18th Annual Hamptons International Film Festival
Film star sightings on Long Island’s East End are nothing new. Neither are the camera crews and bevy of flashes trailing them. Even some directors are known to wind up on the other side of the lens. But stars and directors out east to see movies and talk about them? Camera crews in discussion about industry techniques? Either the world’s gone mad, or this weekend is the annual Hamptons Film Fest.
The Hamptons International Film Festival has been turning East Hampton, Southampton, Sag Harbor and Montauk into a film fanatic’s paradise for the past 18 years. For five days each year, more than 15,000 visitors make the trek along Route 27—some crossing an ocean or two in the process—to gorge on more than 100 films, from likely-to-be Oscar noms to likely-to-never-see-in-another-theater small-budget and foreign films.
“I think we have a lot of really strong films this year and we have a lot of great people coming with them, which is great,” says David Nugent, the HIFF’s programming director. “It’s just kind of, the bigger these get, and the more exciting people and films you have coming, the crazier it gets to make sure it all works out right.”
Part of the stress undoubtedly comes from whittling down the more than 2,000 submissions the HIFF receives. It’s a process Nugent says requires “a lot of delicate decisions,” especially when the panel of about 15 who decides on what gets a coveted time slot has to reject around 90 percent of what it sees.
Whereas the big five film festivals— Venice, Toronto, Cannes, Berlin and Sundance—cater to primarily industry folks, the HIFF prides itself on being just as accessible to Joe Moviegoer, similar to the approach the Tribeca Film Festival.
“That’s something we really work to do is to strike that balance between serving the people on the East End of Long Island who just want to go see some good movies that otherwise they wouldn’t have the chance to see,” Nugent says.
Anyone who makes predictions which films will sweep awards season might want to take a look at the HIFF’s track record: Nugent says films in last year’s festival went on to garner 17 Oscar nominations, and 2008’s feature was a little movie called Slumdog Millionaire. The staff decided on Darren Aronofsky’s upcoming Black Swan after screening his past films The Wrestler and The Fountain (Nugent also admits he’s a fan of Aronofsky’s work). Some of the other screenings Nugent is excited for are Heartbeats, a “three-person love triangle film about people in their 20s,” and Made in Dagenham, which focuses on ’60s London-era auto workers battling for equal pay.
But it’s not called the Hamptons International Watch Movies Festival, and to that end Nugent and Co. have plenty of other film-centric events lined up. The continuing “A Conversation With” series sits a handful of Hollywood A-listers down for discussions. This year’s roster includes Isabella Rossellini, James Franco (hopefully someone asks him what inspired him to go drag queen for the cover of Candy magazine), Stanley Tucci and Alec Baldwin interviewing Julian Schnabel.
The other big sit-down is an animation master class featuring Toy Story 3 Director Lee Unkrich and Producer Darla K. Anderson. The duo will be heading an hour-long panel “to show clips from film and really just talk about how you make a film like that,” Nugent says.
Two other events Nugent points out are a collection of films and documentaries focusing on issues pertinent to the upcoming mid-term elections, put together in collaboration with Snag Films; and, in a nod to the Internet’s reach in the world of film, the 10 finalists from an online film competition put together with BabelGum will be screened, with viewers voting on the winner.
Five days is barely enough time to contain all that goes on at the Hamptons International Film Festival. Nugent confesses the amount of prep work leads him to binge on all the films he’s missed over the past six months by the magic of Netflix. But even with all the planning and execution, he says he still gets to enjoy the five days of the year he’s not wrapping up this year’s festival or planning for next year’s.
“It’s kind of wild when, all of a sudden, all of these people actually show up,” he says. “I enjoy it; obviously it’s a very high-stress situation during the festival, but it’s a lot of fun.”