Festival Report: Hamptons International Film Festival

| November 30, 2018 | Comments (0)

Ronan O’Sullivan reports from the 26th Annual Hamptons International Film Festival, which included screenings of The Favourite and Making The Grade. Along the way Ronan shared a cigarette with Eva Trobisch, director of Alles Ist Gut.

 

The Hamptons consist of a number of towns on the east end of Long Island, one hundred miles east of New York City.  Montauk, Amagansett, East Hampton, South Hampton, Hampton Bays, Sagaponack and Sag Harbor, are a few of these ‘hamlets’, and the further east you go, the more expensive things become. I spent four of the festival days in East Hampton, a town which could have been lifted straight out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. Property prices in Dublin may be scary, but the cost of some of these homes on the Atlantic is phenomenal. The Hampton Film Festival is where the famous mingle with the rich and glamorous, not unlike The Cannes Film Festival.

This year marked the 26th year of the HIFF.  Hundreds of movies were to be seen, ranging from shorts, documentaries to narrative feature films. Every cinema on the East End was booked out for the duration of the festival, which usually takes place over the Columbus holiday weekend (Oct 12th). Screenings were often followed by Q&As with actors/directors.

My introduction to the festival began on Friday morning at a #MeToo filmmakers’ talk in Rowdy Hall, a local restaurant. Three women filmmakers spoke to a capacity crowd. They spoke from their heart with the courage of their convictions. Nancy Schwartzman, one of the speakers warned all males present that even if they weren’t involved in abuse scandals – to be on their bended knees thanking females for any and all sexual relations. No men spoke at the Q&A. I approached the three speakers afterwards, in particular Nancy Schwartzman. She laughed when I brought up her earlier opinion, admitting it was a little extreme. What they said by and large made a lot of sense, and in person they were warm, less intimidating and not as extreme. 

The two Irish films on offer were The Favourite (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos) and Making the Grade (dir. Ken Wardop). Mike Trentacosti, a volunteer from Babylon, Long island, sampled the reaction to Making the Grade and considered it overwhelmingly positive. This view was reflected in an audience vote. Toni Ross, a founding member of the HIFF and a local restaurant owner also gave it two thumbs up.  It made her cry, and the cinematography was beautiful, she said.  She wanted to know if all Irish houses were similar to the kind depicted in the film. 

Some movies are “Spotlight” films, meaning to attend their screening needs a special invitation. Unfortunately, The Favourite was one such film. I was unable to attend the screening or speak to any of the cast or crew.  It was awarded two prizes at the Venice Film Festival, the Grand Jury Prize and Best Actress Award for Olivia Colman. It is Lanthimos’ second feature film working with Rachael Weiss.  The Favourite was shot by Element Pictures. Screen Ireland helped with the funding. It is not the first time Lanthimos has secured funding through SI.  The movie will be released in the US later this year and in Ireland early in the new year.

The HIFF is renowned for its ‘Breakthrough Performance Program’.  Former breakthrough artists include Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt.  This year, the festival selected Cory Michael Smith, Amanda Stenberg and Kayli Carter.  Smith plays the Riddler in the ‘Gotham’ TV series and currently plays the lead in an indie production 1985.  Stenberg gives a riveting performance in The Hate U Give, playing a high-school student who witnesses the shooting of her childhood friend by the police. Carter who had a small part in Netflix’ Godless will next star in Private Life for the same company. Full-house audiences gave these actors very warm, receptions.  All three spoke about their lives as actors and discussed how their careers are progressing. Smith joked about the dilemma of acting in independent films versus working in TV roles to make a living. Carter, born and raised in Oviedo, Florida, grew up in a farming community and had no idea that acting would shape her life. 

I met Eva Trobisch almost by mistake in a small restaurant off East Hampton’s Main Street. A waitress pointed out a vacant chair and a half-finished glass of white wine, informing me that a German director was present if I wanted to stick around. I knew of only one German film represented at the HIFF, which was Alles Ist Gut. The movie has received extremely good reviews as has its female lead, Aenne Schwarz. So I stuck around. A short-haired woman soon appeared with an apprehensive smile and immediately I liked her.  I introduced myself as a contributing writer for Film Ireland. She smiled again, telling me that Alles ist Gut has been selected for screening at the Kilkenny SUBTITLE European Film Festival,running 19 – 25 November.  She asked for a cigarette and I gave her a few, which she carefully tucked into her bag and I liked her even more.  Eva wasn’t rich, and she wasn’t famous.  She had just travelled alone from Germany and was nursing a glass of wine at the bar. Alles Ist Gut was set for screening at 8:30, an hour from now. She struck a lonely figure, very unusual in a town populated by publicity seekers and film pushers. She gave me several minutes to ask a few questions on a bench outside Babette’s Restaurant.  Her command of English was very good, and she spoke with a disarming, soft German accent.

