17th Hamptons International Film Festival

Early last Friday morning, I hopped on the Jitney Bus in Manhattan and—two and a half hours later—arrived in East Hampton on Long Island: the center of the 17th Hamptons International Film Festival.

Over the course of five days, the festival offered a jam packed calendar with screenings, conversation sessions with celebrities, panel discussions, and parties. According to the press release, this year’s edition featured 107 films. In addition to the different competition and non-competition sections of the festival, this year’s festival paid tribute to new Scandinavian films, with 15 feature length films from Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Norway.

One of these selections was the Danish feature film APPLAUSE, by first time filmmaker Martin Pieter Zandvliet. It is a strong character piece about a recovering alcoholic actress coming to terms with her failings as a mother and wife. Actress Paprika Steen plays Thea and, as always, delivers a captivating performance. While writing the script, Zandvliet taped Steen’s stage performance of Martha in Edward Albee’s WHO IS AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? At first, this was meant for research purposes only, but during the development of the script, pieces of these recordings were woven into the story. And, very effectively, they serve multiple purposes: offering glimpses into Thea’s life as an alcoholic, but also featuring her art as an actress. And so after receiving the BEST ACTRESS award at this year’s KARLOVY VARY INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIAVL, Steen was also honored by the Hamptons International Film Festival with a Special Jury Award for Outstanding Achievement by an Actor.

Also offering a strong female performance by a Danish actress is Annette K. Olesen’s disturbing feature LITTLE SOLDIER, starring Trine Dyrnholm. Drynholm plays Lotte, a Danish soldier back home from duty and struggling to find her way back into civilian life. With a father engaged in numerous shady businesses (including prostitution), Lotte starts to work for him as the driver for his Nigerian girlfriend and prostitute Lily. Slowly and gradually, a friendship between the two women—both destructive, disillusioned and despaired—develops and Lotte is finally able to confront some of her inner demons to move on in life. Olesen subtly and sensitively addresses many grave issues including post traumatic stress disorder, human trafficking, prostitution as well as a dysfunctional and violent father-daughter relationship. The film premiered in Berlin earlier this year and was awarded with the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.

Sherry Hormann’s DESERT FLOWER, which premiered in Venice earlier this year, features another strong female lead character. Based on the life of Somalian supermodel Warsi Dirie—played by the stunning Ethiopian model and actress Liya Kebede–the film recounts Dirie’s escape from Somalia via the catwalks of the world, to the world-stage at the United Nations in New York. Far more important than her rags to riches story, however, is Dirie’s role as a spokesperson and activist. A victim of female genital mutilation herself, she has made it her cause to give a voice to the voiceless. The film effectively addresses this important human rights issue in one of its strongest scenes when Dirie delivers a heartfelt speech to the members of the UN.

Addressing another important human rights issue in Africa is MY NEIGHBOR, MY KILLER by documentary filmmaker Anne Aghion. For the past 10 years, Aghion has been visiting Rwanda and documenting the peace and reconciliation process. In weekly mandatory court meetings called Gacaca, the entire village comes together on the village green and holds court to try and judge their perpetrators. Aghion draws attention to the victims’ trauma and numbness and the painful process of remembering the horrors they witnessed and endured.
Fifteen years after the atrocious genocide that left over 800,000 Rwandans dead and imprisoned more than 100,000 people, this documentary reminds its audience that it will take a long time for the wounds to heal. In the discussion following the screening, Aghion questioned whether reconciliation is actually possible, or whether all one can hope and strive for is a peaceful co-existence.
MY NEIGHBOR, MY KILLER was part of the politically charged competition sidebar CONFLICT AND RESOLUTION.

A completely different kind of trial was featured in Vikram Jayanti’s THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY OF PHIL SPECTOR. Produced for the BBC, this fascinating documentary cleverly combines a sit-down interview Spector granted the filmmaker prior to his retrial for murder of actress Lana Clarkson with footage from the actual trail, archival interviews with Spector and music clips of his recordings. In this context, Spector’s songs take on a whole new dimension – offering meaning and clues to his character. The result is a gripping portrayal of a complex personality. And rather than condemning him of murder, as one might assume after the opening scene of the film, Jayanti paints a nuanced picture of a creative mind, reveals some disturbing background information and even evokes empathy.

Those are only 5 out of the pool of 107 films – but there were just too many events, receptions, brunches, panel discussions and parties competing, and too little time to do it all. So, more next time…

Following below is the list of awarded films and filmmakers:
Golden Starfish Award for Best Narrative Feature:
The Misfortunates,” directed by Felix van Groeningen

Special Jury Award for Outstanding Achievement by an Actor:
Paprika Steen, “Applause

Golden Starfish Award for Best Documentary:
Long Distance Love,” directed by Magnus Gertten and Elin Jonsson

Special Jury Award
Musgabe and the White African” directed by Lucy Bailey & Andrew Thompson

Golden Starfish Award for Best Short:
Dust Kid,” directed by Jung Yumi

Best Film of Conflict & Resolution:
Rabbit a la Berlin,” directed by Bartek Konopka

Audience Award for Best Narrative Film:
The Young Victoria,” directed by Jean-Marc Vallee

Audience Award for Best Documentary:
Waking Sleeping Beauty,” directed by Don Hahn

Audience Award for Best Short:
This is Her,” directed by Katie Wolfe

Zicherman Foundation Award for Best Screenplay:
Felix van Groeningen for “The Misfortunates

Kodak Award for Best Cinematography:
Ruben Impens for “The Misfortunates

Kanbar Indie Award:
Antonio Campos for “My Adventures in LadiesUndergarments

Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Prize:
Agora,” directed by Alejandro Amenabar

Roc Skincare Gold Standard in Filmmaking Award for a feature female director:
Cheryl Hines for “Serious Moonlight

Wouter Barendrecht Award for Pioneering Vision
Big River Man”, John Maringouin
For more information on the festival, please visit www.hamptonsfilmfest.org


About Author

Tanja Meding

Tanja Meding :Since moving to New York from Germany in 2003, Tanja Meding has worked as a producer for Maysles Films and other independent production companies. Amongst others, she produced SALLY GROSS-THE PLEASURE OF STILLNESS by Albert Maysles and Kristen Nutile which aired on WNET/Thirteen and Channel 25 and is now available on DVD from www.reframecollection.org. Since 2007, Tanja has been producing short films by Rosane Chamecki, Andrea Lerner and Phil Harder: JACKIE & JUDY premiered at DANCE ON CAMERA at LINCOLN CENTER was awarded with a PEARL at the POOL 2010 Festival in Berlin. Upcoming this September is a video installation of two new shorts: BOXING and THE COLLECTION at NY's newly opened New York Live Arts building in Chelsea. In addition, Tanja is the co-producer of Gabriella Bier's LOVE DURING WARTIME, a documentary about an Israeli dancer and her Palestinian husband. The film had its US premiere at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival and is distributed in the US through 7th Art Releasing. Furthermore, she is the US co-producer of Pascale Obolo's documentary CALYPSO ROSE, LIONESS OF THE JUNGLE. Currently in development with Claudia Brazzale is RETRACING STEPS, a portrait documentary about a group of international dancers and choreographers and their lives 20 years after they first met in NYC.

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