By Addie Morfoot
For the past 27 years the Hamptons Intl. Film Festival meant fancy cocktail hours, plenty of celebrity sightings and the unspooling of award season’s buzziest films. The 28th annual edition, like everything in 2020, will feel different.
The Long Island-based fest, which runs Oct. 8-14, will be virtual and offer a select number of drive-in screenings. In addition to scaling down the lineup from 120-plus to 51 films, only a quarter of the fest’s typical staff will be in attendance.
But what won’t feel different this year is the fest’s core — its content. HIFF will still offer the most eagerly awaited titles of the year so far, including Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari” featuring Steven Yeun; Regina King’s directorial debut “One Night in Miami,” starring Leslie Odom Jr.; Francis Lee’s “Ammonite,” starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan; Tara Miele’s “Wander Darkly,” with Sienna Miller and Diego Luna; Florian Zeller’s “The Father,” toplining Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman; and Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland,” starring Francis McDormand.
Odom, Winslet and Yeun will virtually participate in fest’s annual A Conversation With … series.
The 30 features and 21 shorts that make up this year’s lineup originate from new and established filmmakers and includes acclaimed titles from Sundance and international festivals — even from the cancelled Telluride and Cannes.
The lineup is 49% female filmmakers and 47% BIPOC filmmakers.
“I participated in the Cannes virtual market and I watched some of the South by Southwest and Tribeca films online,” says HIFF artistic director David Nugent, who also kept abreast of other festivals including Toronto and Venice when curating the 2020 lineup. Nugent also relied on a personal
tracking sheet. “If we hear about a film that is in production by a filmmaker we like, then we stay in touch and track that project,” Nugent says. “ ‘Nomadland’ has been on our radar for literally two years.”
Nugent has a gift for selecting films that strike a chord. This year marked the 10th consecutive time a HIFF film has become the eventual best picture
winner at the Oscars.
To secure the festival’s opening night film — “With Drawn Arms” — Nugent reached out to first-time feature documentary directors Glenn Kaino and Afshin Shahidi. The timely doc, about the legacy of Tommie Smith’s fist-raising gesture during the 1968 Olympic Games, will also be awarded HIFF’s Film of Conflict & Resolution Award, given to a title that deals with issues and societal effects of war and violence.
“We liked the idea of opening with a film that spoke to current issues and the upheaval going on right now,” says Nugent.
HIFF is the first and possibly last film festival the docu, which took eight years to complete, will participate in.
“After Tribeca went away, we realized that most festivals were going to happen in the new paradigm,” says Shahidi. “So we decided to focus on finding distribution.” (Starz recently picked up “With Drawn Arms” and will air the doc just weeks after HIFF on Nov. 1.)
Fellow docs making either their world, U.S. or East Coast premieres at HIFF include Alex Gibney’s “Crazy, Not Insane,” Nathan Grossman’s “I Am Greta,” Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s “Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation” and Rick Korn’s “Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something.”
HIFF will also screen Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw’s doc “The Truffle Hunters.” The Sony Picture Classics pickup about a group of traditional truffle hunter-gatherers premiered at Sundance and was selected for Telluride and Toronto.
“One of the things that’s really exciting about being a part of the Hampton’s film festival is that they are doing drive-in screenings and our film will be part of that,” says Kershaw, who will attend the HIFF with Dweck. “Even if we’re going to be socially distanced and in our own cars while it’s happening, there’s still this magic that happens when people are in the same place, experiencing something on a screen together.”