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Reporterís Notebook, Days 1 & 2: The 17th Annual Hamptons International Film Festival

Originally Posted: October 10, 2009

Douglas MacKaye Harrington

The marquee at the UA Theater in East Hampton. Photos by Douglas Harrington

East Hampton - Thursday, October 8 marked the start of the 17th Annual Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF). In less than two decades this cinematic extravaganza has grown in both size and prestige, drawing to it some of the world's most respected actors, producers and directors, along with the emerging stars of the next generation of filmmakers.

Amy Redford on the red carpet at Guild Hall Sloan Science event.

Hamptons.com has half a dozen reporters and editors covering the 2009 Hamptons International Film Festival, which will run through Monday, October 12. I myself will be on site 24/5 from my HIFF headquarters at the beautiful and historic Huntting Inn on Main Street. This legendary, revolutionary era hotel is a destination for the stars and industry insiders, who stay at the inn and eat at the world renowned The Palm restaurant. The bar at The Palm is a favorite post-screening gathering spot.

Along with screening over 100 films, many of which are American and world premieres, the HIFF features a multitude of collateral programs and events that give attendees and participants alike the opportunity to meet, greet, network and learn about an industry that entertains and enlightens, fascinates and influences our culture like no other art form.

Originally located solely in East Hampton, the HIFF has spread to include events and screenings in Sag Harbor, Southampton and Montauk. There are panel discussions, Q&As, workshops and, of course, there are the parties.

The first after-screening party occurred at the Hedges Inn overlooking the East Hampton pond, following the screening of "Serious Moonlight." This film represents the feature film directorial debut of Cheryl Hines who portrays Cheryl David on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Arriving at the Hedges, Hines emerged from the stretch limo to a swarm of fans, press, and paparazzi. The party was thrown by RoC Cosmetics, one of the HIFF sponsors. For the second year RoC has presented the "Gold Standard Award for Female Feature Director," this year to Hines. Joining Hines at the party was actor and HIFF board member Alec Baldwin and the ever present David Nugent, the festival's director of programming.

Actor Pierce Brosnan with Gurney's Inn Marketing Director Ingrid Lemme.

Baldwin, who always spends a great deal of his summer lending his support to cultural and charitable Hamptons events and causes, laughed when I pointed out to him that we had probably crossed paths a dozen times since May, "Yeah, the summer of events that never ends."

Adam Duritz of the band Counting Crows pauses for a photo on Main Street.

The big opening night party of the festival annually took place at Gurney's Inn, with dancing, cocktails and hors d'oeuvres in the restaurant and on the deck of this spectacular and famous ocean front resort. A celebration of the festival and the artists that drive the industry, the producers, actors and directors mingled with those special guests that were lucky enough to snag an invitation to this highly coveted fete. DJ Johnny Dangerous kept the dance floor packed and Sveda Vodka was the party's official cocktail in various incarnations. All those familiar with Hamptons events would have recognized iconic partygoer and interviewer Cognac Wellerlane in platinum blond bouffant coif, glittering evening gown and furs, along with her web cameraman hubby.

Paul Monti certainly knows how to throw a party and his marketing director, Ingrid Lemme, made sure all went smoothly for the press and the celebrities in attendance. Among the many celebrities attending this year's HIFF is
Pierce Brosnan, both actor in and producer of this year's designated Opening Night Film, "The Greatest."

The film was screened at Guild Hall and the notable attendees included, of course, Bronson himself along with co-producer Beau St. Clair and the film's director Shana Feste. Also in attendance were Billy Joel, Alan Alda, Bob Balaban, Michael Lynne, and Amanda Pennington, among others.

Shooting Stars Cyron Melville and Samuli Varaumo at Georgica reception.

I caught up with Brosnan on the deck of Gurney's and after chatting about our Irish lineage, the actor/producer remarked about this, his third visit to the HIFF, "I love the Hamptons, I have been here a couple times. Beau and I came out here for the 'Thomas Crown Affair' years ago and then we came back again for 'Mama Mia' and now we are here for 'The Greatest.' I couldn't think of a better place to be, in the company of lovely people, in a gorgeous part of the Earth." Commenting on his film, "This a beautiful film, I love this film, a gorgeous piece of work, Susan Sarandon is fantastic and the lovely Carey Mulligan, who is on her way to be a gorgeous star."

Barman Dermott Hickey told me Brosnan also stopped in for a bit of the hair of the dog at Rowdy Hall in East Hampton on Friday afternoon. "The Greatest" received a second screening at the Southampton Regal that evening. It is a brilliant film dealing with loss and emotional revival, as a family struggles with the accidental death of a son and brother. "'The Greatest' explores the ways in which love can persist and life can re-assert itself in the face of a seemingly all-consuming tragedy."

