Annabelle Attanasio’s impressive debut, “Mickey and the Bear,” premiered at SXSW, but over Columbus Day weekend it returned to the Hamptons Film Festival, which developed the project at its screenwriting lab. At one point, star Camillia Morrone jokingly pitched herself to “The Farewell” director Lulu Wang, a fellow member of the Winick Talks: Breakthrough Artists panel. “My schedule is open,” Morrone said.
Not for long.
Watching Morrone’s performance as a small-town Montana teenager working overtime to support her opioid-addicted vet father (James Badge Dale) reminded me of that “star is born” moment at the Sundance Film Festival when I first saw Sam Rockwell in “Box of Moonlight,” Tilda Swinton in “Orlando,” Ashley Judd in “Ruby in Paradise,” Kerry Washington in “Lift,” and Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone.”
This is what film festivals do. Of course, they help push awards contenders up the hill every fall; since 2010, Hamptons artistic director David Nugent has programmed the eventual Best Picture winner nine times in a row, unlike any other festival, and the annual breakout panel has promoted the likes of Emily Blunt, Elisabeth Moss, Adam Driver, Alicia Vikander, and Brie Larson. Casting directors instantly recognized their talent and pushed them forward into enduring careers.
However, in a less anxious era, a Fox Searchlight or Sony Pictures Classics would take a flier on selling Morrone as a breakout Oscar contender, as Roadside Attractions did with fresh face Lawrence in 2009 for Debra Granik’s hardscrabble drama “Winter’s Bone.” Critics groups turned that movie into a must-see for the Academy actors branch, and Lawrence was nominated for the first of four Oscars. Next time up, she won for “Silver Linings Playbook.”
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Those days are past. Distributors were scared of trying to sell a tough drama from a rookie woman filmmaker with no marquee names in the cast, and “Mickey and the Bear” will open in limited release via new distributor Utopia on November 13 at New York’s Film Forum, followed by L.A.’s Nuart on November 22.
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While the film may represent a lost opportunity for a Cinderella story, Morrone’s star potential is real. The daughter of Argentine actors Lucila Solá and Maximo Morrone, she grew up in Hollywood, “where you could throw a stone and hit an actor,” she told me. “I loved being the center of attention and making plays, but I knew the reality of being an actor because I had parents who struggled, I saw people working three jobs in order to be able to audition the next day. Modeling was a great door for me, for taking responsibility and traveling.”
At 19, she landed her debut role opposite Bruce Willis in “Death Wish,” but “it was hard for Hollywood to see me as anything more than having been a model.” So her next role was an oily-haired Texas waitress in Augustine Frizzell’s raunchy comedy “Never Goin’ Back.” For “Mickey and the Bear,” she was Attanasio’s second choice (the first one dropped out) and she had no prep time before flying to Anaconda, Mont. (pop.: 6,500) for her final audition the next day.
In the film, Morrone is bare-faced, reactive, and unadorned as an adult child who adores her only parent, her angry and manipulative father, while desperately wanting to escape servitude and find her own identity. Morrone, who researched children living with abusive veterans and opioid addicts, saw her character as a “pack mule.” And much of her contained performance is in eloquent, silent reaction shots, negotiating with her demanding boyfriend, her volatile father, and his doctors. “This character is 100% different from me,” she said. “I’m a Latina. Everything is outspoken in my culture.”
Beyond her clear talent, Morrone has great genes, a solid show business footing, and an Instagram account with 1.8 million followers; megawatt boyfriend Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t hurt either. It’s the kind of story that Oscar loves, but it’s one that will almost certainly have to wait for another year.
The panel also included Lulu Wang, writer-director of “The Farewell,” which is still playing across the country at a time when most movies struggle to hold more than a few weekends. Wang said she has been inundated with so many bad scripts that she has decided to go her own way. “I realized directing is the way to protect the writing,” she said. “I don’t know how to direct without having worked on the script. A big part of it is developing the tone and getting to know the characters before I know how to cast them.” (Panelist Aldis Hodge, who gives an awards-worthy performance as a death-row inmate opposite Alfre Woodard in “Clemency,” turned to Wang and said, “I’m available.”)
