein, “Strong Island Boys” directed by
Mark Schiffer, and “Fakin’ Da’ Funk” directed by Tim Chey, each packed
screenings, forcing organizers to add additional showings. In each case,
the attraction was strong: Stein’s “Sparkler” impressed industry-types at a
NYC First Look screening earlier this year and includes a celebrity cast,
Schiffer’s “Boys” explores violence and desperation among Long Island youth,
and Chey’s “Funk” humorously probes Chinese and African-American race
relations, with Ernie Hudson and Pam Grier lending their talents.

Strong in this year’s showing were also the documentaries, ranging from the
hysterical to the tragic. Whether it was Roger Nygard’s hilarious and
fascinating look at “Trekkies” or French director Nicholas Philibert’s
profound trip “In The Land Of The Deaf“, these stories of real people
continue to prove just as powerful, demanding or humorous as any dramatic
film. Indie consultant Bob Hawk hailed Brent Sims’ doc, “Gutter Punks“, an
uncensored look into the tragic lives of homeless teens living on the
streets of New Orleans. The film’s near two hour running time of mostly
talking (pierced) faces felt like a group therapy session ranging from the
pathetic to the furious. Yet what was most disturbing about the screening
was its venue. As a print never arrived, “Gutter Punks” was projected in the
video room, the transformed third floor of the immaculate, white columned,
“London’s Jewelers” — only in the Hamptons could such posh decadence
blindly coexist with a film about starving street kids. Other festival
highlights included the hysterical Italian sex comedy “Il Ciclone (The
“, directed by and starring Leonardo Pieraccioni, and D.A.
Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus’ (“The War Room“) latest documentary effort “Moon Over Broadway“, a backstage look at the staging of the 1995 Broadway hit,
Moon Over Buffalo“, starring Philip Bosco and the superb Carol Burnett.

The Awards ceremony and closing night party proved to be a mixed bag,
underscoring a festival at a crossroads. The crowd was an odd mix of indie
film types and well-dressed Hamptons locals, the latter of which didn’t
appear to care a whit about the awards, and were repeatedly hushed by those
at the podium. Awards were given in the order of the size of the prize
being awarded, serving to highlight the inequity of the prize amounts. The
Golden Starfish award for best feature film amounted to over $185,000 in
goods and services, while the Documentary Grand Prize winner received
$2,500 in film stock. Some of those in attendance grumbled that the field
should be leveled out of respect for both types of movies.

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