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Oct 13, 2008 6:16 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Tough timing for a film on giving, or is it?

Oct 13, 2008 6:16 PM

At first blush, now might not seem the best time for a film on philanthropy, considering the collateral damage to charities and non-profits from Wall Street’s collapse and the global economic downturn.

But filmmaker Robin Baker Leacock has a slightly different take on this notion. “My film is about the gesture of giving, not about dollars and cents,” she said this week. “It’s about the motive, impulse, and passion to help others, whatever your situation and what else is happening.”

The documentary she produced and directed, “A Passion for Giving,” will be screened this Friday at 11 a.m. at the East Hampton Cinema as part of the Hamptons International Film Festival. It is not her first project—a one-hour film titled “It Girls” aired on the Women’s Entertainment Network in 2002, and she has directed short films for Plum TV—but it is her first project to be screened in the Film Festival. And a last-minute rescue was required to get it in.

“I had sent it in a little late because I kept tinkering with it,” said Ms. Leacock, who lives in Water Mill. “And I sent it to the New York office and for some reason it wasn’t forwarded to the Hamptons office, so by the time I followed up because I hadn’t heard anything, it was sort of lost in shuffle. I brought it over there just a couple of weeks ago and they liked it and decided to include it as a late addition.

“I would think it helped that I’m a local filmmaker.”

“A Passion For Giving” focuses on the people who spend much of their time giving to charities and organizing fund-raising events for nonprofit organizations. The filmmaker describes it as “stylish, entertaining, and upbeat, with fun music and great locations.” Among the subjects of the documentary are Ross Bleckner, Bob Collacello, Gael Greene, Dan Aykroyd, and Richard Branson.

“I really wanted to find out why people give, what is the story behind that,” Ms. Leacock explained. “I’m not directing the people in the film, it’s an exploration of their motives. They participated not because they were looking for recognition, nor were they hesitant to be recognized as philanthropists. It was more that they wanted to share their experiences and their passion for doing what they do. They were especially keen on the results that they produce, that they are truly making a difference.”

It would seem inevitable that Ms. Leacock would become involved in documentary filmmaking considering that she married into a family well-known in that trade. Her husband is Robert Leacock, who, in addition to directing commercials for such major corporations as Nike and American Express, has directed Madonna’s “Truth or Dare” video, “Catwalk” featuring supermodel Christy Turlington, and also filmed Al Pacino’s “Looking For Richard.” He has also made parody commercials for “Saturday Night Live.”

Her father-in-law is one of the pioneers of documentaries. Richard Leacock was born in London in 1921 and grew up on a banana plantation in the Canary Islands. His first film, “Canary Island Bananas,” was all of eight minutes but it launched his career. He was a combat photographer during World War II, and after the war went to work for the director Robert Flaherty on “Louisiana Story,” a milestone in nonfiction filmmaking.

In the 1960s he partnered with D.A. Pennebaker—the Sag Harbor documentarian who has “Return to ‘The War Room’” in this year’s Hamptons Film Festival—in a production company that developed a new kind of filmmaking based on synchronous sound and the use of lightweight cameras. He continued to make documentaries while chairman of the Film Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1969 to 1988.

Having such experience on call doesn’t mean that the making of “A Passion For Giving” was a snap. “I traveled around the world, and as I did I shot my movie, and the entire process took two years,” Ms. Leacock reported. “You have no idea what it’s like. Just the editing process alone took seven months. You think you got it the way you want it, you’re finally done, and then you see or think of something else. It goes on and on.”

“‘It Girls’ received a good amount of reaction, so I’m not brand new at this,” she continued. “But still, there were some nerves involved. Maybe more so now than when immersed in making the movie because I’m at the point where I’m awaiting audience reaction. Now I look back and realize that this was harder than my last project because there is a lot more material and details in it, and it is a more ambitious project.”

The new challenge is to get “A Passion For Giving” seen, never an easy path for documentaries. Ms. Leacock believes that there is more at stake than simply attracting viewers.

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