"Fancy Dance," directed by Erica Tremblay, stars Lily Gladstone. COURTESY HAMPTONS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIAL
The documentary "Angel Applicant," directed by Ken August Meyer, will have its East Coast premiere at HIFF. COURTESY HAMPTONS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
A24’s "Dream Scenario," written and directed by Kristoffer Borgli, will have its New York premiere at HIFF. COURTESY HAMPTONS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Celine Song, director of "Past Lives" which stars Greta Lee and Teo Yoo, will receive HIFF's Breakthrough Artist Award. COURTESY HAMPTONS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Nora Lum (as Anne Yum) and Sandra Oh (as Jenny Yum) in "Quiz Lady" directed by Jessica Yu. MICHELE K. SHORT/© 2023 20TH CENTURY STUDIOS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
"Story and Pictures By," directed by Joanna Rudnick, has its world premiere at HIFF. COURTESY HAMPTONS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
From left, Dominic Sessa, stars as Angus Tully, Paul Giamatti as Paul Hunham and Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Mary Lamb in director Alexander Payne’s "The Holdovers." SEACIA PAVAO/© 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC
"The Teachers Lounge," a German film directed by İlker Çatak, will have its East Coast premiere at HIFF. COURTESY HAMPTONS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
"The Pigeon Tunnel," directed by Errol Morris, explores the life and career of former British spy David Cornwell, better known by his pen name John le Carré. COURTESY HAMPTONS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
"The Peasants," directed by D.K. Welchman and Hugh Welchman, is a meticulously hand-painted animated film. COURTESY HAMPTONS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
"These Days," directed by Junior Gonzalez, has its world premiere at HIFF. COURTESY HAMPTONS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
NEON’s "Robot Dreams,"directed by Pablo Berger, is based on the graphic novel by t writer Sara Varon and follows the adventures and misfortunes of Dog and Robot in New York City during the 1980s. COURTESY HAMPTONS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
"This World is Not My Own," directed by Petter Ringbom and Marquise Stillwell, tells the story of Nellie Mae Rowe, who made art in obscurity until she met a wealthy gallerist. COURTESY HAMPTONS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Agnieszka Holland's "Green Border" follows the dangers faced by asylum seekers along European borders. COURTESY HAMPTONS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Each year, David Nugent, Artistic Director of the Hamptons International Film Festival, and his team are tasked with what can only be described as an all-encompassing, yet likely thoroughly entertaining, mission — to program the scores of documentary and narrative feature and short films that will be screened at the next edition of HIFF.
Nugent, who recently returned from checking out the offerings at the Toronto International Film Festival, explains that HIFF’s annual lineup is carefully assembled, curated primarily from films that he and his staff see in the months leading up to the festival, rounded out by offerings that come in the form of submissions from filmmakers around the world hoping to get their latest project included in the festival.
“A higher proportion of shorts come from blind submissions,” Nugent explained. “There are also a lot of festivals we don’t go to, but we’ll read about the films there and request them. We do a lot of research and engage with a lot of folks.
“We had more submissions this year than in the previous 30 years,” he added. “Unfortunately, lately we’ve been working on sending out notification letters to those who didn’t make it into the festival. So I’ve been working on the least favorite part of the job.”
As HIFF has grown in both scope and prestige over its three decade history, so has the competition. That means there will be a lot of great cinematic offerings to choose from at the 31st edition of the Hamptons International Film Festival, which runs October 5 to 12 at theaters in East Hampton, Sag Harbor and Southampton. For those keeping score on such things, the 2023 HIFF line up includes a total of 116 films — that’s 70 features and 46 shorts from 42 countries. There are eight world premieres on the schedule, along with two North American premieres, 11 U.S. premieres, 13 East Coast premieres and eight New York premieres.
And this year, 49 percent of the films are female directed.
When asked if the festival intentionally sought out female filmmakers this year, or if the high percentage was more a reflection of what is happening in the film business, Nugent responded, “I’d say it’s a little of both. Our programming team is two men and four women, so there’s that. And I think we are aware of how many filmmakers are BIPOC and women. Not that we say at the beginning of the season, we need to hit these numbers. But it is something we’re conscious of, and if we get to a point where we feel women’s perspectives are not honored in the way they should be, we’d look for more.”