"War Against The Weak" producer Peter Demas and director/writer Justin Strawhand.

The HIFF is not just about stars and major releases, as it perhaps more importantly serves as an opportunity for independent and emerging artists to exhibit their films and talents. One such film is the documentary "War Against The Weak." Director/writer/editor Justin Strawhand described the film to me, "It is based on a book of the same name which exposes the forgotten history about eugenics in the United States. Eugenics was an attempt to create a white master race in the United States which was funded essentially by the Carnegie, Rockefeller and Harriman fortunes and the film follows the trajectory from the American idea to the Nazis."

Hamptons.com Executive Editor Nicole B. Brewer in a necklace by Tamara Comolli with Chef Robert Hesse at Georgica Restaurant.

I commented to HIFF Programming Director David Nugent that Strawhand applauded the HIFF for being brave enough to screen his film, "We try and strike a balance between independent films, documentaries, foreign films; we really try to bring films to our audiences that they wouldn't normally see." I asked Nugent how the festival was fairing in the tough economy, "The audiences are still here and craving good films, but as a non-profit art group we are facing the same problems that other non-profits and many other people are facing in the country. It has been a tough year, but that being said the films are just as good if not better. We have 117 films and 93 filmmakers here. People seem to love them and I am sure they will for the next four days."

After my breakfast at The Huntting Inn Friday morning I screened "War Against The Weak" at the UA East Hampton. The film is a brilliantly created documentary that is both enlightening and frightening. In very real ways, these iconic American industrialists financed the movement that inspired Adolph Hitler. It is a must see!

HIFF Programming Director David Nugent with actor and HIFF Board Member Alec Baldwin.

Friday evening featured another event at Guild Hall, a tribute to long time HIFF sponsor and partner, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Sloan has for a decade provided a cash prize at the festival for filmmakers that create realistic and compelling portrayals of science and technology. Bob Balaban served as master of ceremonies for the event and Alan Alda provided the opening remarks. I ran into independent filmmaker Amy Redford, whom I had just seen last week at the National Arts Awards in Manhattan where her father Robert Redford was honored with a lifetime achievement award. I commented on her busy week, "Yes indeed. I was so thrilled for my father, it was a great event and I really loved the way it was presented. Now I am here at another great event."

Finding my way to Georgica restaurant later Friday evening for the 2009 Breakthrough Performers Reception honoring what the HIFF describes as "Rising Stars-U.S. and Shooting Stars-Europe." I chatted with Shooting Star Cyron Melville of Denmark who is featured in "Love And Rage." "First time in the Hamptons! It is fantastic; it is great to be considered a 'Shooting Star.' It is a great gift, I don't know exactly what it means, but I am sure it is a step in the right direction." Better described as a young veteran, Melville has a film lineage, "My father is an actor and a director, he is Scottish. I did my first film when I was 10."

Fellow Scandinavian Shooting Star Samuli Varaumo of Finland who is featured in "Tears Of April" shared in the enthusiasm, "It is a great honor for a guy like me. I come from a really small place in Finland that is very far away from here. I have to say that life is good at the moment."

The dance floor was packed at the Opening Night Party at Gurney's Inn.

Once inside Georgica the guests were treated to the epicurean delights of Chef Robert Hesse, a former contestant on "Hell's Kitchen," whose own star is shooting through the culinary sky. I asked Hesse how it felt to be cooking for the stars, "It is my first time cooking for the film festival, and it is very exciting. I am particularly happy to see the same faces come back who have already eaten here. The weather is great and the Hamptons are still alive in the winter." I asked if the festival was as intense as "Hell's Kitchen," "Not as intense, but the stress levels are still there. You still want perfection. You have to come with your best or you'll be eaten alive."

Not everyone was eating at Georgica of course, as Rising Star Emmy Rossum, who is featured in the film "Dare," was spied having a romantic dinner at Cittanuova with beau Adam Duritz of the band Counting Crows. Duritz has kept a pretty low profile, no interviews while at the festival as it is, after all, Emmy's party.

After the fete at Georgica I called it a day.

For continued coverage of the entire festival look to future installments of this Reporter's Notebook and other postings on Hamptons.com. As for now, I have a cozy bed waiting for me at the Huntting Inn and a Sharon Stone brunch on the schedule for tomorrow.

Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com Hamptons HamptonsOnline HamptonsOnline


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