Among the awards contenders that the Hamptons hosted were “The Irishman,” which local resident and producer Jane Rosenthal presented before flying out to close the London Film Festival. Also turning up was Noah Baumbach with another Netflix film, “Marriage Story;” he’s very familiar with the Hamptons scene, where he filmed his ex-wife (and fictional subject of “Marriage Story”) Jennifer Jason Leigh in “Margot at the Wedding.” That was back in the days when Scott Rudin was Baumbach’s producer, before he sold “Meyerowitz Stories” to Netflix. Now Baumbach and Quentin Tarantino share the same producer: David Heyman (“Harry Potter”).
The Hamptons also featured its co-chair, Alec Baldwin, interviewing this year’s winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award, Brian De Palma, as well as taping his popular WNYC podcast “Here’s the Thing” with the principals of “For Sama,” the acclaimed documentary that won the 2019 Brizzolara Family Foundation Award to Films of Conflict and Resolution.
London exile Al-Kateab filmed the documentary during the five-year siege of Aleppo. After she, her doctor husband and their baby escaped the horrific bombings, veteran conflict-zone filmmaker Edward Watts helped shape the movie from miles of footage. Baldwin and Nugent played the film during the Hamptons’ summer documentary showcase, and brought it back for the fall.
“There was something about the two of them as a couple, young people maintaining a kind of patriotism toward their country and their future that I found very striking,” Baldwin told me. “People fighting to the death for the freedom of their people are brave, compelling, and rare.” A probing and curious interlocutor who chases after interviews with people he appreciates, Baldwin said: “I try to interview in the way I’d like to be interviewed.”
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The Hamptons narrative jury (The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg, writer-director Peter Hedges, and Magnolia Pictures executive Dori Begley) and documentary jury (producer Jannat Gargi, Vulture critic Alison Wilmore, and Epix programmer Jill Burkhart) voted on the 2019 awards as well as festival attendees. Audience winners were two Netflix films (narrative “The Two Popes” and documentary short “Fire in Paradise”) as well as feature documentary “Oliver Sacks: His Own Life.”
Trey Edward Shults, writer-director of closing-night film “Waves,” won the inaugural Zicherman Family Foundation Screenwriting Award worth $10,000, which goes to “an early-career screenwriter who has demonstrated singular vision and dedication to their craft.”
Among jury awards, Iceland Oscar submission and U.S. premiere “In a White, White Day,” directed by Hlynur Pálmason, won the Award for Best Narrative Feature, plus a Special Jury Mention for Acting Performance for Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir.
“Overseas,” directed by Sung-a Yoon, received the Award for Best Documentary Feature. Sandrine Brodeur-Desrosiers’s “Just Me and You” won Best Narrative Short Film, and Bassam Tariq’s “Ghosts of Sugar Land” won Best Documentary Short Film. Both Short Films will qualify for Academy awards consideration.
Slamdance debut “The Vast of Night” took home a Special Cinematography Award for Narrative cinematographer Miguel Ioann Littin Menz, and Sierra McCormick won Special Jury Mentions for Acting Performance.
“The Best of Dorien B.,” directed by Anke Blondé, won the Breakthrough Achievement in Filmmaking Award with a Special Jury Mention for Acting Performance for Kim Snauwaert.
Also earning Special Jury Mentions for Acting Performance were Mama Sane in “Atlantics” and Corinna Harfouch in “Lara,” while Alla Kovgan’s documentary “Cunningham” won a Special Jury Prize for Artistic Vision, “Suhaib Gasmelbari’s Talking About Trees” won a Special Jury Prize for Indomitable Spirit of Storytelling, Lasse Linder’s “All Cats Are Grey in the Dark” scored a Special Jury Prize for Originality, and Alexander A. Mor’s “The Nightcrawlers” earned a Special Jury Prize for Creative Filmmaking.