How long did it take you to write Alles Ist Gut?

I think I was one and a half years writing it. I wrote it during my screenwriting masters at the London Film School, which I can very much recommend, and  then I came back with the second draft, and then another four drafts…

And how did you get the funding?

There was a broadcaster involved, a German broadcaster with very little money, like €60,000 and then my school – since it’s a graduation film and then we had German film funding – Bavarian film funding worth €150,000.  So, all in all we had €260,000 which is nothing compared to other films.  So, we all earned €8.50 an hour.  The entire crew, the actors, everyone.

You said you were in the London Film School?

I was studying Directing at the Munich Film School, but I was longing for a deeper understanding of screenwriting so I went to London Film School.  First, I went to Tisch School in New York (Tisch School of the Arts) for half a year and after that I did a screenwriting masters from the very first idea to the second draft – you go step by step in one year.

If the film makes money; does everybody get more money!?

(Eva nods her head and smiles)

Perfect. And it’s going to make money I hope? 

Yeah!  It looks good.  It’s been picked up for France and in Germany it’s going to be released, and Austria, and Switzerland is confirmed now.  And other countries are coming… 

Hopefully we will get America on board…

(Laughs) Yeah…

What are the plans for the future?

Doing my next film (big grin)

Do you have it written?

I have a treatment quite developed.  Yes, and we will apply for funding. To write it next year and then shoot it 2020 I guess.

 

And then she had to leave, slinging her bag over her shoulder with a goodbye smile.  She had to introduce her film and it was getting late. I watched from my friend’s pick-up truck as she weaved her way towards the movie theatre, losing sight of her in a snake of car headlights and a slow-moving line of pedestrians. 

Alles Ist Gut won the Big One the following day: The Best Narrative Feature of the Hamptons International Film Festival.  It was up against a number of Hollywood greats. I expect we will be watching Eva Trobisch’s films for years to come.  You can catch Alles Ist Gut at the Kilkenny Film Festival and hopefully Eva will be in attendance. 

No article about the HIFF would be complete without an honourable mention to a short film called The Hidden. Throughout the five days of the festival, this virtual reality short film played in a barn on a local property known as the Mulford farm. The experience was open to the public, free and very well attended. Earlier, its creators BJ Schwartz, Anne Lukowski, James Della Famina and Bruce Vaughn (Music by Ched Tolliver) also spoke in Rowdy Hall.  The Hidden was my first experience of a virtual reality narrative film. I watched it with two friends, an off-duty East Hampton cop and a fellow Irish man. We wore VR goggles and headphones throughout, an experience in itself. The story concerns itself with an ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raid on an unsuspecting Latino family whose father is hiding in the house. The movie was shot with 8 different cameras giving a full 360-degree point of view. You could turn and look over your shoulder to see what was behind you. It was an eerie, spectacular experience. The off-duty cop had a few issues with the narrative. He felt that the ICE agents were at times unprofessional and negatively portrayed.   

I came into contact with many films at the festival. I would highly recommend a few of them, including the Best Documentary Winner, Divide and Conquer. It’s the story of Roger Ailes and is directed by Alexis Bloom.  I must stress that with so many films screened, I only had the opportunity to see a fraction.

Kindergarten Teacher, directed by Sara Colangelo and starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Gael García Bernal.

Wildlife, directed by Paul Dano, and starring Carey Mullingan, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ed Oxenbould.

Birds of Passage, directed by Christina Gallego and Ciro Guerra, from Colombia

First Man directed by Damien Chazelle starring Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy.

A beautiful, bright sun shone throughout the HIFF autumn weekend. I was made most welcome by the festival staff and my sincere thanks to the many organisers and volunteers for making the experience so pleasant. 

I have attended a few festivals in my time, some of which could learn from the courtesy and kindness on display at the HIFF, where I was treated like an equal, never separate from the elite.

  

Ronan O’Sullivan

 

The 26th Annual Hamptons International Film Festival took place 4 – 8 October 2018

 

Ronan O’Sullivan is a filmmaker and photographer with a degree in Film Production from the City University of New York, Brooklyn College. He has shot many short films, music videos and commercials. He also tutors film and photography for Transition Year students in Dublin.  He has a feature film screenplay ‘Scorched’ under development with a NYC-based production company.

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