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Reporter’s Notebook Days 4 & 5: The 17th Annual Hamptons International Film Festival

Originally Posted: October 19, 2009

Douglas MacKaye Harrington

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Legendary architects I.M. Pei and Thaddeus Crapster at the world premiere of “Learning From Light” at the Southampton Regal movie theatre. Photos by Douglas Harrington

East Hampton - It turns out, at least for this reporter, that Sunday at the Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF) turned out to be as busy as Saturday. Mother Nature has definitely cooperated this year, as the village was packed with pedestrians on another beautiful day.

Finland's HIFF "Breakthrough Performer" Samuli Varaumo at the Closing Night Party at Lily Pond in East Hampton with guest.

I headed out from the Huntting Inn for an 11 a.m. screening of "Learning From Light: The Vision of I.M. Pei," a film about one of the world's greatest architects and his creative process involving the design and construction of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar. The film was being screened at the Southampton Regal, as several HIFF events are held in the Village of Southampton, which has become an integral part of the HIFF schedule. The highlight of this event was the presence of the master himself. Yes, I.M. Pei was in the audience viewing the film, like the rest of us, for the very first time as this was another HIFF world premiere.

Directed by Swedish filmmaker Bo Landin, "Learning From Light" is a brilliant film that gives not only a detailed insight into the creative process of I.M. Pei, but chronicles the construction history and challenges of creating this structurally stunning architectural achievement. Beautifully filmed by cinematographer Jens Jansson, the film's soundtrack was created by world renowned cellist Yo Yo Ma.

Following the screening I spoke with Pei and asked him if he was pleased with the film, "It was a wonderful film and a wonderful experience for me." I mentioned that years ago I had done an interview with Frank Lloyd Wright's photo-biographer Pedro Guerrero and wondered if Pei had known him, "No, I did not, but Wright is a wonderful subject, wondrous possibilities." I asked Pei if he wished that more of his projects had been brought to film in the same fashion as the project in Doha, "If they are worthy enough I would say yes, but there are very few projects that are worthy of that kind of documentation." I told the humble architect that most people think that most of his projects have been more than worthy of documentation, "Thank you, I hope so."

Director/Juror Barry Sonnenfeld with Susan McGlory and Al B. Hecht of "The Harvest."

A luncheon reception was held for Pei at Annie's Organic Cafe and Market in Southampton that was attended by the filmmakers, friends and family of the architect. Also in attendance was noted architect Thaddeus Crapster, the only surviving architect involved in the design of the United Nations Plaza. I asked Pei's contemporary if he enjoyed the film, "I thought it was a marvelous film about a marvelous building. What more can one say? His work is timeless." Annie's owner Jessica Greenfield and the restaurant's marketing director Erma Orofino set out their usual fantastic spread to the delight of all, including the brilliant and humble architect.

I headed back to East Hampton for the festival's final "A Conversation With..." event, this time it was actor/director/producer Steve Buscemi. The actor discussed his upbringing on Long Island and his early days in Manhattan during the heyday of Manhattan's independent filmmaking. He spoke of his work with directors Quentin Tarrantino and Tim Burton and his longtime collaboration with the Coen Brothers. He shed light on his creative process and his role as producer with Stanley Tucci in their Olive Productions film company. It was a SRO crowd at Guild Hall for this rare opportunity to get up close and personal with one of America's most talented and popular character actors.

Sean Iffel and Lisa Ginsberg, Hampton locals at the Closing Night Party of HIFF.

I still had a long night ahead of me, so after the event I headed back to the Huntting Inn for a Bombay martini and the $3.50 "Prime Time" Kobe Beef sliders special at The Bar at The Palm. Yes, I said $3.50! This is the best Happy Hour deal in East Hampton and it also includes broiled mini-crabcakes and Filet Mignon Capri sandwiches. A quick shower and a change of clothes and I was back on the street heading out to Guild Hall for the 2009 HIFF Awards ceremony.

This year's master of ceremonies was actress/comedienne Rachel Dratch. A seven-year veteran of "Saturday Night Live," Dratch opened the awards with a hilarious routine involving a reading from index cards that had the audience roaring with laughter. After remarks by HIFF Board President Stuart Match Suna, Executive Director of the festival Karen Arikian addressed the audience, "It has been a fabulous year, with an extraordinary amount of talent at the festival. We have welcomed a lot of new faces and seen many of our friends from the past as well. Our non-profit festival continues to grow in a year that is financially challenging, but thanks to our board, our sponsors and a very hard-working team, it all seems to have come together in a wonderful way."

