The arrival of the 18th annual Hamptons International Film Festival this week—the first films will be shown next Thursday, October 7, and the event continues through Columbus Day, October 11—coincides with the first round of the Major League Baseball playoffs. So perhaps this analogy is especially appropriate: The festival does not have a weak hitter in the lineup.
Apparently, after nearly two decades, the festival is able to attract the top-tier studio and independent films that previously would have bypassed the Hamptons in favor of such venerable festivals as those in Toronto and New York City.
“More so than ever before, we’re being sought out as a festival that filmmakers want to be in to showcase their latest work,” said David Nugent, HIFF’s director of programming. “Yes, we still have to seek films and sometimes compete for them, but increasingly we’re showing films that attract a lot of attention during the awards season.”
According to Karen Arikian, the festival’s executive director, “This time of year really is the beginning of the awards season that leads right into the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards in winter. I think because there are quite a few members of the academy who live in the Hamptons, that is another reason why the Hamptons International Film Festival’s profile has risen. And, of course, the quality of the films.”
Filmmakers approaching HIFF might make the life of a program director a little easier, but there is still plenty of heavy lifting—especially of the eyelids—to do throughout the year leading to October. Mr. Nugent said that he watches hundreds of movies, short documentaries to full-length features and everything in between.
This year’s array of films demonstrates that his marathon viewing has not been in vain.
The opening night film on October 7, with showings at 7 and 7:30 p.m. at East Hampton’s Guild Hall, is “Barney’s Version,” directed by Richard J. Lewis, with a strong cast that includes Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, and Minnie Driver. It is based on Mordechai Richler’s comic novel about a Jewish TV producer in Montreal who is forced to review his life, which includes relationships with three wives.
The closing film, “Black Swan,” showing on Sunday, October 10, at 9.15 p.m. and Monday, October 11, at 2:30 p.m., both times at the UA Cinema in East Hampton, is eagerly anticipated at HIFF because it has been a hit at festivals elsewhere, and there is already “buzz” about its star, Natalie Portman, being on the short list for a Best Actress Oscar. She portrays a ballet dancer whose personality is divided between two very difficult roles. The film also stars Wynona Ryder and is directed by Darren Aronofsky, who found success recently with “The Wrestler,” which marked the comeback of Mickey Rourke.
Other highlights of the festival next week include “The Debt” with Helen Mirren, an espionage tale directed by John Madden, who had previously lensed “Shakespeare In Love”; “The King’s Speech,” about Great Britain’s royal family in 1925, with a director’s dream cast of Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, and Guy Pearce; “127 Hours,” with James Franco, made by Danny Boyle, who is the reigning Academy Award-winner for Best Directing for “Slumlord Millionaire”; “Casino Jack,” with Kevin Spacey, about the corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff; “The Company Men,” directed by John Wells, who gave us the TV shows “ER” and “The West Wing,” starring Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, and Kevin Costner; and “Wild Target,” with Bill Nighy—the main villain in “Pirates of the Caribbean”—starring as a professional assassin with mother issues.
A fun aspect of the festival is after the full schedule is released—you can find it at hamptonsfilmfest.org—looking to see what the actual Hamptons connections are. There are quite a few this year. “Three Backyards,” starring Edie Falco, is set in the Hamptons. “Blue Valentine,” with Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, is co-produced by Jamie Patricof, whose parents are longtime residents of East Hampton. “Fair Game,” about the Valerie Plame spy case, stars Sean Penn and Amagansett resident Naomi Watts. “Miral” is the newest feature directed by Julian Schnabel of Montauk. “And Everything Is Going Fine” is a documentary directed by Steven Soderbergh about the late Spalding Gray of Sag Harbor. “Kisses, Chloe” is a feature that was filmed entirely in the Hamptons, including East Hampton. And there is a short film titled “Further Lane” and a documentary titled “King of the Hamptons” that is full of local celebrities and personalities.
Always a popular part of the Hamptons International Film Festival are the “A Conversation With ...” interviews. The festival began 18 years ago with one, and this year there are four: Mr. Schnabel on Friday, October 8, at 4 p.m. at Guild Hall; Isabella Rossellini at 1 p.m. at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, and James Franco following at 3 p.m., same location, both on Saturday, October 9; and Stanley Tucci on Sunday, October 10, at 1.30 p.m., also at Bay Street.
Mr. Franco will be discussing his role in Boyle’s “127 Hours,” about the hiker who cut off his own arm to survive being trapped by rocks—but that was not the initial reason why he is at HIFF. “We actually invited him based on the short film he directed, ‘A Clerk’s Tale,’” said Ms. Arikian. “Once he said he would be here for that showing, we asked him to go a step further and give a talk about directing versus acting, and he agreed. And then we got the Danny Boyle film, so it all worked out, thanks to James.”
As in past years, the 2010 edition of HIFF is full of documentaries, short films, works of animation, the “Conflict and Resolution” series, and special programs and panels such as the Sloan Screenplay Readings. New this year is “Midterm Madness,” a group of films prompted by this year’s midterm elections, plus “Eye On Canadian Films,” and “Views From Long Island.”
Of particular interest is a salute to the independent producer Ben Barenholtz that will include a 20th anniversary screening of “Miller’s Crossing” at Guild Hall on Sunday, October 10, at 1 p.m. Expected to attend to discuss the film are the directors, Joel and Ethan Coen, and cast members Frances McDormand, John Turturro, and Marcia Gay Harden.
When (almost) all is said and screened, there are awards to be given out. This year’s presentations will take place at Guild Hall on Sunday, October 10, at 6 p.m., hosted by Bonnie Grice of 88.3 FM and Peconic Public Broadcasting.
Then it will be time for HIFF staffers and volunteers to exhale. It has been a difficult couple of years for many film festivals because of the economy, but the Hamptons event has persevered through hard work and innovations.
“This year is not much better, but it is better than last year,” Ms. Arikian said of the economics. “We worked very hard at forming partnerships with other organizations that don’t cost either of us any money—Guild Hall with the SummerDoc Series, the Parrish Art Museum, and we’re talking to Watermill Center.
“Our budget has not expanded at all. Last year, our sponsorship revenue dropped 32 percent, and there has been some rebound this year. We’re doing careful growth. This year is our biggest festival so far, yet we have not increased our staff. More partnerships has been the key. A number of places here have been very good to us.”
In addition to the schedule, hamptonsfilmfest.org has information on purchasing tickets and passes.
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