The Hamptons Intl. Film Festival, which is turning 25 this year, has grown a reputation for being able to read the Academy voting tea leaves and routinely promotes Oscar race front-runners. But screenings of “Moonlight,” “Argo” and “Slumdog Millionaire” aside, the festival has also become the place to see emerging talent before they become marquee names.
“I remember doing the Q&A with Jessica Chastain seven years ago and she told me it was the first red carpet she had ever walked,” HIFF artistic director David Nugent recalls. “She was here for this movie called ‘The Debt,’ which we screened. She was so sweet and she’s so talented. I remember meeting her and doing this Q&A with her and thinking this actress has a bright future ahead of herself. I’m so glad that she really took off.”
This is, no doubt, partially due to HIFF’s partnership with Variety and the annual 10 Actors to Watch showcase, which takes place at 11 a.m. Oct. 7 at Rowdy Hall. This year’s recipients, profiled on the following pages, include “Hamilton’s” Daveed Diggs, who will soon appear in Stephen Chbosky’s “Wonder,” and Danielle Macdonald, the star of Sundance smash, “Patti Cake$.” But it also is reflective of the vibe of both the festival and the locals who frequent it.
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“We’re doing seven or eight world premieres this year and there will be distributors and sales agents, but it’s not like these other bigger festivals where it really functions as a market,” HIIF’s Nugent says. “A lot of people are from the community. They’re here to see what we think are the best films of the year and they’re ones we won’t get to see for the rest of the year. … Everything is relatively intimate and we like it that way.”
This intimacy with such an intellectual and aware audience also allows for the festival to embrace unique opportunities. This year, it will host a special event with “Get Out” writer-director Jordan Peele and others involved with the already-released zeitgeisty horror pic. Star Daniel Kaluuya is also a 10 Actors to Watch honoree.
“Primarily, we show films that are coming out and produced during a certain part of the year,” Nugent says. “I saw that film in East Hampton in the first-run movie theater out here in February. [It] was packed with old people and young people and white people and Hispanics and black people. I thought, ‘wow, this is exciting’: One, to see it in an auditorium and two, to have it not be just one of those different groups. I loved it and I thought it’s a wonderful film and I thought it’s worth digging into the phenomenon that this film became.”
We’re doing seven or eight world premieres this year … but it’s not like these other bigger festivals where it really functions as a market.”
Like the rest of the industry and, frankly, the world, Nugent and his staff are aware of the socio-political consciousness in the air. This year’s screenings include the world premiere of presidential election documentary “11/8/16” and the New York state bow of Alan Cumming’s AIDS-tinged drama “After Louie.” HIFF co-chair Alec Baldwin will interview Julie Andrews, who is this year’s recipient of the fest’s lifetime achievement award. Equally outspoken stars Patrick Stewart and Annette Bening will participate in conversations.
Nugent isn’t worried that these talks will overshadow the festival, though. “It’s been a year or two years where politics have been at the forefront more than the previous decade, it feels like,” he says. “Politics is on so many people’s minds now and one of the ways that people deal with and express and talk about politics and culture is through the arts. We hope we can be a part of that conversations.”
He believes films that provide communication stimuli are the reasons why smaller festivals like his remain popular. “While a good film is a good film on its own, no matter how you watch it, it’s different to watch it with a group of like-minded — or sometimes not even like-minded — individuals and then get to hear from some of the creators who make that film,” Nugent says. “And then, [you can] pour out into the evening and sit down over a burger or a salad and debate that film about what it means. That’s something that, no matter how many digital advances we experience, it can never be replaced. Festivals are wise to embrace that phenomenon.”
What: Hamptons Intl. Film Festival
When: Oct. 5-9
Where: Hamptons, N.Y.