There is a combination of festival "Starfish Awards" and special "Sponsor Awards" bestowed each year, along with recognition of special attendees. On this particular point I would like to note a personal disappointment with the American members of the young actors that were designated as "Breakthrough Performers" at this year's HIFF. This group of under-30 actors was made a significant centerpiece of the 2009 festival and clips of their individual performances were screened at the ceremony. Yet, it was only the European "Shooting Stars" that had enough respect for the festival and, frankly, the class and manners to see the festival through to its end and show up at the awards ceremony.

Actor Steve Buscemi fielding questions at the Hamptons International Film Festival.

Bravo to Cyron Melville of Denmark, Samuli Varaumo of Finland and Alba Rohreacher of Italy for showing this festival the respect it richly deserves. Unlike their American counterparts, these European actors weaved their way through the festival, available and engaging, without the entourage of handlers that accompanied most of the American prima donnas, several of whom seemed to have disappeared after day two. As an American I was personally embarrassed, while at the same time I am sure the self-consumed American "Rising Stars" were back in LA not even giving it a thought.

There is a complete list of the winning films, filmmakers and performers in a separate article on Hamptons.com, so I will not list them here. I will note that along with Dratch two special presenters were in attendance at the ceremony, actor Alec Baldwin and director Barry Sonnenfeld, who both also served as jurors for HIFF 2009.

I spoke with Sonnenfeld, donned in his signature cowboy hat, outside of Guild Hall after the ceremony and asked him to comment on his first time role as a HIFF juror, "I was a juror for the festival and we saw a lot of great films, and the weather was incredible and we had a great time. The first time I have ever been a juror and it worked out great."

Annie's Organic owner Jessica Greenfield serving legendary architect I.M. Pei.

The final event of the festival was the closing night party, which this year took place at Lily Pond in East Hampton. Unlike the Opening Night Party and Chairman's Reception, most of the celebrities had left town after the awards and were not in attendance. However, the film lovers packed the venue with cars lined up along Three Mile Harbor Road. Many independent filmmakers attended the party such as Peter Rosen and Justin Strawhand of "War Against The Weak" and, yes, the Scandinavian actors designated as "Breakthrough Performers" were again in attendance. I spent the evening cocktailing with Melville and Varaumo and introduced them to several festival attendees that had both seen their films, "Love and Rage" and "Tears Of April," and were thrilled to be in the company of these two brilliant and charming young actors.
Melville, who was staying another week in Brooklyn with friends, asked where he should have a drink in Manhattan. Since his father was a Celt of Scottish lineage like me, I directed him to my friend Michael Young's Druids on 10th Avenue. It is around the block from the Irish Cultural Center and I told him it was full of Celtic actors and he would feel right at home - no handlers in house!

One of the many local Hamptonian couples I ran into at the party included old friend Lisa Ginsberg of Brown Harris Stevens Realty of Southampton and her date Sean Iffel, Devi Kroell's East Hampton General Manager, who commented about the HIFF, "It is great that we have something that keeps the season after the summer is gone. It is fun to see that there is still life in the Hamptons. It is really a great, great, great idea! The Hamptons Film Festival infuses that life, great films and great people coming together in the most beautiful place in America."

Anyone that attended the HIFF would agree that Iffel could not have summed it up any better. Although the festival's events and parties ended Sunday night, including the nightly bacchanal hosted by Nick Kraus and The Stephen Talkhouse which is not to be missed, Monday gave the up and early crowd the chance to view or re-view another two dozen films.

The Hamptons International Film Festival is, without qualification, one of the world's great venues for the exposure of independent filmmakers, extraordinary and perspective changing documentaries and a gathering of people that love making true cinema in unpretentious contact with people that love watching true cinema.

True cinema, at least to this reporter, means that moment when we are left breathless looking at the art of artists on a screen - studio or independent, feature or documentary. The HIFF does indeed leave us breathless.

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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Guest (Shawn Leslie Ifill) from East Hampton, NY; Monterrey, MX says::
I would like to thank Mrs. Douglas Harrington for his time the night of the event. He is not only a fantastic photograhoer but a wonderful person to talk with and show a lot of passion, as well as, Mrs. Ginsberg and myself concerning our wonderful Country and of course, our County.
Nov 18, 2009 4:26 pm


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