A Short List of Cinematic Standouts at HIFF
The opening night, closing night, and centerpiece films of the Hamptons International Film Festival tend to feature noteworthy actors and directors and typically generate the most buzz, but cinematic jewels can be found in all the programming categories.
The category Films of Conflict and Resolution has for 19 years showcased works that deal with the complex issues and societal effects of war, violence, and, especially this year, political skullduggery.
The latter is at the heart of “Watergate,” a 260-minute documentary by Charles Ferguson, whose 2010 film, “Inside Job,” won the Academy Award for best documentary feature. “Watergate” never mentions Donald Trump by name, but its subtitle — “Or How We Learned to Stop an Out of Control President”—suggests implications for the current political climate.
However, the film is fundamentally about the Nixon presidency and the Watergate break-in and subsequent investigation. Archival footage, White House audiotapes, and interviews with reporters, politicians, prosecutors, and former members of the Nixon administration are all marshaled by Mr. Ferguson to tell the complex story.
Conflict and Resolution also includes the New York premiere of a narrative feature from Iceland, “And Breathe Normally,” which was written and directed by Isold Uggadottir, a graduate of the festival’s 2015 Screenwriters Lab. Focused on the developing bond between an Icelandic single mother and a female asylum seeker from Guinea-Bissau, the film is an unsentimental exploration of the ongoing migration crisis.
Also in this year’s series is the Spanish documentary “The Silence of Others” by Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar, which focuses on survivors of Spain’s 40-year dictatorship who seek to bring the remaining perpetrators of the Franco regime to justice. The conflict in Syria is the subject of the other two films, both documentaries. Talal Derki’s “Of Fathers and Sons” examines Islamic radicalism, while “Under the Wire” by Chris Martin focuses on the war correspondent Marie Colvin, who was killed covering the fighting in Homs.
From the World Cinema documentary category comes another topical film, “The Panama Papers,” Alex Winter’s in-depth examination of the largest data leak in history. More than 11 million documents exposed the use of secret offshore companies by prominent politicians, celebrities, and other public figures to evade taxes and launder money.
Each year the Winick Talks at Rowdy Hall provide an opportunity for interaction between industry insiders and audience members. Tomorrow morning’s talk, “Our Bodies, Our Stories,” will feature a panel of filmmakers discussing the importance of shedding light on the abuse and subjugation of women.
Saturday’s session, “Breakthrough Artists,” will highlight three young actors on the rise, Kayli Carter, Cory Michael Smith, and Amandla Stenberg. The morning talks will conclude Sunday with “A New (Virtual) Reality,” which will bring together project creators and virtual reality experts.
Indeed, VR is emerging as important to the future of mainstream entertainment, and immersive multi-media experiences, including the VR thriller “The Hidden,” will be offered tomorrow through Monday from noon to 4 p.m. at the festival’s Mulford Farm Lounge on James Lane in East Hampton.
Views From Long Island will include Khalik Allah’s unusual documentary “Black Mother,” which uses different formats — super 8mm, videotape, and HD video — to create a portrait of Jamaica, his mother’s birthplace, from its prostitutes to its churches.
The Air, Land, and Sea series aims to generate awareness about environmental issues. In “Grit,” the American filmmakers Sasha Friedlander and Cynthia Wade chronicle the ongoing effects of an unstoppable mudflow unleashed by a drilling company in East Java in 2006.
Frederick Wiseman has been at the forefront of the documentary genre since his 1967 film “Titicut Follies.” Now 88, he has produced another original work, “Monrovia, Indiana,” which observes life in that small middle-American community, whose citizens and customs are a type rarely depicted onscreen but so important in contemporary American politics.
A new film by Orson Welles would be a festival coup, and “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead” is almost as fascinating. Morgan Neville’s documentary chronicles the years of financial, legal, and creative turmoil that torpedoed “The Other Side of the Wind,” which was supposed to be Welles’s grand comeback. Welles, Peter Bogdanovich, Alan Cumming, and Beatrice Welles, the director’s daughter, all weigh in on the doomed project and the man behind it.
A close perusal of the festival program guide will turn up dozens of other intriguing familial titles, among them the short films “Death Metal Grandma,” “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom,” and “My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes.”