In terms of what to catch at the festival, the big releases this year include the East Coast premiere of Netflix’s “Nyad,” Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s narrative feature debut which opens the festival on October 5. The film stars Annette Bening as American marathon swimmer Diana Nyad, Jodie Foster, and Rhys Ifans, and is based on Nyad’s 2015 autobiography “Find a Way.” Also highly anticipated is “Maestro,” a love story chronicling the lifelong relationship between composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein and Felicia Montealegre Cohn. The film stars Bradley Cooper (who also directs) as Bernstein alongside Carey Mulligan as Cohn, as well as Matt Bomer, Maya Hawke and Sarah Silverman. Set to be released by Netflix later this year, the film will screen October 12 as HIFF’s Closing Night presentation. Also making its New York premiere will be Alex Gibney’s documentary, “In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon,” which will screen on October 6. The film follows Simon inside the studio as he makes his new album Seven Psalms, while also looking back on his six-decade career. In conjunction with the film, Paul Simon will take part in a “A Conversation With …” at East Hampton Middle School on October 7.
Beyond the big name releases and A-list celebrities, also screening at HIFF are films that audiences will not necessarily find in a theater or on a streaming service in the near future, including Junior Gonzalez’s film “These Days,” which has its world premiere at HIFF on October 8 in the Views from Long Island section. The docudrama tells the story of a talented 15-year-old artist who lives in a neighborhood of Salvadoran immigrants in Brentwood and is trying to understand his own journey in life.
“In terms of some of the topics this year, there definitely were things that came to the fore — including immigration and the migrant crisis,” said Nugent. “I’m excited about ‘These Days’ because it’s specific to audiences out here, about a family who has immigrated from El Salvador to live here on Long Island. It deals with what we have happening here.”
Another film on the theme that Nugent points to is “Green Border” by three-time Academy Award nominee Agnieszka Holland. Set in the forests between Belarus and Poland, the narrative feature looks at the migrant crisis through the intersecting lives of a Syrian family, a young Polish border guard and a newly minted activist.
Meanwhile, “Fancy Dance,” a film directed by Erica Tremblay, follows a Native American hustler who kidnaps her niece from her white grandparents after her sister’s disappearance and sets out for the state powwow in hopes of keeping what is left of their family intact.
“‘Fancy Dance’ is by a Native American filmmaker and it’s somewhat of a thriller, but it’s enmeshed in Native American issues, including women who disappear,” said Nugent. “Lily Gladstone stars, and she’s also in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon,’ so her name will be more known soon.”
When asked to name some of his personal favorite films this year, Nugent takes a pause.
“Favorites is always a tricky thing – there’s 70 something features. But ‘Angel Applicant,’ I absolutely adore,” he said.
Directed by Ken August Meyer, “Angel Applicant” is an autobiographical documentary in which the filmmaker shares the story of how, through the colorful works of the late artist Paul Klee, he learned to cope with his own diagnosis of a deadly autoimmune disease.
“I saw it at South by Southwest,” Nugent explained. “The filmmaker was a creative director at an ad agency and he gets into Paul Klee, who had had the same disorder.”
Similarly, another film focused on the power of art is “This World Is Not My Own,” a documentary from directors Petter Ringbom and Marquise Stillwell that tells the story of Nellie Mae Rowe, the daughter of a former slave who made art in obscurity until she met wealthy gallerist Judith Alexander.
“Nellie Mae Rowe had no formal art training, but made sculptures from chewing gum,” Nugent said. “I love this film, a third of it is animated.”
One film that he thinks will get people talking is İlker Çatak’s “The Teacher’s Lounge,” which offers a nuanced study of power relations and racism within the structures of a rigid institution. The film is Germany’s Academy Award submission for Best International Feature.
“A teacher accuses a student of stealing in her classroom, and these things spiral out of control,” Nugent explained. Despite the fact it takes place in a school, he described it as, “one of the most tense and thrilling movies in the festival, and that’s what’s so creative about it.”
