October 18, 2006
It's here! That's right, the 14th Hamptons International Film Festival kicks off today in East Hampton with 15 world premieres and other entries that are set to be screened for fest attendees and members of the film industry through Sunday.
HIFF director Denise Kassel said she's excited about this year's lineup. "We have more international films involved this year. Also, in response to feedback from people who attended in 2005, we cut back on the number of films that are involved. Some people felt that there just weren't enough days to see everything."
Another change, Kassel noted, is that for the first time the Southampton UA theater will open one of its screens to the festival. "We've been very fortunate to finally get that theater," she said. "Regal Entertainment owns both the Southampton and East Hampton theaters so they worked out a deal with us."
Highlights of the fest will include special HIFF features like the Golden Starfish Award for Career Achievement in Acting (Ellen Burstyn is the recipient) while director Robert Altman will participate in this year's "A Conversation With." Hamptonite Alec Baldwin will discuss the film Holly and conduct a Q & A with the filmmaking team and Holly's star Ron Livingston.
Several awards are up for grabs: Black Irish, The Bothersome Man, Emma's Bliss, Holly, Three Mothers and Vanaja will compete for the Golden Starfish Narrative Feature Film award. Documentaries Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox, No Past to Speak of, Note by Note: The Making of Steinway, Summercamp!, and Voyage in G Major will vie for the best documentary prize.
Tonight, a war movie set in contemporary Iraq (Director Philip Haas' The Situation) will open the fest in East Hampton at 6:30 and 7 p.m. Later at 9 p.m. Gurney's Inn in Montauk will host an opening gala celebration.
Closing out HIFF on Sunday is the East Coast premiere of Mike Polish's The Astronaut Farmer. The film stars Billy Bob Thornton as an astronaut who is forced to leave NASA.
Advance ticket sales, said Kassel, who is in her ninth year as the director of the festival, are selling at a brisk pace. But she emphasized that even those without advance tickets have "a good chance" to get into the movie of their choice. "People who buy blocks of tickets don't always use them for every film. For instance, walk-up sales are still a good way to get into the movie you'd like to see. Let's put it this way: you have a 90% chance of getting in even without an advance ticket."
HIFF organizers say they expect about 11,000 attendees this year and approximately 25,000 tickets to be purchased. Apparently East Hampton's hospitality industry isn't complaining about the influx of visitors either. Christie Desiderio, the manager of East Hampton House on Pantigo Road, noted that the inn is solidly booked this week. "The film festival is definitely the reason we're full. This time of year we usually have a few guests here and there but they're usually walk-ins."
Gastone, the manager of the Maidstone Arms, also in East Hampton, agreed the event has been a boon to business. "The people from the film festival worked with us to arrange lodging here for some of the directors and stars," he said. "We're booked!"
Shops in town are expected to benefit as well, said Kassel. "Maybe people won't be buying $50,000 necklaces at London Jewelers," she said. "But sales of clothes and less expensive items are expected to rise this week."
The HIFF, like most film festivals, was created to help give exposure to independent films; in other words, those not backed by major motion picture studios with their huge promotional budgets. Kassel named 2003's Open Water as an example of a HIFF success story. "The film was first screened here, where it got its initial exposure," she noted. Later, Open Water was picked up by a major distributor and went on to climb to number one in theaters nationwide.
The East End, said HIFF's Artistic Director Rajendra Roy, is a natural harbor for budding filmmakers. "We couldn't transplant this festival to any other location. And there is no audience base like we have here in the Hamptons. It's a very informed audience. There's a lot of influence here." Roy added that although film submissions keep growing each year, organizers have worked hard to keep the fest small and intimate. "That's how it works . . .we wouldn't want it any other way."
"Everyone will be thinking and talking about movies this week," said Roy.
For a full schedule of HIFF events and for ticket information, go to www.hamptonsfilmfest.org. Or pick up the official guide to the festival (published by The Indy).