(L-R) BILL MURRAY and JAEDEN LIEBERHER star in ST. VINCENT
(L-R) MELISSA McCARTHY, JAEDEN LIEBERHER and NAOMI WATTS star in ST. VINCENT
Patricia Clarkson Jeff Vespa/Contour by GettyImages
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 14: Director Joel Schumacher of "Trespass" poses during the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival at Guess Portrait Studio on September 14, 2011 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Matt Carr/Getty Images)
This past summer, David Nugent spent most of his time inside—though, minus the missed sunshine and golden beach tan, it didn’t feel that way.He hiked the Pacific Crest Trail alongside Reese Witherspoon. He crossed the American frontier by covered wagon with Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones. He helped Bill Murray babysit a 12-year-old kid. He relived the John du Pont scandal. And he watched helplessly as Julianne Moore, portraying a renowned linguistics professor, began losing her words.
Between Mr. Nugent and his programming team, they watched approximately 2,500 films in preparation for the Hamptons International Film Festival—running from Thursday, October 9, through Monday, October 13, at more than a dozen venues across the East End—narrowing them down to the 125 features, documentaries and short films best suited for the festival’s 22nd year.
This weekend’s slate is in line with last year’s decision to chop the entire program by 25 percent, a move made after Anne Chaisson took over the helm as executive director, following the longtime reign of Karen Arikian. Despite fewer films, ticket sales have been higher, audiences have been larger, and Oscar nominations are still flowing in—60 in the past two years for films featured at the festival, and 150 total over the last six.
“We don’t want it to be all light, easy crowd-pleasers that don’t challenge the audience,” Mr. Nugent explained last week during a telephone interview, “and we don’t want it to be all head-scratching films that people have a hard time with. We offer a little bit of everything. In terms of the films themselves, I think this year’s lineup is one of our best.”
The festival will open on Thursday night with “St. Vincent,” an odd, charming story about friendship starring Bill Murray, who portrays a can-
tankerous curmudgeon with a penchant for the racetrack, strip club and local dive bar. When a single mother, portrayed by Melissa McCarthy, moves in next door, he is suddenly roped into looking after her 12-year-old kid, played by Jaeden Lieberher, who will attend the festival with writer-director Theodore Melfi.
“It’s a really good Bill Murray role. It seems he was born to play this role, this irascible neighbor,” Mr. Nugent said. “It’s a great way for us to open up the festival. It sets a really nice tone.”
The opening night film at Southampton Regal Bay Cinema on Friday, October 10, is “Wild,” an adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 eponymous memoir that chronicles her life-changing, 1,000-mile journey along the Pacific Crest Trail, anchored by Reese Witherspoon’s performance, direction by Jean-Marc Valleé, and a cast that includes Laura Dern, who will participate in the “A Conversation With …” series on Saturday, October 11, at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.
“It’s so well done,” Mr. Nugent said of the East Coast premiere of “Wild.” “That is one I think our audiences are really going to love.”
One of the festival’s Centerpiece and Spotlight films, “Foxcatcher”—screening on Saturday, October 11, at Guild Hall and Sunday, October 12, at Sag Harbor Cinema—is also based on a true story, this time of Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler Mark Schultz, from director Bennett Miller, who is best known for feature films “Moneyball” and “Capote.”
Starring an unrecognizable Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo—who will participate in “A Conversation With …” on Sunday, October 12, at noon at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor—the dark film is a stranger-than-fiction tale, Mr. Nugent said, once multimillionaire John du Pont enters the picture. “I think it’s a really interesting film to screen in the Hamptons, where there are people of great means and great wealth,” he said. “The movie is better if you don’t remember what happened—some pretty wild things happened.”
Nestled in between the Opening Night, Centerpiece and Spotlight films are international movies from around the globe—Brazil, Germany and the Czech Republic to Italy, Israel and the Netherlands. But this year, the festival has its sights set on China, an up-and-coming superpower in the film industry.
From Friday, October 10, through Sunday, October 12, three Chinese features will make their U.S. premieres—“Coming Home” by Zhang Yimou, Wang Chao’s “Fantasia,” and “Red Amnesia” by Wang Xiaoshuai—as well as two short films, “Butter Lamp” and “The Way Home,” from directors Hu Wei and Ting Song, respectively, that have already screened in America.
“People need to understand, artistically, what is happening there and what kinds of things we’re going to see out of the Chinese. And, I can tell you, it’s not ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,’” Ms. Chaisson said last week during a telephone interview. “China is about to be the largest filmmaking country in the world. That’s Hollywood and Bollywood combined.”
On Sunday, October 12, actor Hilary Swank will sit for “A Conversation With …” at 3 p.m. at Bay Street Theater—preceded by actor Patricia Clarkson on Friday, October 10, at noon and director Joel Schumacher on Saturday, October 11, at 11 a.m.—where she will undoubtedly discuss her role as a transporter of three “damaged” women to Iowa by covered wagon in Tommy Lee Jones’s western “The Homesman,” an East Coast premiere screening as the festival’s second Centerpiece film, as well as a Spotlight, on Sunday, October 12, and Monday, October 13, at Guild Hall.
“It could have gone in a number of directions, which it didn’t go in,” Mr. Nugent said. “It’s a very unique and original story. The lines between the good guys and the bad guys and what to do get blurred.”
Closing out the festival is the U.S. premiere of “Still Alice,” starring Julianne Moore as Alice Howland, a linguistics professor who is happily married with three adult children when she is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, the film has been described as frightening, heartbreaking and inspiring, supported with performances by Alec Baldwin and Kristen Stewart.
“It’s sort of a big deal for us,” Mr. Nugent said of the film. “This is a real hot ticket. It flew somewhat under the radar at Toronto [International Film Festival]. This will be the first chance for any American audience to see it. And there’s early Oscar buzz for Julianne Moore, who gives an amazing performance.”
In years past, Mr. Nugent has wagered guesses at Best Picture, and with a pretty high success rate, too. Having screened five of the last six eventual winners—making HIFF the only festival on the East Coast to have done so more than twice in that time span—the programming director is feeling fairly confident.
“I think it’s very possible we’ll have that film again this year,” Mr. Nugent mused, before quickly adding, “I don’t want to jinx it.”
So, for now, his lips are sealed.
The 22nd annual Hamptons International Film Festival will kick off on Thursday, October 9, and run through Monday, October 13, with screenings, panel discussions and red carpet walks at theaters from Westhampton to Montauk. For a complete schedule of events, or to purchase tickets, visit hamptonsfilmfest.org.
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