Jacqui Lofaro at the Hamptons Doc Fest offices in Bridgehampton. DANA SHAW
Sam Pollard will receive the Hamptons Doc Fest Pennebaker Career Achievement Award on December 3. COURTESY HAMPTONS DOC FEST
“Still Working 9 to 5" opens Hamptons Doc Fest on December 1. From left, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton in the 1980 film "9 to 5". © 1980 STEVE SHAPIRO
“Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb” will screen on December 4 and features a Q&A with Caro and the film's director, Gottlieb’s daughter Lizzie Gottlieb. SONY PICTURES CLASSICS
On December 5, Hamptons Doc Fest presents the 2022 Art & Inspiration Award to Soren Sorensen, director of “Omar Sosa’s 88 Well-Tuned Drums.” Pictured is Omar Sosa. © MICHAEL WEINTROB
On December 3, Hamptons Doc Fests hosts a 40th anniversary screening of “Say Amen, Somebody," preceded by a performance of Nulife gospel choir. A Q&A with the film's director and cinematographer follow. Pictured is Thomas A. Dorsey, considered the father of gospel music. COURTESY HAMPTONS DOC FEST
"Woman-Ochre," 1954–1955, Willem de Kooning. Oil on canvas, 40" × 30." Collection of the University of Arizona Museum of Art, Tucson. Gift of Edward J. Gallagher, Jr. The painting was the subject of puzzling 1985 art theft detailed in Allison Otto's documentary "The Thief Collector.”
The follow-up story of Mukunda Angulo, who was featured in the 2015 documentary "The Wolfpack," is told in Jennifer Tiexiera and Camilla Hall's new film "Subject." ZACHARY SHIELDS
An image from Gabriela Cowperthwaite's documentary “The Grab.” COURTESY HAMPTONS DOC FEST
A scene from Ondi Timoner's “Last Flight Home.” COURTESY HAMPTONS DOC FEST
A scene from Julia Mintz's "Four Winters,” about the Jewish resistance in World War II. The film will receive Hamptons Doc Fest’s Human Rights Award this year. FOUR WINTERS
A scene from "The Smell of Money” directed by Shawn Bannon. COURTESY HAMPTONS DOC FEST
Jacqui Lofaro at the Hamptons Doc Fest offices in Bridgehampton. DANA SHAW
On December 1, the Hamptons Doc Fest returns to Sag Harbor, and, this year, will offer more than 25 documentary films screened over six days at two different venues.
“It’s our 15th year,” festival founder and Executive Director Jacqui Lofaro explained in a recent interview. “To me that’s big news — that we’ve lasted 15 years and our audience has grown.”
Hamptons Doc Fest began life as the Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival a decade and a half ago, and Lofaro explains that it grew out of her own frustration at not having her documentary accepted into the Hamptons International Film Festival and a suggestion from local radio personality Bonnie Grice to do something about it.
“Bonnie challenged me by saying, ‘Start your own film festival.’ I said, ‘I think I will,’” recalled Lofaro. “We had four films that first year and one was mine, because it didn’t get into HIFF. The festival just kind of grew slowly at first, we were only one day and we had a handful of films. We’d have screenings in Westhampton Beach and didn’t realize how empty it was in November and December, so we carved that out of our equation and just stuck with Sag Harbor.”
And over the years, like-minded people with a passion for documentary films found each other and the festival. These days, the Hamptons Doc Fest screens films that are made all over the world, including some that are also screened at HIFF.
“We’ve never stopped looking for well-told stories because we’re a species that loves sharing stories,” said Lofaro. “There are skilled filmmakers who find these seeds of good stories and make films — and that’s what we’re always looking for.”
This year, the Hamptons Doc Fest, which runs December 1 through December 6, will present screenings at its longtime home, Bay Street Theater, as well as Sag Harbor Cinema.
“We’re only renting theater two at the cinema, which has 100 seats, except, ‘Turn Every Page,’ the Robert Caro film. We’re partnering with the cinema on that one in theater one,” Lofaro explained. “We’re also staggering screenings so we’re not competing with ourselves. There will be certain times at Bay Street and certain times at Sag Harbor Cinema. It allows us to show more films.
“There’s a lot going on — we also do our Young Voices Program at Bay Street, and on December 6, have 270 local students coming in and filmmaker Roger Sherman will teach a course on point and shoot with an iPhone,” added Lofaro. “This is really something we look forward to every year — it’s our way of improving media literacy in local kids.”
The annual HDF gala, which includes a buffet and presentation of the festival’s Pennebaker Career Achievement Award, will be held at Bay Street Theater on December 3. Named in honor of longtime Sag Harbor resident and documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, who died in 2019, this year’s award goes to filmmaker Sam Pollard for his 50-year career documenting the Black experience in America. The evening includes a Q&A with Pollard and a screening of his film “Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power.”
“We’re always excited to have him,” said Lofaro, noting that Pollard, a veteran film and television editor, documentary producer and director, is a longtime friend of the festival and the wider documentary community. Pollard’s film “Sammy Davis Jr: I Gotta Be Me” won the festival’s 2015 Filmmakers’ Choice Award, while his documentary “MLK/FBI” served as the Doc Fest’s opening night film in 2020, and “Citizen Ashe,” his film about the late tennis champion Arthur Ashe, was the winner of HDF’s Audience Award last year.
While the gala is one of HDF’s many high profile centerpiece events, Lofaro is also keen to highlight some of the hidden gems that will be screened at this year’s festival.
“These are films that you won’t see anywhere, except our festival or very few festivals,” said Lofaro. “There are some films that people might tend to overlook because the hype is on the award films, but it’s a missed opportunity.”
