A 30 Year Celebration for the Hamptons International FilmFest

Anne Chaisson, Chelsea Clinton, and Donna Karan

by Debbie Tuma

It was a special feeling being at this year’s Hamptons International Film Festival, maybe because of the 30th Anniversary, or the perfect sunny weather, but I think it was even more about the community getting together again after the last few years of  pandemic concerns. And in honor of this big anniversary, the festival was extended for 10 days, over two weekends.

There was a vibe of excitement and anticipation of seeing all these great movies and reconnecting with all the film industry people, movie stars and movie buffs, from all over the world, right here in East Hampton. It was really nice to see the long lines outside the theaters once again, in Sag Harbor and East Hampton. Strangers chatting together about what movies they liked, friends meeting at local restaurants, and the whole Town coming alive once again. Each day, people could drop by the festival office and tent on Newtown Lane to purchase tickets to all this great movies,

The media folks were congregating again in the meeting hall of the First Presbyterian Church on Main Street, getting their badges and programs, from Frank PR of Manhattan, and sharing gossip and news about this big anniversary. Each morning there were opportunities to attend Rowdy Talks and engage with over 100 filmmakers from around the globe. And some of the key people behind this festival are former chairman Toni Ross, former chairman Alec Baldwin, Randy Mastro, Chairman of the Board, Anne Chaisson, Executive Director, and David Nugent, Artistic Director, who selects these films, and former chair Stuart Match Suna, of Silvercup Studios.

Robert Bader and Dick Cavett. Photo: Hamptons Film

When I heard Dick Cavett was coming to this festival to promote the world premiere of his new documentary feature, “Groucho and Cavett,” I couldn’t wait to see him. As many locals out here know, Cavett lived on the ocean bluffs of Montauk for decades, with his late wife Carrie Nye, and was involved with many community events. I had spent time interviewing him at his house, and felt sad when he finally moved away in recent years. After his screening, he said he missed Montauk.

Cavett came to the East Hampton Theater with his Director/Screenwriter and Producer, Robert Bader. This unique film was about the long, fascinating friendship of Cavett, who was only 25, when he met Marx, at age 70. Groucho inspired Cavett, while he was writing for the Jack Parr Show, to become a comedian. From then on he mentored Cavett, and also appeared on his talk show about 7 times. This film showed archival footage of their interviews, and other rare recordings. After the film, Alec Baldwin interviewed Cavett and Robert Bader, about making it.

One of the HFF highlights that I always enjoy is “A Conversation With,” where a major star is interviewed on the stages of places like Guild Hall, Bay Street Theater, East Hampton Middle School, and others. In previous years, there have been no end to the major stars who have shared their life stories and insights, including Richard Gere, Isabella Rossellini, Richard Dreyfus, Angelica Houston, Rod Steiger, Stevie Nicks, Roy Scheider, Annette Bening, and many others. This year, there was “A Conversation With” Chelsea Clinton, about a new Apple-TV+ series she did with her mother Hillary Clinton, called, “Gutsy,” and also with award-winning playwright and filmmaker Martin McDonagh of London, who also showed his new film, “The Banshees of Inisherin,” at the festival.

It was a bit surreal being back in my old high school, which is now the East Hampton Middle School, and there on the stage was Chelsea Clinton, being interviewed by Donna Karan, also of East Hampton. Clinton explained that the “Gutsy” series is about mothers and daughter relationships, and also about the many powerful and “gutsy” women who inspired them. In one of the episodes, which they showed on a big screen, Hillary and Chelsea go on adventures with some of the world’s most powerful women, who are activists, artists, and community leaders, doing extraordinary things. Donna Karan asked Chelsea what made her create this, and she replied that there were lots of gutsy women in her family, from her mother to her grandmothers on both sides.

“When I grew up in the 1980’s both my parents were public figures, but even in the 1990’s when we lived in the White House, they managed to make time for me and I never doubted that I was the most important part of their lives,” she said. “Now that I’ve become a Mom I realize how hard it is, and now the most important role I have is to be a mother to my three kids.”

In the film, Chelsea and Hillary were cooking in the kitchen, going through old photo albums, and meeting other influential women, like Goldie Hawn and her daughter, Kate Hudson, and others. They shared stories about motherhood, social issues and passions.

Chelsea talked about the need for women to also follow their passions in helping to make the world a better place—to get involved in their own communities social issues. Mariska Hargitay, who exemplifies this with her activist work, is also in one of the “Gutsy” episodes.

Cynthia Lopez, CEO of NYWIFT

Speaking of “Gutsy Women,” one of the most fun and informative parts of this festival is to attend the New York Women in Film (NYWIFT) brunch at the Mulford Farm in East Hampton.  This lovely brunch, outdoors on the lawn under a tent, is a great networking event for all the women filmmakers to come together, before showing some of their short films at the theater. Cynthia Lopez, CEO of this organization, based in NYC, spoke about the importance of their work as more women are breaking into the industry.

“We urge more women to join our organization, to get inspired and learn more about how you can learn and contribute,” she said. “We have some great women filmmakers here with us today, and we are honoring them at this festival.” Leslie Fields, President of the NYWIFT Board, also spoke, about how people should get involved.

Ivete Lucas and Patrick Bresnan

What I like most about this festival, is a chance to see independent films that explore and show us different lifestyles from around the world, that you may not expect and may not see in mass theaters.

At this brunch, I met filmmakers Ivete Lucas and her husband Patrick Bresnan, who produced and directed a unique documentary feature called “Naked Gardens. It’s a slice of life at an interesting nudist resort in the Florida everglades. It was done respectfully to show the lifestyle of people choosing to be there for different reasons from affordability, to the naturist life, to healing from past trauma. It was filmed over one season at their campsite, and culminates in their annual Mid-Winter Naturist Festival. Through their unobtrusive style, Lucas and Bresnan capture some fascinating characters, personal profiles, and conversations, set amongst some beautifully filmed lush tropical landscapes.

Randy Mastro, HIFF Chairman

Randy Mastro, HIFF Chairman, said he was excited to be at the 30th Hamptons FilmFest. “It’s a reflection on how far we’ve come,” he said. “First we were the little festival that could, and now we’re the Telluride of the East.” Mastro, a self-proclaimed movie buff, said, “Many of our films have premiered here, and gone on to win Academy Awards.”  He looks forward to next year’s event.