A scene from Frank Marshall's "Rather," the Closing Night Film at Hamptons Doc Fest. COURTESY HAMPTONS DOC FEST
A scene from Matthew Heineman's film "American Symphony." Heineman will receive the Hamptons Doc Fest's Pennebaker Career Achievement Award COURTESY HAMPTONS DOC FEST
A scene from James Ivory's documentary "A Cooler Climate." The film revisits footage he shot in Afghanistan in 1960. COURTESY HAMPTONS DOC FEST
A scene from Wim Wenders film "Anselm" about painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer. The film will be screened in 3D at Hamptons Doc Fest. COURTESY HAMPTONS DOC FEST
"Call Me Dancer" will receive this year’s Hamptons Doc Fest Art & Inspiration Award. The film's co-director Leslie Shampaine, a professional ballet dancer, will take part in a Q&A at the screening. COURTESY HAMPTONS DOC FEST
A scene from Nicole Newnham's “The Disappearance of Shere Hite” which screens at the Hamptons Doc Fest. COURTESY HAMPTONS DOC FEST
A scene from Maite Alberdi's "The Eternal Memory,” which will screen at the Hamptons Doc Fest. The film won the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. COURTESY HAMPTONS DOC FEST
Jacqui Lofaro, executive director of the Hamptons Doc Fest, in her Bridgehampton office. DANA SHAW
A scene from Lisa D’Apolito's "Shari & Lamb Chop” which screens at Hamptons Doc Fest. COURTESY HAMPTONS DOC FEST
A scene from "Dusty & Stones,” directed by Jesse Rudoy. COURTESY HAMPTONS DOC FEST
A scene from "Mourning in Lod” directed by Hilla Medalia. COURTESY HAMPTONS DOC FEST
A scene from Matthieu Rytz's “Deep Rising” which will receive the Hamptons Doc Fest's Environmental Award. COURTESY HAMPTONS DOC FEST
Documentary lovers rejoice! The Hamptons Doc Fest returns to Sag Harbor next week. Now marking its 16th incarnation, the festival will present 30 films over seven days in two different theaters — the Sag Harbor Cinema and Bay Street Theater.
Jacqui Lofaro, executive director of the Hamptons Doc Fest, notes that the two-theater format has turned out to be a winner for the event. The festival is also longer this year — running seven days rather than six — giving programmers the opportunity to spread things out a bit.
“It works well for us,” confirmed Lofaro. “I think we’re unique in that we don’t program against ourselves. We have nothing scheduled at the cinema when we’re using Bay Street, one block away.
“It takes some juggling, but it works.”
That means, theoretically anyway, that from November 30 to December 6, a moviegoer could catch virtually every one of the documentaries being screened at the festival. That includes “Shorts & Breakfast Bites,” a new program at Bay Street Theater presenting documentaries of diminutive length.
“People love shorts programs, but they’re tricky to program in the main programming because it takes away feature slots,” Lofaro explained.
Her solution was to program all the short films together, in a series of two weekend morning programs, the first running 74 minutes on Saturday, December 2, the second on Sunday, December 3, clocking in at 104 minutes. Both screenings include food for the price of a regular ticket.
“The one area where we really wanted to do something special — and had the time — was ‘Shorts & Breakfast Bites,’” Lofaro said. “On Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m., we’ll be showing films and serving bagels, Danish, fruit, coffee and teas, all at no additional cost.
“Bay Street is empty at that time. Some of our people are up early, I thought maybe we could get them to come for breakfast,” Lofaro explained. “I was in the city at a film festival in the morning and people were there in droves. With lure of sustenance, I hope they’ll be there.”
Of course, in addition to the food, there will also be the lure of fabulous films.
“All told, there are seven shorts and they’re great shorts — and some of the filmmakers are coming to talk,” she added.
Receiving the festival’s Pennebaker Career Achievement Award at this year’s HDF will be director Matthew Heineman, who will be honored with an awards gala at Bay Street Theater on December 2, and a screening of his latest film, “American Symphony.” The film follows composer and instrumentalist Jon Batiste as he prepares his composition, “American Symphony” for its premiere at Carnegie Hall at the same time his wife, writer Suleika Jaouad, is undergoing medical treatment for a rare form of leukemia.
“We’re also honoring our own Nancy Buirski, and are screening her film ‘The Loving Story,’” said Lofaro.
Buirski, who was on the HDF advisory board, died this past August. Released in 2011, Buirski’s documentary “The Loving Story,” which screens at Sag Harbor Cinema on December 3, tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, whose interracial marriage in 1958 was deemed illegal by the state of Virginia. Their case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967, where the court ruled that laws prohibiting interracial marriage are unconstitutional.
Curating the film festival each year is no easy feat and when asked how she goes about assembling the right mix of offerings, Lofaro says, “We’re open to what is a good film. Then we look at the balance. Do we have too many dance films or art films? And it’s a very broad range of topics — from dance to environmental films to shorts to music. We even have a 3D film — Wim Wenders’ ‘Anselm’ [about artist Anselm Kiefer] co-presented with the cinema. You have to wear glasses and the cinema had to get special projection for it.”
Though Lofaro doesn’t like to pick favorites, this year she is willing to recommend a few not to be missed films, including “26.2 to Life” by Christine Yoo, which screens at Bay Street at noon on December 4.
