By Joseph DeAcetis Published: November 30, 2023
The Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF) was launched over two months ago with numerous thrilling features, shorts, and documentaries. This year, it was important for the show to represent the film innovators driving the industry forward in every sense of the word.
The event occurred from Friday, October 6 – Sunday, October 15- 2023, with 120 films in many categories and genres. More importantly, since then, the movie featured have gained more and more notoriety as film award season approaches. It was a hallmark moment celebrating 31 years of film creativity on the East End. This year’s Hamptons International Film Festival brought a week to the ever-so-magnificent Hamptons.
“It is with great excitement that we can share the final additions to our well-rounded and diversified programming, including our Signature Programs and additional spotlight and competition selections,” said Hamptons Film Artistic Director David Nugent. “It is an honor to host so many talented filmmakers and artists as they share their stories with our film-loving community, including the legendary Paul Simon and accomplished filmmaker Celine Song.”
In a word, The Hamptons Film Festival was founded in 1992 to celebrate film’s creativity and introduce international films and filmmakers to movie enthusiasts. I was pleased to discover that the program not only provides filmmakers exposure but also tickles the senses while providing Long Island’s world-famous East End with a cultural experience – setting the stage for a global adventure. During my stay, the stylelujo.com team of editors met people from all over the world. The diverse mix of people and cultures created a rich international flair at HIFF.
The annual film festival, best known as a place to view emerging talent and some of the most edgy cinema, will play an essential role during the upcoming award season, with a handful of films highlighted each year for the Academy Awards- the best offerings in contemporary cinema.
Stylelujo.com was there to report on the turning-point film event of the fall season, showcased on Long Island’s East End. The films were featured in select theaters and schools in East Hampton, Sag Harbor, and Southampton.
Movie enthusiasts enjoyed the world premieres, industry talks, and fabulous events.
GREEN BORDER– US PREMIERE
Three-time Academy Award® nominee Agnieszka Holland’s (THE SECRET GARDEN, EUROPA EUROPA) eye-opening new feature immerses audiences in the dangers faced by asylum seekers along European borders while reflecting the moral choices that fall to ordinary people every day. Set in the treacherous forests that make up the so-called “green border” between Belarus and Poland, the lives of a Syrian family, a young Polish border guard, and a newly minted activist intersect in this thorough examination of the migrant crisis. Thrillingly shot and emotionally gripping, GREEN BORDER unveils the humanity, resilience, and sorrow unfolding within today’s most significant geopolitical conflict.
NYAD–East Coast Premiere
On opening night, film directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi released Nyad at the East Hampton Middle School. Upon arriving, I couldn’t help but notice the hundreds of people waiting in line, eager to watch the movie and meet the talent.
The film depicts the true story of world-class athlete Diana Nyad, who then, at age 60, decides to complete a 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida. Diana (played by Annette Bening) feels that her life is not fulfilled and something is missing. After roughly thirty years, the former American marathon swimmer takes the plunge to get back in the game.
A remarkable true story of tenacity, friendship, and the triumph of the human spirit, NYAD recounts a riveting chapter in the life of world-class athlete Diana Nyad. At the age of 60, three decades after giving up marathon swimming in exchange for a prominent career as a sports journalist, Diana (four-time Academy Award® nominee Annette Bening) becomes obsessed with completing an epic swim that always eluded her: the 110-mile trek from Cuba to Florida, often referred to as the “Mount Everest” of swims. Determined to become the first person to finish the swim without a shark cage, Diana goes on a thrilling, four-year journey with her best friend and coach Bonnie Stoll (two-time Academy Award® winner Jodie Foster) and a ragtag but dedicated sailing team. Academy Award®-winning directors and HIFF alums Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (THE RESCUE, FREE SOLO) make their narrative feature debut with this visceral, heartfelt testament to the importance of determination at any age—a Netflix release.
The true story had me on the edge of my seat as it presented the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. When looking around the theater, I noticed that the movie-goers, like me, felt the interconnectivity and relatable content of a strong bond of friendship and the endurance of the human soul.
SILENT FALLOUT: BABY TEETH SPEAK
SILENT FALLOUT: BABY TEETH SPEAK-World Premiere
As part of the Signature Programs, the Air, Land, and Sea section, sponsored by HC&G, presented a documentary about the world’s biggest environmental problem: the nuclear arms race.
The world premiere of Silent Fallout: Baby Teeth Speak: highlights the shocking history of nuclear testing in the USA and the evolving policy decisions underway. Directed by Hideaki Ito and narrated by HIFF board member Alec Baldwin,the film opens with heartfelt testimonies from people who had lived in Utah’s fallout zones. The bone-chilling stories from American citizens who had been plagued by radiation fallout are enough to make your stomach turn.
I was especially moved by the way Ito’s command of the camera lens draws the viewer in so tight that one can feel an unabashed revolt building up inside.
Shockingly enough, in 2001, 85,000 baby teeth were discovered in Missouri, collected 50 years earlier in a study on the radioactive consequences of nuclear testing conducted on US soil. Carried by the wind, radioactive material produced by more than 100 nuclear explosions contaminated pastures, vegetables, and water across the continent. Scientists and mothers in St. Louis who launched an ambitious project to measure Strontium 90 in baby teeth uncovered the disturbing environmental consequences of nuclear arms testing. History proves that the U.S. government dropped an astounding 101 atomic bombs on the American continent as an experiment, resulting in radioactive contamination of the continent.
As a result, in the 1960s, milk was contaminated with radiation. And children were exposed to radiation. At one point in the film, we learn that women protested, marched in DC, and stood up and proved that their children were exposed to radiation. As a result, President Kennedy declared a halt to atmospheric nuclear testing.