“Story and Pictures By” another film that Nugent highlights, is a documentary by Joanna Rudnick that takes audiences behind the scenes to meet authors and artists who create children’s picture books. Using archival imagery and stop-motion paper animation to explore new children’s books, as well as timeless classics like “Goodnight Moon” and “Where the Wild Things Are,” this is a family-friendly film and the October 7 world premiere screening will include a reception at East Hampton Library afterward.
Another fun family film that Nugent recommends is Pablo Berger’s “Robot Dreams.” Set in 1980s New York City, a lonely dog living in Manhattan builds a robot as a companion. Their bond grows into friendship, until one summer night when they become separated at the beach. The film, a Neon release, is based on the graphic novel of the same name by Sara Varon and was critically lauded after its premiere at Cannes this year.
“Another animated film this year is ‘The Peasants,’ but this one is definitely not family friendly,” cautioned Nugent. “It’s entirely composed of 40,000 full size oil paintings. An army of people were painting for it, and it’s really amazing.”
Directed by D.K. Welchman and Hugh Welchman (who also directed the Academy Award-nominated “Loving Vincent”) “The Peasants” tells the story of Jagna (Kamila Urzędowska), a young Polish woman who tries to break free of the confines of late 19th-century patriarchy. In her village, a hotbed of gossip and ongoing feuds, Jagna finds herself caught between the conflicting desires of the village’s most affluent farmer and his eldest son, putting her on a tragic collision course with the community.
“Past Lives,” a film by Celine Song, tells the story of childhood friends, Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo), who are separated when Nora’s family emigrates from South Korea to Canada. Two decades later, the two are reunited in New York for one fateful week and confront destiny, love and choices made. The film is an A24 release and Celine Song is HIFF’s 2023 Breakthrough Artist.
“‘Past Lives’ was at Sundance and released earlier this year, and everybody I know who has seen it has loved it,” said Nugent. “It’s an extraordinary achievement. Celine Song will come to the festival and take part in a Q&A. Even if people already saw it, many want to see it again.”
Fans of Errol Morris’s Academy Award-winning documentaries might want to check out “The Pigeon Tunnel,” a film that pulls back the curtain on the life and career of former British spy David Cornwell — better known as John le Carré, author of espionage novels — “It’s a good mashup of a good interviewer and a fascinating subject,” said Nugent.
A couple of noteworthy comedies screening at HIFF this year include “The Holdovers,” the latest from Academy Award-winner Alexander Payne. The film tells the story of a curmudgeonly instructor (Paul Giamatti) at a New England prep school who is forced to remain on campus during Christmas break with the handful of students with nowhere to go. Another comedy, “Quiz Lady,” is Academy Award-winner Jessica Yu’s film about a talented, game show-obsessed woman (Awkwafina) and her train-wreck of a sister (Sandra Oh), who set out on a wild, cross-country journey to get cash to pay off their mother’s gambling debts.
Another A24 release, “Dream Scenario” by director/screenwriter Kristoffer Borgl, is a comedy that tells the story of Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage), an evolutionary biology professor with little understanding of how to navigate the world. His uneventful life turns upside down one night when millions of strangers around the world see him in their dreams in a surreal and hilarious satire of influencer culture.
“It’s a dark comedy with the funniest scene in it of any film I’ve seen all year,” said Nugent.
Last year for the first time, HIFF expanded the number of festival days to 10, and Nugent notes that while this year’s festival will run eight days, the number of screenings is almost identical.
“I think it’s more tightly paced, with the middle days showing three films at a time instead of two,” he said. “There are also more chances for the filmmakers to attend, more possibilities to come and hearing from the filmmakers.”
So there you have it. Check out the website at hamptonsfilmfest.org and make a plan for the films you want to catch this year. The 31st edition of the Hamptons International Film Festival runs October 5 to 12 with screenings at the Regal UA East Hampton Cinema (30 Main Street), East Hampton Middle School (76 Newtown Lane), Sag Harbor Cinema (90 Main Street) and Southampton Arts Center (25 Jobs Lane).
One fine body…