Another Hampton: East Hampton During HIFF

Some years ago, I spent two hours in the middle of the night walking up and down Main Street in Sag Harbor over and over again—from what was then the Sandbar to the American Hotel, a distance of about 200 feet. A man would yell, “sound, camera, action,” and my girlfriend at that time and I would walk this exact same route over and over again. We were extras in a movie. The movie was called Sweet Liberty, and as we walked and walked on Main Street at 2 a.m. that morning, maybe 10 times, actors Alan Alda and Michael Caine walked down the middle of the deserted street talking to one another sort of drunkenly, also over and over again.

The Village of Sag Harbor had leased Main Street to the movie producers for that one night and that one scene. It was a fairyland of bright floodlights, actors, film people and scenery. They’d even oiled the blacktop of Main Street to reflect light, as if a summer shower had just passed through, leaving these shiny puddles. That night, the Sag Harbor I knew was something else entirely. It was as if I were on vacation in some new place, but it was right there in a very familiar hometown. What a wonderful feeling that was.

I felt the same feeling this weekend in East Hampton as the town was being taken over to become something else for a time. It was the Hamptons International Film Festival, and though in some ways the town remained the same, in others, it was completely upside down.

About 18,000 people saw 140 films during the five days of the festival this year. Most were shown on one of seven stages in town—six at the UA theater and one at Guild Hall. About a dozen more films would be shown during those five days in Southampton, Sag Harbor and Montauk.

So what do you choose? I asked around. I read up on things. I circled in the program a total of nine films I wanted to see. It was possible to buy a package of tickets for about $125, which included a panel discussion and a filmmaker’s party. You could choose from 40 in a day. But truthfully, how many hours did I want to spend in a theater watching movies on such a beautiful day? Well, maybe a dozen over the five days. I thought this package would give me the full experience. And it sure did.

What a huge scene in the middle of town. Beautiful starlets, intense-looking directors, producers, cinematographers, publicity people and distributors, reporters, photographers, celebrities, all were here socializing, watching screenings and doing whatever those in the film business do.

There were the Jitney shuttle busses that took you to and from Southampton and Three Mile Harbor and back again into downtown East Hampton. Variety magazine was a sponsor and featured “10 Actors to Watch” and named them and the movies they were in. For example, there was Adam Driver in Gayby, Scoot McNairy in Argo, Imogen Poots in A Late Quartet, Alicia Vikander in A Royal Affair, Dree Hemingway in Starlet and so forth and so on.

There were long lines outside on the sidewalks in front of theaters—some for “will call,” some for “Rush Line” and some for “Founders” or “Festival” passes.

There was a “Student Awards Program” one afternoon, films broken up into categories such as Narrative, World Cinema, Documentary and Shorts, there were talks, at Rowdy Hall for example, such as “Hitting a Home Run: Meet Moneyball Producer Rachael Horovitz,” there were Golden Starfish Awards to be decided upon in numerous categories, there were lectures, panel discussions, tributes, classes, parties, award ceremonies, special presentations, “A Conversation With…” Richard Gere, with Alan Cumming, with Stevie Nicks, even a Pitch-In program for Social Advocacy (Documentaries-in-Progress). There was an Industry Toast to James Schamus, a Tribute to Ann Roth, a lifetime achievement award given to Richard Gere and the list of things happening goes on and on, a spectacular kaleidoscope of things to do over five days.

And because every theatregoer got a ballot when they went in to watch a film—when you came out you tore the card to mark it EXCELLENT, VERY GOOD, GOOD, FAIR, etc. and placed it in a basket held by a volunteer—you felt part of this weekend. You mattered. The votes were for “people’s choice awards.”

Around 8:30 p.m. on Friday night, the second day of the festival, I was sitting in Fierro’s Pizza across from the Waldbaum’s on Newtown Lane thinking about some of the experiences I’d had so far, and as I nursed an ice tea and minestrone soup, a man at another table looked at me and asked, “Are you part of the film festival?”

“Oh yes, I am,” I said. “I’m an official moviegoer.”

By that point, I had watched three films in two days. I saw the world premiere film Love, Marilyn that kicked off the festival on Thursday at 1 p.m., a documentary about Marilyn Monroe’s life as seen from the perspective of some recently discovered letters and diary entries she wrote. That night I attended the opening night party at East Hampton Point.

Friday in the early afternoon I saw a wonderful movie called The Details starring Tobey Maguire, Elizabeth Banks and Laura Linney. I marked it EXCELLENT and described its plot to someone later as something of a train wreck between A Fish Called Wanda, Parenthood and Sleepless in Seattle.

And Friday evening I watched 59 Middle Lane, a documentary filmed and produced by Greg Ammon, one of the two children of Ted and Generosa Ammon, who both died about 10 years ago, Ted murdered in his bed on Middle Lane in East Hampton and Generosa died shortly thereafter from cancer. I gave that an EXCELLENT, too.

I took my ratings very seriously. Standing out front after each movie, I got to talk to other official moviegoers and we’d compare ratings and make comments.

“I thought the scenery was very good in that movie. I especially liked the air views. But so-and-so’s performance was just wooden.” Things like that.

The photographers swooped around. Reporters conducted interviews on the street. I wound up on two radio stations, one out here, one in Connecticut, both recording on the street in front of the UA theater.

Next year, I will do this again—if they want me of course. I hope you join in too.

*  *  *
Dan’s Papers would like to congratulate the Hamptons International Film Festival’s winners:
Baume & Mercier Audience Award–Narrative
Silver Linings Playbook by David O. Russell
Baume & Mercier Audience
Award–Documentary
No Place on Earth by Janet Tobias
Baume & Mercier Audience Award–
Best Short
Growing Farmers by Michael Halsband
GSA Narrative Feature Winner (Tie)
Kuma, Directed by Umat Dag
Lore, Directed by Cate Shortland
GSA Documentary Feature Winner
Colombianos, Directed by Tora Mårtens
Special Jury Prize for Inspiration
Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet, Directed
by Jesse Vile
Special Jury Prize for Performance
Carlos Vallarino, La Demora
GSA Short
The Curse, Directed by Fyzal Boulifa
The Kodak Award for Best Cinematography
Lore, Cinematography by Adam Arkapaw
The Victor Rabinowitz and Joanne Grant Award for Social Justice
Call Me Kuchu by Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall
The Jeremy Nussbaum Prize for Provocative Fiction
Lore by Cate Shortand
Zelda Penzel Giving Voice to the Voiceless Award
One Nation Under Dog by Amanda Micheli, Jenny Carchman, Ellen Goosemberg-Kent
GSA for Curatorial Excellence
Ian Birnie
The 2012 Brizzolara Family Foundation Award for a Film of Conflict and Resolution, presented in partnership with REACT to FILM
Rising From Ashes by T.C. Johnstone
The 2012 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize
Future Weather by Jenny Deller

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