Among the documentaries that Lofaro encourages audiences not to miss is Jennifer Tiexiera and Camilla Hall’s “Subject,” a new film that revisits several protagonists whose lives were the subject of previous documentaries, like “The Staircase,” “Capturing the Friedmans” and “The Wolfpack,” a 2015 documentary about six boys who were raised in isolation, held captive by their parents in an apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
“It’s a film about the subjects of documentary films,” Lofaro explained. “When you turn your life over to the filmmakers, the film comes out, it wins awards and then it’s over. The story has been told in a specific way, the director gets acclaim. But what about you? This film highlights some key documentaries and the people that were in them.”
Appearing for the post-film Q&A for “Subject,” which screens at Bay Street Theater at 2 p.m. on December 1, will be Jesse Friedman, a participant in “Capturing the Friedmans.”
Another film that Lofaro recommends is “The Grab,” Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary about Nathan Halverson of The Center for Investigative Reporting, and his colleagues who, in 2013, uncovered the sale of U.S. pork-supplier Smithfield Foods to a Chinese company. It was the start of their discovery of several actions by powerful nations who are now on the hunt for land and resources in other countries. One of Cowperthwaite’s earlier films — “Blackfish” in 2013 — resulted in reforms at SeaWorld and was one of the highest grossing documentaries of all time.
“‘The Grab’ is an investigative journalism type of film,” said Lofaro. “Gabriela examines food and water insecurity and the high stakes involved. The Center for Investigative Reporting realized that a quarter of Smithfield Foods was sold to China, which put a quarter of America’s pigs under Chinese control. The Saudi’s are purchasing water in Arizona and Russia is recruiting American cowboys to raise beef cattle in land that is thawing from global warming.
“Foreign governments are buying up our resources — water and land — to become dominant in what will be the next battle,” said Lofaro. “This film is fascinating. You have to pay attention when you watch it, but if audiences hang in, they can form their own conclusion. That’s why investigative reporting is so important. Food and water are the next precious minerals. The catastrophe of scarcity is what the nations are looking at in the years to come.”
Another investigative reportage documentary is Allison Otto’s “The Thief Collector,” which tells the story of the puzzling 1985 theft of Willem de Kooning’s painting “Woman-Ochre” from the University of Arizona Museum of Art. The culprits were a husband-and-wife art heist team who cut the painting out of its frame and vanished with it into the desert.
“The wife distracted the guard while the husband took the painting,” explained Lofaro. “They put it in a cheap frame and hung it on the back of their closet door. They didn’t want to sell it. They were thumbing their noses at the art world. This was in 1985, and it was just the tip of the iceberg. This is a suspenseful film and well done.
“Then we have another film I don’t want people to miss — ‘The Smell of Money,’” said Lofaro. “It’s about Elsie Herring, who fought to stop a multi-billion dollar hog farm in North Carolina from spraying hog waste on the land. It deals with environmental racism and pollution — and Smithfield Foods is at the heart of it, again.”
Also on Lofaro’s list of films not to miss is “Four Winters,” Julia Mintz’s documentary about Jewish resistance fighters during WWII and their collaborators who fought against the Nazis from the forests of Belarus, Ukraine and Eastern Europe. The film will receive HDF’s Human Rights Award. Another film receiving recognition will be “Last Flight Home,” in which filmmaker Ondi Timoner documents the final days of her father, Eli Timoner, who founded Air Florida in the 1970s and became wheelchair-bound after a massage gone wrong.
“There’s a 15-day waiting period for the assisted suicide option in California,” said Lofaro. “She set the camera up and just let it roll as people came to see her father. It’s the incredible, but joyous end of life journey of her father, and very powerful and worth seeing — and Ondi Timoner will be there.”
One of the treats which Lofaro hopes will pack the (movie) house is the screening of “Say Amen, Somebody,” a 1982 documentary by George T. Nierenberg about the history and significance of gospel music.
“It tells the story of Thomas Dorsey, who is the father of gospel music, and Willie Mae Ford Smith, who trained singers, and it debuted at the New York Film Festival to sold-out audiences. It was restored in 2019,” explained Lofaro, adding that Nierenberg will be at the December 3 screening at Bay Street Theater along with East Hampton’s Don Lenzer, who is on HDP’s advisory board and was the film’s cinematographer. “Jeff Robinson and the Nulife Singers gospel choir will also be there. They are thrilled and will do a 20 minute performance to get everyone revved up before the film.”
Other highlights include “Desperate Souls, Dark City and the Legend of Midnight Cowboy,” a film directed by another HDF advisory board member, Nancy Buirski, that will be co-presented with NYWIFT (NY Women in Film & Television); the opening night film, “Still Working 9 to 5” directed by Camille Hardman and Gary Lane, which is about the history of the female office workers’ movement; and Mark Fletcher’s “Patrick and the Whale” about marine videographer and diver Patrick Dykstra who, for 20 years, has been swimming with and attempting to communicate with whales around the world.
It’s a lot to take in, but Lofaro is hopeful that as the Hamptons Doc Fest celebrates 15 years of presenting documentaries on the East End, the community turns out to see as many of this year’s films as they can over the course of the six-day festival.
“These documentary filmmakers spend years fleshing out these stories and presenting them in ways we can understand that are compelling,” she said. “They deserve our attention.
Hamptons Doc Fest runs Thursday, December 1, through Tuesday, December 6, at both Bay Street Theater on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor and at Sag Harbor Cinema, 90 Main Street. Tickets and passes are available at hamptonsdocfest.com. No tickets will be sold at the theater box offices, though a limited number of tickets may be purchased by credit card only at the festival table in the lobby prior to films if available. A festival pass for all films and events is $250. Tickets to individual films are $15, with special event screenings $25 to $50.
One fine body…