Lifestyle: Spotlights

Hamptons International Flim Festival

Celebrating Life On And Off Screen
By Rachel Bosworth - September 20, 2019

A celebration of long, short, fiction, and documentary independent films, the 27th Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF) is a culmination of what the modern day is from all angles. The environment, politics, culture, and more are presented from varying global perspectives, bringing a truly well-rounded experience to the big screen. As with the selection of the films that will play throughout the festival from Thursday, October 10 through Monday, October 14, the 19th annual Screenwriters Lab carefully sorted through submissions to choose the most intriguing screenwriters, screenplays, and mentors. Two years in a row now, the three projects produced have been by three female writers. Last year, all three were women of color. From these films to the signature programs taking place throughout the festival, this year is particularly exciting for those that help bring the event to fruition. 

The Screenwriters Lab has served as a unique opportunity for three writers to work with mentors whose own work HIFF directors admire and who have the right combination of skills to be nurturing. HIFF artistic director David Nugent shares that participants are chosen in a similar way to films in the festival, which is a combination of both evaluating the submitted projects that come to them as well as outreach they do on their own. 

Mexican-American filmmaker Barbara Cigarroa’s “El Otro Lado (The Other Side)” touches at the heart of the child immigration crisis. Set in Brownville, Texas, Lucy, a low-income Mexican-American teen, is confronted with her own need for escape when her father decides to sponsor two undocumented minors for money. 

Sontenish Myers, a Harlem-based writer and director, tells the tale of a young slave girl on a plantation in the South in the 1800s in her film “Stampede.” With telekinetic powers she cannot yet control, the protagonist, Lena, faces escalating circumstances when she’s separated from her mother to be a house girl, in close quarters with the mercurial Master’s wife, Elizabeth. 

The third selected screenplay is from Singaporean film director and screenwriter Kirsten Tan. “Higher” is a film about a mysterious flood rising floor by floor through a metropolitan apartment building as its residents fight for survival and resources, setting off an absurdist satire of interlocking short stories grappling with morality, truth and justice. 

“Over the years our annual Screenwriters Lab has become a wonderful opportunity for writers to explore the possibilities of their work and receive guidance from some of the industry’s most prolific storytellers,” says Nugent. 

The Melissa Mathison Fund supports the Screenwriters Lab and provides funds to one of the participants to finish their films. Last year’s recipient was Mickey and the Bear, which premiered at South by Southwest and will play at this year’s HIFF. The film by Annabelle Attansio stars breakthrough artist Camila Morrone who plays Mickey Peck, a headstrong teen faced with the responsibility to take care of her addict, veteran father. 

Kicking off the festival, the opening night film is Just Mercy by director Destin Daniel Cretton. Young lawyer Bryan Stevenson, played by Michael B. Jordan, makes history in a battle for justice as he fights a merciless legal system stacked against him and his clients at every turn. The powerful and thought-provoking true story also stars Jamie Foxx, Rob Morgan, Tim Blake Nelson, Rafe Spall, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Karan Kendrick and Brie Larson. 

There are several signature programs during HIFF that include exclusive screenings, conversations, and special events unique to the festival, bringing distinctive and thoughtful entertainment to the East End. HIFF executive director Anne Chaisson revealed the Views from Long Island program has had a particularly strong year. Films projected to be popular include “Conscience Point” about Shinnecock Nation and a short documentary about the lifeguarding Ryan family. The Air, Land, and Sea program will be another to watch. 

“There is a film about Flint, Michigan and we will do a Q&A after to talk about our local water,” Chaisson says. “There is also an animal rights section with a film called ‘Watson,’ about the man who founded Sea Shepherd. It’s beautifully shot but harrowing to watch at times because of the work they’re doing to make sure marine species don’t go extinct.” 

There are many incredible films that will play on the screens this year, the perfect opportunity for any movie enthusiast. From cause-related to foreign or indie, there is something for everyone. 

For those that are not members or have not been able to purchase advance tickets, hope is not lost to see these films. 97% of screenings have a rush line and often times those that wait have the opportunity to see one of these films. It will be worth it. 

“This year’s program may be the best we’ve ever had,” Chaisson shares. “The movies are stunning. I never thought we’d use the word ‘thrilling’ for some of these art house films. Like white knuckle, hold onto your chair, hide your face thrilling. It’s pretty exciting.” 

Nugent agrees. “I’m eager for attendees to see all of the films!” he shares. “Our local Views from Long Island program is really strong this year, and we are always excited about that program. Our Winick Talks at Rowdy Hall remain one of our best – and free – programs again this year.” 

This year HIFF will honor legendary director Brian De Palma with a Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the festival. De Palma will also participate in a “A Conversation With” at the festival with festival co-chair Alec Baldwin. The American film director and screenwriter’s résumé includes Blow Out, Scarface, The Untouchables, Casualties of War, Carlito’s Way, Carrie, and Mission Impossible, to name a few. 

“Brian De Palma’s filmography suggests one word: excitement,” said HIFF co-chairman Alec Baldwin in press release. “Few directors in movie history have generated the kinds of feelings found in Brian’s films. Although he often worked with big stars and great writers, Brian is responsible for most of the excitement in his films.” 

A year-round nonprofit organization, the Hamptons International Film Festival hosts monthly screenings of current films, filmmaking workshops, the Screenwriters Lab, master classes, summer documentary screening series, and the annual film festival each October. Last year marked the ninth time in a row that a film in the festival went on to become the eventual Best Picture winner at the Oscars, making HIFF the only festival on the East Coast with such a distinction. It will be another exciting year to watch rising stars and seasoned veterans bring their vision to the masses. 

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