Autumn in the city means film fests for Gotham’s showbiz players. On Sept. 23, the 43rd edition of the New York Film Festival kicks off; five days later, the upstate upstart Woodstock fest begins. Then fest junkies can hit the beach for the 11th annual Hamptons Film Festival on Long Island. How do industryites and auds prioritize? It might be comparing apples to oranges to peaches, but Anthony Kaufman runs down the list.
New York Film Festival (Sept. 23-Oct. 9)
Background: The NYFF is the most distinguished gentlemen of the autumn fest family. With its vaunted history of introducing Gotham cinephiles to a range of auteurs, from Jean-Luc Godard to Pedro Almodovar to Abbas Kiarostami, the festival remains, like its Lincoln Center location, a high-class affair, attended by some 70,000 people each year. Offering the creme de la creme of contemporary international cinema, the festival has never awarded prizes to its films, content that inclusion is honor enough.
Notable 2005 films: Opening night: “Good Night, and Good Luck,” (Warner Independent)
Centerpiece: “Breakfast on Pluto” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Closing night: “Hidden” (SPC)
Biz quotient: By the time these prestigious titles hit the NYFF, the films have already been picked over by the major players. But nearly every year microdistribs like New Yorker, Kino, Wellspring and Zeitgeist acquire a gem (like Claire Denis’ “Beau Travail” or Olivier Assayas’ “Irma Vep”), and with the help of a strong New York Times review, catapult it shortly after into Gotham arthouses.
Celeb-spotting: This year cineastes should spot George Clooney, Patricia Clarkson, Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Cooper, Lauren Bacall, Willem Dafoe, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy and Steve Coogan. Hopes are high that Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider will stop in to present the revival of 1975’s “The Passenger.”
Program: Not beholden to strong-arm distribs, the festival selection committee — this year Richard Pena (Film Society program director), Kent Jones (Film Society associate program director), author and critic Phillip Lopate, critic-at-large John Powers, Entertainment Weekly critic Lisa Schwarzbaum — is committed only to their rarefied tastes, filling the 17-day sked with Cannes and Berlin faves and soon-to-be-released specialized pics. “We’re known as a festival that you can’t manipulate,” says Pena.
Party factor: If you’re anyone who is anyone in Gotham’s film industry, the NYFF’s glitzy opening-night celebration at Tavern on the Green is the only place to be. But beyond the fest’s bookend blowouts, nightly bacchanalia is rare. Intimate filmmaker dinners and distributor-funded premiere parties are the norm.
Woodstock Film Festival (Sept. 28-Oct. 2)
Background: Founded in 2000 by independent filmmakers Meira Blaustein and Laurent Rejto, the fest takes its mission from the place it calls home, a little hamlet known for its rich hippie history and burgeoning artists community. With only 2,500 attendees at its first outing, the festival expects more than 10,000 festgoers this year. Committed to its tagline, “Fiercely Independent,” the fest has no Sundance aspirations, preferring to stay faithful to edgier indie visions and music-inspired content.
Notable 2005 films: Opening: “Winter Passing” (Focus), “Dead Man’s Shoes” (Magnolia)
Centerpiece: “Fateless” (ThinkFilm)
Closing: “Lonesome Jim” (IFC), “Where the Truth Lies” (ThinkFilm)
Biz quotient: Free-thinking Gotham industryites like Bingham Ray, Focus Features’ James Schamus, sales rep and exec producer John Sloss, Killer Films’ Christine Vachon, Picturehouse’s Bob Berney, Magnolia’s Eamonn Bowles and ThinkFilm’s Mark Urman have all made the trip upstate, but not to acquire movies or mix with talent. Execs prefer to wax poetic on panels and take in the fresh woodland air.
Program: Wellspring-turned-IFC acquisition exec Ryan Werner and Magnolia Pictures’ Tom Quinn pull favors with filmmakers and sales agents to pack the sked with underappreciated Sundance pics, strong docs and a bevy of music-related material. Werner and Quinn have no delusions about obtaining world preems, so films are curated according to personal taste. “We just try to focus on stuff we like,” notes Werner.
Celeb-spotting: Excellent. It just so happens that many a star lives in the Hudson Valley area. Frequent attendees and part-time residents include Lili Taylor, David Straithairn, Aidan Quinn, Uma Thurman, Frances McDormand, Marcia Gay Harden, Griffin Dunne and Fisher Stevens. Gotham actor Steve Buscemi (“Lonesome Jim”) will receive this year’s special Maverick award.
Party factor: Excellent, again. Woodstockers know how to party. Kicking off the festivities with an opening-night fete at celebrated “clean food” establishment New World Home Cooking, the WFF hosts an invitation-only party every night. 2005’s seminal event will take place Oct. 1 at the home and recording studio of one of Woodstock’s legendary musicians. Music lovers will be sure to hit the special screening/dance party of 1972’s “Concert for Bangladesh” at the Bearsville Theater — seats will be removed for easier dancing.
Hamptons Film Festival (Oct. 19-23)
Background: When a Los Angeles casting agent (Joyce Robinson), a New York mogul (Silvercup Studio’s Stuart Match Suna) and one very famous Hamptons resident (Steven Spielberg) thought that a film festival in their own back yards would be a good idea, Hamptons was born. The first edition took place in 1992, under the leadership of fest programmer Darryl MacDonald. But he soon left, followed by a swinging door of exec directors until 1998, when Denise Kasell took the reins. Since then, the fest has improved its stability, and increased its share of globe-trotting industryites (taking part in the new Intl. Forum) and cash prizes (the narrative winner receives over $180,000 in goods and services). It’s also building a rep as a launch pad for Oscar campaigns.
Notable 2005 films: Opening: “Bee Season” (Fox Searchlight), “The Matador” (Miramax)
Biz quotient: Hollywood comes to roost on Long Island’s shores, but acquisition business is still a rarity at the premiere-heavy fest. Infamously, specialty distribs overlooked the Hamptons premiere of indie phenom “Open Water,” which made $53 million worldwide for Lions Gate (it was picked up at Sundance). A handful of foreign and indie films, and doc preems (“Napola,” “Fighting Tommy Riley,” “Cinemania”) also have eventually landed at distribs’ doorsteps after unspooling at the fest.
Program: With his connections to the Berlinale and the experimental Mix fest, programming director Rajendra Roy presents movies for a variety of tastes. In between glitzy premieres, the festival’s respected Conflict and Resolution sidebar offers liberal elites something meatier to chew on. The premiere-mandated competition presents an uneven mix of American indies. But popular world cinema and a new children’s Kinderfilmfest — modeled after the popular Berlin program — satisfy audiences. “Between the competition being very focused and world cinema premieres coming directly from producers and foreign companies,” says Roy, “the quality of the program is high as it should be.”
Celeb-spotting: Very good for established stars. This year’s high-profile career achievement awards in acting will go to Alec Baldwin and Miranda Richarson. Hamptons residents and fest regulars include Mercedes Ruehl, James Lipton, Jerry Seinfeld and Christie Brinkley
Party factor: Watch out for the Hiltons at the hoity-toity bashes that run during festival week. This year’s fest kicks off at the beachside Gurney’s Inn in Montauk. New Line prexy Michael Lynne hosts an annual dinner at Hamptons hot spot Nick and Toni’s, and posh affairs take place at the homes of Jerry Della Femina, of East Hampton; Keith and Anne Barish, of Southampton; and festival chairman Stuart Match Suna.