22 Years of Movie Magic in The Hamptons

By Lauren Clarke-Bennett & Heather Bryce

The Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF) kicked off its 22nd year with the highly anticipated Weinstein film, ‘St. Vincent’, directed by Ted Melfi. Starring the hilarious Bill Murray, the famed comedienne playing it straight was joined by Melissa McCarthy, hottie Naomi Watts and 11-year-old newcomer Jaeden Lieberher at Guild Hall in East Hampton.

Murray a veteran to the movie business was as charming as ever and excited about the highly touted film with its stellar cast. After the film the festival goers retired to the spectacular East Hampton Point Restaurant for the opening night reception to talk about the upcoming must-sees and rub elbows with the industry elite.

The following day the elegant Patricia Clarkson arrived to participate in a mesmerizing ‘Conversation With’ and chat up her newest film ‘Learning to Drive’. Occasionally independent films can be slow and ponderous. Not so with this film, a sweet, well-paced piece about a middle-aged Manhattan woman on the verge of divorce, played pitch perfect by Academy Award-nominated actress Clarkson and a strongly religious sihk taxi driver played by Ben Kingsley. The movie starts when Clarkson’s character’s husband of two decades, drops the bomb that he wants a divorce. A coddled New Yorker and literary critic she never had learned how to drive and is encouraged to do so by her college-age daughter. When a bride arrives from India to marry Kingsley, a deeply religious Sihk, who had begun teaching Clarkson’s character to drive, his own marital troubles ensue. A quirky friendship is struck by the two as they both learn to take the wheel in their own lives. The wonderful Avi Nash, who plays the nephew of Ben Kingsley’s character was also on hand to talk about the film and how honored he was to play alongside such a stellar cast.

‘The Elephant Song’ from Charles and Nocolas Biname is a rare treat one finds at a film festival, with a wonderful cast starring the talented Bruce Greenwood and Katherine Keener along with the brilliant Xavier Dolan. Set in a mental institution during the mid-1960’s, the head of the hospital played by Greenwood tries to discover the whereabouts of a colleague gone missing by interviewing the last patient (Dolan) to see him. For those who love psychological thrillers, this one is a must see! Bravo!

‘Wildlike’ directed by Frank Hall Green, is a cinematically rich film with an important story to tell set in the rugged terrain of Alaska. It stars the stunning Ella Purnell who plays a troubled teen sent to stay with her uncle played by Brian Geraghty and Bruce Greenwood who plays a backpacker the girl follows in search of a way out. Though about a teenage girl, Mackenzie, whose father’s death and mother’s incarceration in a mental facility forced her to move in with her uncle, it is also a breathtaking visual homage to the wondrous and otherworldly mountains and glaciers that soar in the background. When it becomes clear that her uncle, who at first seems kind, is more a danger than the frigid weather outside, Mackenzie flees – but to where? She winds up hitching her wagon to the lone Greenwood, whom she follows as he hikes across the barren frontier. Unable to shake her, he has no choice but to share his wilderness skills and tent, which helps the duo form an unlikely bond. If you’re a fan of magnificent natural landscapes as a backdrop, this is the film for you.

Heart throb and Academy Award winner Richard Gere chatted up on the Red Carpet for the Premiere of ‘Time Out Of Mind’ directed by Oren Moverman about a heartbreaking story of a homeless man’s struggles with mental illness and alcoholism. This movie realistically depicts life on the streets while wrestling with government services. Complete with sights and sounds that can overwhelm the senses, the film gives the viewer a clear picture of a desperate man’s existence within a broken system and makes one feel like you are viewing it first-hand but from across the street.

One of the main treats of the festival this year was ‘conversations with’ Joel Schumacher, producer, director and writer extraordinaire who was honored with The Golden Starfish Lifetime Achievement in Directing Award. Known for such masterpieces as ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’, ‘The Lost Boys’, ‘The Client’, ‘A Time To Kill’ and ‘Batman Forever’, Schumacher’s talent wit and charm shown through as Kiefer Sutherland, Jess Cagle (People Mag) and Stephen Friedman (MTV) engaged in lively conversation about the consummate director’s career and the part they played in it.

Oscar winner Hillary Swank graced the festival that began with a luncheon honoring the brilliant actor with Variety’s Creative Impact in Acting Award. She then went on to engage in a ‘Conversation With’ moderated by Variety’s Executive Editor, Steven Gaydos that gave a glimpse into how her newest film, ‘The Homesman’ was crafted. Starring alongside Tommy Lee Jones (who also directed), James Spader, Meryl Streep and her daughter Mamie Gummer, Swank plays a strong fearless woman who feels her duty is to bring three insane women back to civilization from the desolate American frontier and enlists the help of a self-serving drunk played by Jones. A stunning movie wrought with despair and angst brings to light the importance of conviction and principle and tells a story of how most (men) operate on little character, existing mainly for their own selfish end.

The gifted Mark Ruffalo appeared on the Red Carpet for the HIFF’s premier of director Bennett Miller’s highly touted film, ‘The Foxcatcher’, co-starring Channing Tatum and Steve Carell. A disturbing biographical thriller about the story of Olympic champions Mark and Dave Schultz’s relationship with mentally ill millionaire, John Du Pont proved to be Oscar worthy. Gripping, Steve Carell, who is himself unrecognizable when playing Du Pont is flanked by two excellent performances given by Ruffalo and Tatum. For sports fans, especially of wrestling, this is a must, for all others to get your game-face on and enjoy.

‘Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem’, from Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz is a moving film about a Jewish woman who tries to get a religious divorce from a rabbinical court which can only happen if her husband presents her with a document called a Gett. This brilliantly written and acted film reveals the extremely slow dissolution of a marriage between Vivane played by Ronit Elkabetz and Elisha, played by Simon Abkarian. Sometimes humorous, the film balances a serious subject that has become a painful procedure with an almost ‘you’ve got to be kidding’ reality.

‘Paradise Lost’, a powerful film directed by Andrea Di Stefano, follows the travels of a naive surfer played by Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games) to Columbia where he meets the love of his life and her violent drug lord uncle, Pablo Escobar, played by the no less than brilliant Benicio Del Toro. A captivating movie from the very beginning is rich in story and action but the violence although apropos can be hard to watch. A not to be missed film, especially by the Academy, will draw you in and take you on a wild ride into the world of a man who controlled a major portion of the cocaine drug trade into the United States.

The elegant Julianne Moore walked the Red Carpet for the premiere of her newest film, ‘Still Alice’ directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland and also starring Kristen Stewart and Alec Baldwin. Closing out the festival the film showcased a magnificent performance by Moore who plays a women succumbing to Alzheimers and Baldwin playing her husband, tapping into the tender side of himself. Witnessing her downward spiral and diminished capacity is not an easy thing to watch but in the end human dignity shines through. Perhaps the film teaches us a positive way to handle something so devastating, if confronted with it in our own lives. A must see with an Oscar buzz.

Although there were several parties generously thrown by the HIFF throughout the festival that included, the Opening Night Reception, the A&E Filmmakers Party at SL East and the Closing Night Party at The Stephen’s Talkhouse, the Chairman’s Reception is perhaps the most intimate and inviting as Stuart Match Suna opened his home to the VIPs with great food, spirits and conversation. And what would a film festival be without the awards, to let the filmmaker’s and talent know that they are recognized for their massive efforts and have done their jobs well by entertaining the audience? This after all is the main purpose of film; to tell a story that touches people where they live.

For a full list of the winners please go to:

www.hamptonsfilmfest.org/hiff-awards-2014

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