After the film, there was an expert panel discussion with the film’s narrator, Alec Baldwin, about the effects of radiation on our environment.
Maidstone Hotel: Opening Night Event:
The evening continued with a smashing event hosted by the magnificent Maidstone Hotel. Welcomed guests enjoyed an evening of art, music, stunning fashion outfits and socialites- featuring an array of guests including directors, publishers, journalists and producers.
In addition, attendees made their way to the chic after party at for celebration of champagne and specially designed cocktails after a successful film opening night. Guests enjoyed special delectable foods from fresh lobster roll, canapes and much more – all catered by Hamptons favorite eatery LUNCH/ Lobster Roll. The music was festive, the camera flashes were popping and the fire was roaring to the bustling crowd of industry-insiders.
Other brand activations and tastes featured that evening included fancy cocktails by HIFF sponsor and most sought after whiskey Macallan. The festivities continued on the opening night at the Maidstone Hotel in East Hampton.
In Restless Dreams:
IN RESTLESS DREAMS: THE MUSIC OF PAUL SIMON– New York Premiere
On day two, I reviewed HiFF’s 2023 Centerpiece Film, In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon, directed by Alex Gibney. This is a documentary portrait of Grammy-winning artist Paul Simon as he produces his latest album, Seven Psalms, while also unveiling the life and work of the last sixty years of his historical influence on American music. This film stirred up in me so many emotions. Although Simon, a Montauk Resident, appeared live on stage the following day, the event was sold out, and I could not attend.
This definitive portrait of Paul Simon follows the
-winning musical artist inside the studio as he makes his new album, Seven Psalms, while also looking back on his unparalleled six-decade career. Six-time HIFF alum and Academy Award® winner Alex Gibney (TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE, CITIZEN K, CRAZY NOT INSANE) returns with a comprehensive exploration of Simon’s undeniable influence on the history of American music and his countless musical peaks, from Sounds of Silence to Graceland, providing an inner glimpse of his vibrant creative process. Nostalgic and surprising, IN RESTLESS DREAMS: THE MUSIC OF PAUL SIMON captures the essence of an American icon while taking audiences on an epic musical journey.
THE PEASANTS– US Premiere
And, making its US premiere, I was thrilled to watch The Peasants debut in the U.S. premiere. The film is comprised of over 40,000 oil paintings. For me to describe it is, in fact, difficult – It is an animation but not a typical energy like you’d think.
It is a regular film, but the producers took each frame by frame and turned it into a stunning oil painting. Verily, an actual work of art – genius.
Simultaneously lush and harrowing, THE PEASANTS is the latest accomplishment from DK Welchman and Hugh Welchman, the visionary directors of the Academy Award®-nominated LOVING VINCENT. Through meticulously hand-painted animation, the film introduces Jagna (Kamila Urzędowska), a young Polish woman determined to forge her path within the confines of late 19th-century patriarchy. In her village, a hotbed of gossip and ongoing feuds, Jagna finds herself caught between the conflicting desires of the village’s most affluent farmer and his eldest son, putting her on a tragic collision course with the community around her. Contains a scene featuring sexual violence.
Joseph DeAcetis: What was the creative concept behind taking a classic story and showcasing the film – by painting frame by frame?
“After Loving Vincent, we were looking to do another oil painting animation film, but we didn’t want to repeat what we did by bringing a single painter’s works to animated life. My wife DK proposed we adapt the Polish Nobel Prize-winning novel, The Peasants by Wladyslaw Reymont firstly because it is a masterpiece with a very tense love triangle at its heart, which was suitable for a feature-length film. Secondly, because Reymont’s style of prose is very painterly: at times impressionistic, at times heightened realism, at times mystical, and always colorful and poetic, which made it very suited to being adapted to Oil-Painting Animation, especially as Reymont was a Young Poland Novelist and we could pair these with a painting style inspired by Young Poland painters. There were other compelling reasons, but I’ll restrict myself to one more: that the character of Jagna spoke to us, my wife in particular, and we wanted to depict her story in cinematic form.“- Hugh Welchman.
AVENUE OF THE GIANTS:
AVENUE OF THE GIANTS: – World Premiere
Herbert Heller (Stephen Lang, AVATAR) carries a traumatic secret: now the beloved owner of a toy store in Northern California, Herbert is a Holocaust survivor. The Nazis forced him into the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp at age 12, but he managed to escape and kept the secret from everyone—including his children—for 60 years. When Herbert is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he befriends Abbey (Elsie Fisher, EIGHTH GRADE), an isolated teenager whose own struggles inspire him to open up. Based on a true story, AVENUE OF THE GIANTS is a tender depiction of an intergenerational friendship that offers the unlikely pair a path toward healing.
The festival closed on Thursday, October 12, with Bradley Cooper’s MAESTRO. Following his directorial debut with A Star is Born, Maestro looks into the complicated life of legendary conductor Leonard Bernstein, moving beyond music to examine his relationship with Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein ( Carey Mulligan). Both Martin Scorsese and Hampton’s own Director Steven Spielberg are among the film producers
Academy Award® nominee Bradley Cooper takes up the complicated life of legendary conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein (Cooper), digging beyond his musical brilliance to tenderly chronicle his lifelong relationship with Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein (Academy Award nominee® Carey Mulligan). This towering, fearless love story is punctuated by a score of Bernstein’s music, soulful imagery from Academy Award®-nominated cinematographer Matthew Libatique, and never-better performances from Cooper, Mulligan, and an all-star supporting cast, including Matt Bomer, Maya Hawke, and Sarah Silverman. A love letter to the passions that define us, MAESTRO is a layered, epic portrayal of family, creativity, and emotion. A Netflix release
Visit hamptonsfilmfest.org to explore the complete list of films, including detailed write-ups for each one.