“It takes place in San Quentin prison, where there is a lot of long term incarceration,” Lofaro explained. “The men run the most unique marathon in the world — 105 laps on a concrete path in the prison’s uneven yard. They’re doing a marathon in laps. It’s so fascinating. It also challenges ageism, finding purpose and maintaining family relationships.
“Christine Yoo is coming with one of the runners,” she added. “This film is really inspiring. I happen to love that one.”
Another film that Lofaro finds particularly intriguing is Matthieu Rytz’s “Deep Rising,” which will screen at Bay Street Theater on December 6, at 4:30 p.m. and is receiving HDF’s Environmental Award. The film serves up a tale of geopolitical, scientific and corporate intrigue by exposing the International Seabed Authority, a secretive organization behind massive extraction of metals from the ocean floor in pursuit of profit.
“They are little blobs of minerals that you need to make lithium,” Lofaro explained. “This is stuff we don’t know about. It’s kind of a unique story you won’t see elsewhere.
“I also happen to love ‘Shari & Lamb Chop,’” continued Lofaro, referring to Lisa D’Apolito’s documentary about the ventriloquist duo of Shari Lewis and her sock puppet named Lamb Chop who debuted on “Captain Kangaroo” in 1956. The film screens at Bay Street on December 6.
“It is a charming film. Most people didn’t know about her,” said Lofaro. “She won 13 Emmys, a Peabody and wrote 60 children’s books. She was a woman who brought joy to kids and Lamb Chop breaks your heart.”
Another highlight will be the closing night film — Frank Marshall’s “Rather,” a documentary about long-time CBS newsman Dan Rather who, in his 60-plus year career, covered the Vietnam, War, JFK’s assassination, the fall of the Berlin Wall and other earth-shattering events. Now 92, Rather still has a lot to say about the future of democracy and dedication to truth.
“This is a bio doc of him and it’s great,” said Lofaro. “Our audience loves biographies, they eat them up.”
In the sleeper category, Lofaro recommends Jesse Rudoy’s film “Dusty & Stones,” which tells the story of two country singer cousins from the small African kingdom of Swaziland who travel to the U.S. to record songs in Nashville and compete in a Texas battle of the bands.
“The whole town in Texas is thrilled. These guys come in their cowboy hats, and they’re very good,” said Lofaro. “They give the performance of their life. It’s a unique little story — and a wonderful one.
“We also have a very timely film, ‘Mourning in Lod.’ Sheila Nevins is the producer and she’s coming out for the Q&A and we’re Zooming in the director,” said Lofaro. “It’s a story about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and three people caught in the cycle in a city inhabited by Arabs and Jews. Their stories all come together. It’s very powerful and important.”
The festival’s Impact Award this year will go to Regina K. Scully, whose Artemis Rising Foundation supported the production of Sabine Krayenbühl and Zeva Oelbaum’s “Obsessed With Light,” which screens at Bay Street on December 1, and is co-presented with New York Women in Film & Television. The film is about early 20th century dancer Loïe Fuller who combined dance, light and fabric in unique ways. She was also an inventor who pioneered the creative use of electric lighting for the stage.
Another intriguing offering in the lineup is “In the Company of Rose,” James Lapine’s film about Rose Styron, widow of William Styron, author of books including “Sophie’s Choice” and “The Confessions of Nat Turner.” The film will be the festival’s opening night selection, screening at 8 p.m. on November 30, at Sag Harbor Cinema.
“She’s 95 years old. She’s going to Zoom in for the Q&A,” said Lofaro of Styron. “It’s a charming film. William always had the headlines, but she is extraordinary. She’s a poet, journalist and a human rights activists. They circulated on Martha’s Vineyard with people like the Clintons, Leonard Bernstein and Truman Capote.”
It all adds up to a lot to choose from, and Lofaro explains that the HDF films that end up making the cut are discovered in a couple different ways. Film Freeway, an online service for that invites filmmakers to submit their work to the festival, is one of them. Scouring the world for the latest and greatest documentaries is another.
“We have a screening committee and they watch every film and they pare it down,” said Lofaro. “[HDF’s artistic director] Karen Arikian is out there at the various fests, finding what’s percolating, what’s unusual. You’ll see films at our festival that you won’t see anywhere else.
“We really look for a film that is unique, but wonderfully made and a wonderful story,” she added. “I think we have a strong program this year.”
With the 2023 festival schedule set and all the pieces in place, when asked if her stress level is now under control, Lofaro responded, “Every day is stressful — I’m not relaxed.
“I’ll be relaxed December 7.”
The Hamptons Doc Fest runs Thursday, November 30, through Wednesday, December 6, at Bay Street Theater and Sag Harbor Cinema. Schedule, tickets and passes are available at hamptonsdocfest.com. No tickets will be sold at the theater box offices, though they may be purchased by credit card at the festival table in the theater lobby prior to a film, if available. Tickets for individual films are $15. Tickets to the opening night film and the Impact Award, each including a reception at Sag Harbor Cinema, are $25. The December 2 Pennebaker Gala at Bay Street Theater is $60. A $300 festival pass includes admission to all films, award gala, and the “Shorts & Breakfast Bites.”
One fine body…