Once again, the 23rd Hamptons International Film Festival took off with a rousing start. The opening night film was the exceptional Truth starring Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, and Dennis Quaid. Dennis Quaid was present and was his inimitable, charming self. He discussed the film and what it was like to work with first time director James Vanderbilt who was star struck directing all three icons. Truth is taut and searing with vital lessons about the nation’s mandate to insure a free press. After being inspired by Truth, I was overwhelmed and wanted to screen everything and be everywhere.
As is the experience for press or attendees of film festivals, one is daunted by the talent present, the smashing film offerings, and the exciting events. There is too much to see and do and if physics allowed us to split ourselves into three individuals, we still wouldn’t be able to zoom in on the best of the best. However, it was all good, so my coverage of the events, directors and the films I screened out of the 134 films from around the world was enjoyable and filled with memorable moments. The film reviews and director interviews will be posted in the next weeks.
The Hamptons International Film Festival is a competitive festival. The audience and a six-member jury (this year-Josh Charles, Dan Guando, Michael H. Weber, Marshall Fine, Sarah Lash, and Bobby Flay), voted for their favorites and, for the most part, I agree with their choices of the films I was able to screen. A number of them are listed below, but not all. You can see all of the award winners on the Hamptons International Film Festival site. These are ones that you should absolutely look for. Many have distribution so they will be out soon.
At HIFF, the audience is asked to vote on a ballot for films entered into competition: the ratings are 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest). Then the votes are tallied. The other competitions are decided by a Jury and a few others are decided by individual sponsors who award a monetary prize. This year’s Audience Award for Narrative Feature went to A24’s Room. Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next, which also screened at the 53rd New York Film Festival, I think is Moore’s brilliant best. I thought that it would resonate especially with a younger crowd who engage on Social Media platforms. But the wee bit older Hamptons audience loved it and gave it the Audience Award for Documentary Feature. It has been garnering awards at other festivals and by the end of the award season will have received many more. Finally, All-American Family won the Audience Award for Best Short Film.
The following awards were given by various sponsors and voted on by the jury. The Award Winner for Best Narrative Feature (Wall Street Journal sponsor), went to the amazing film Rams directed by Grimur Hákonarson, a film I screened and reviewed for this site. The Honorable Mention for Narrative Feature went to Embrace of the Serpent, directed by Ciro Guerra which is Colombia’s submission for the Oscars. I was able to screen the film and speak to the film’s star Brionne Davis who discussed how making the film was a life transforming experience.
The Best Documentary Feature was sponsored by ID Films. The award went to Missing People directed by David Shapiro, a film which I screened and which I will be reviewing. It is an amazing film, incredible because the subject, Martina Batan, was greatly impacted by Shapiro’s intimate and revelatory work. Because of what was unearthed during Shapiro’s examination, Martina Batan came to a new understanding of herself which she inspired Shapiro to include at the end of the film. The drama chronicled by Shapiro is continuing to unfold and as is true of documentaries, the multi-faceted realities discovered and highlighted have gained their own momentum in a positive way. Finally, the Honorable Mention for Documentary Feature was awarded to Chuck Norris Vs. Communism, directed by Ilinca Calugareanu, a film I was unable to screen.
Awards that were distributed from Funds and Grants are given yearly. The Victor Rabinowitz and Joanne Grant Award for Social Justice went to the superb and inspiring The Uncondemned, directed by Michele Mitchell and Nick Louvel. The film is about the women who were sexually abused during the 100 day Rwandan genocide. The film follows them as they give testimony against those complicit in the genocide. These brave women speak out despite threats and the risks to their lives; their courage impacted global laws making rape an international crime of war. The Tangerine Entertainment Juice Fund Award went to Suffragette, directed by the talented Sarah Gavon. The film is based on the suffragettes in the UK who were forced to use violence, the only language that men understood, in their fight for women’s voting rights. The film which I reviewed for this site in September stars Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, and Meryl Streep. And it should go on to win many more accolades as award season approaches.
The Suffolk County Film Commission which is an avid supporter of the HIFF offers a monetary grant. This year’s Suffolk County Film Commission Next Exposure Grant went to the film When I Live My Life Over Again, directed and written by Robert Edwards. The film which features Hampton scenes (the family lives in the “ghetto” of East Hampton quips the Christopher Walken character), and those familiar to Long Island commutes is a comedy with dramatic undertones. It stars Amber Heard and the charming and always interesting Christopher Walken. The one liners are particularly cryptic and crisp, and Walken delivers them with hysterical, droll, punctuated and classic rhythms.
Two film awards are usually announced before the festival award ceremony. The 2015 Brizzolara Family Foundation Award for a Film of Conflict and Resolution went to The Uncondemned. The second award was The Zelda Penzel “Giving Voice to the Voiceless” Award: Dedicated to Those Who Suffer in Silence. I spoke with Zelda Penzel before the ceremony. Last year’s award went to Virunga directed by Orlando Von Einsiedel which later was nominated for an Oscar. I interviewed Von Einsiedel twice and was thrilled to follow the successful journey of Virunga. Zelda Penzel has a particular interest in animal activism and animal rights, believing that animals are sentient beings. This year the award went to The Champions directed by Darcy Dennett. I interviewed Darcy Dennett and found she is a fount of knowledge about the subjects of the documentary, the pit bulls that were traumatized by Michael Vick’s dog fighting machine. The documentary follows what happened to the terrorized dogs that some clamored could only be euthanized. The results are truly mind blowing, and after speaking to the amazing director, The Champions is next on my “to review” list.
The awards for the short categories appear at the Hamptons International Film Festival website which you should visit anyway to check out all the films which screened last weekend from October 8-12. It’s a beautiful festival and it is becoming like home for me, maybe because it is near New York City which is my home. But next year put the festival on your to do list if you are in the area, the second week of October. It’s a great place to visit and you will also be able to view some of the year’s finest and most inspiring films.