In a world of constant comparing there is a never-ending drumbeat of “this is that” and “that is this.” Based on its impressive awards-season history, excuse us for crowning the Hamptons Intl. Film Festival with the title “Telluride East.” The regional event has become a bellwether of Oscar winners and nominees with its past six Audience Award winners earning best picture nods. According to artistic director David Nugent, films that screened at the Hamptons over the same period have earned an impressive total of 144 nominations.
But providing an early look at prestige players wasn’t necessarily part of the festival’s mission when it began back in 1993.
“There was a movement early on for the festival to really try and focus on American independents but I think that’s a particularly hard bracket to play especially when you’re two and half months before Sundance,” Nugent says. “When I came on board I did want to focus on getting more films that focus more on the awards season to be out here. And after we had ‘The Wrestler’ and the East Coast premieres for ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and ‘The King’s Speech’ I think things start to really open up.”
Because of its proximity to New York and the inherent number of Academy members who have homes in the area, there’s no saying who may pop up at the five-day event — and that’s the sort of buzz Oscar players are looking for.
Nugent recalls the “electric” screening of Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” in 2010 as one in particular he’ll never forget.“We had it in a small theater because that was the only one that worked and everybody wanted to see this movie. Harvey Weinstein was in the back watching the movie and so was James Franco,” Nugent says. “I helped sneak Madonna in the back door so she could see it. And there was a buzz about that film and that screening that made it one of the most exciting ones I’ve ever been a part of.”
It’s not just the movies, but the annual tribute to honorees that are that highlights as well at the event.
This year Edward Norton will be saluted with a Career Achievement Award at the annual gala and conversations with both Aaron Eckhart and Holly Hunter also on the schedule. Eckhart is also receiving Variety’s Creative Impact in Acting Award (see story, opposite page).
For executive director Anne Chaisson these tributes have resulted in some of the most memorable moments in the festival’s relatively short history. For instance, there was the year Charlize Theron flew out to surprise Amazon Studios’ Bob Berney at his industry toast and the time the usually stoic and legendary costume designer Ann Roth found herself lauded.
|What: Hamptons Intl. Film Festival
When: Oct. 6-10
“She was surprised by Nathan Lane, Mike Nichols and Meryl Streep,” Chaisson remembers. “She’s a pretty hard-nosed person and she’s normally like, ‘I’ve seen it all. I’ve done everything.’ And then Meryl Streep came out on the stage and did this poem/haiku for her and she burst into tears. It was a beautiful moment. A lovely, lovely moment.”
This year critically acclaimed films such as “Loving,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “La La Land,” and “Moonlight” will screen at Hamptons, but there are a few below-the-radar nuggets attendees should attempt to catch as well. Nugent is thrilled to be showcasing the North American premiere of “American Anarchist” by Charlie Siskel (“Finding Vivian Maier”) that debuted at Venice and the world premiere of Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg’s HBO documentary “Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing” about the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. It will feature special guests at its screening.
Of course, the fest isn’t just a premier stop on the road to the Academy Awards. The festival has listened to its attendees and fashioned sections championing different causes. The Films of Conflict & Resolution program has focused on narratives as well as feature and short documentaries championing conflict resolution for over 16 years. In 2015, the festival started a program entitled Compassion, Justice and Animal Rights, and this year’s edition will introduce section, Air, Land & Sea focused primarily on environmental preservation.
The Hamptons Intl. Film Festival is growing by “leaps and bounds” in terms of patronage, membership, and single ticket buyers, but for Chaisson the lifeblood of the fest are the founders: patrons who purchase the all-access badges and proudly wear how many films they’ve seen as a symbol of honor. “It’s a real destination place for cinephiles.”
Chaisson adds, “I think we were always something people looked forward to the fall, who lived out here. And I think for people who have second homes thought we were the best kept secret. Now, I think the secret is out.”