Road to maturity had bumps, twists

Roy, Kasell helping to fuel fest rebirth

Launched in memoriam to Time Warner chairman Steven J. Ross and shepherded by summer resident Steven Spielberg, the Hamptons Intl. Film Festival has always tried to live up to the glitz and glamour for which the eastern Long Island area is known.

But high aspirations don’t always a festival make. For the first six years, inconsistency reigned. Artistic and executive directors came and went with every passing year.

“It’s a hard way to run a business,” says HIFF board chairman Stuart Match Suna. “But when we hired Denise Kasell in 1998, she helped stabilize the festival.”

According to Kasell, a diversity of sponsorships has strengthened the event’s health.

“Now more and more people are invested in our success,” she says.

Still, the past few years have seen their fare share of setbacks: In 1999, honoree Jeanne Moreau canceled at the last minute (“We don’t do tributes anymore,” Kasell says) and in 2001, a bomb scare interrupted opening night, while more tragically, Jeff Falaway, husband of HIFF chair emeritus Toni Ross (daughter of Steven) died in a car accident.

The festival is now on the rebound. Kasell says a major turning point was the hiring of programming director Rajendra Roy last year.

“He’s fresh, brilliant, enthusiastic, and a team player.”

Also boding well for the fest’s continued growth is a slew of new initiatives such as the Rising Stars program, the Intl. Forum, and partnerships with the Guggenheim Museum and specialized distributors for a summer film series.

“It took us some time to go from an infant to a toddler,” says Suna, “but now we’re learning to walk.”

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