Sag Harbor Doc Fest 2023

A film still of Augusto Gongora and Paulina Urrutia from “The Eternal Memory,” directed by Maite Alberdi, which made the Oscars Shortlist for Documentary Feature Film.

By Sue Giustino

The 16th annual Sag Harbor Doc Fest was a huge success. For 7 days in early December, Doc Fest events highlighted films to salute outstanding directors and film subjects. The event welcomed filmmakers, documentary film lovers and area students to the historic villages of Sag Harbor, New York for dozens of films, discussions, panels, media labs, awards, cocktail receptions and celebrations. Surrounded by the local shops, restaurants, inns, museums, and parks, all to be enjoyed between films, Sag Harbor offers an intimate and walkable setting for festival-goers.

Although there were many films available, we were only able to attend two; The Disappearance of Shere Hite, and 2023 HUMAN RIGHTS AWARD Winner, 999: THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS OF THE HOLOCAUST. The powerful subjects of each film were interesting and creatively presented with outstanding narration and photography.

Exploring the life of Shere Hite following her 1976 bestselling book The Hite Report, and through her disappearance from public view in the decades before her death in 2020, The Disappearance of Shere Hite was a captivating film. Depicted through interviews and footage expertly arranged, revealing Hite’s intriguing character as well as highlighting multiple sides of the controversy surrounding the report which had rocked the American establishment.

999: THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS OF THE HOLOCAUST tells the story of the first official Jewish prisoners of Auschwitz. In the spring of1942 the Nazis ordered the Slovak government to send a slave labor force and received 999 teenage, Jewish girls. Their government paid 500RM, today’s equivalent of $4,000 per girl, who were issued a railway ticket for a one-way trip to Auschwitz. For 80 years their story was overlooked by historians. This film explores the unbreakable bonds between these women, bonds which kept them alive, through interviews and footage of survivors, families, and witnesses. Based on the international best seller 999: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz, this untold story, is important both to Holocaust history and to women’s history.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to participate in this festival, be sure to check it out next year.

Throughout the festival Numerous Awards were presented, including:


Jacqui Lofaro, founder and executive director of Hamptons Doc Fest has announced that the winner of the 2023 Brown Harris Stevens Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature is the inspirational film “26.2. to Life,” which electrified the audience when it played on December 4 at Bay Street.

“This was a film of hope and redemption,” said Ms. Lofaro. “What better message for today’s world and the future. Director Christine Yoo deserves our congratulations for her many years of work on the film and her continuing efforts to bring it to audiences like ours at Hamptons Doc Fest.”

The film, which took over five years to make, explores the crisis of incarceration through the stories of three men living out life sentences at San Quentin Prison in California. As they work to better themselves, the men in the 1000 Mile Club, aided by dedicated volunteer coaches from the community, train for the most unique marathon in the world—105 laps around an uneven dirt and concrete path in the crowded prison yard.

“To be included among the line-up of prestigious films was a true honor, and to now receive news that we won the Audience Award is downright thrilling,” said Ms. Yoo. “Thank you, Hamptons Doc Festival for creating a space for us to share the inspiring story of the 1000 Mile Club and the marathon at San Quentin and allowing us to help spark meaningful discussion with Hamptons film lovers about forgiveness, redemption and the power of community. We look forward to keeping in touch and visiting again!”

At Hamptons Doc Fest before the Brown Harris Stevens Audience Award to “26.2 to Life” was announced: Left to right, Hamptons Doc Fest associate director Jackie Leopold, film participant Markelle Taylor, “26.2 to Life” director Christine Yoo, and HDF Advisory Board member and Academy Award-winning filmmaker Nigel Noble of East Hampton, whose film work Ms. Yoo admires.

Both director Christine Yoo, who was a prison volunteer, and Markelle “the Gazelle” Taylor, a former prison marathoner and then Boston Marathoner, attended the festival and were interviewed afterwards by Andrew Botsford. The interview revealed the promising news that the film is being shown every day at 4 p.m. in California’s prisons, that membership in the 1000 Mile Club has exploded in prisons throughout the country, and that so far, none of the 45 Club members who have been released from prison have re-offended.

The film has already received acclaim, as it was featured on PBS NewsHour and has been included in Variety’s list of the top 20 documentaries predicted to win an Oscar nomination!

Added Robert Nelson, executive managing director of Brown Harris Stevens of the Hamptons: “Congratulations to the winner and to everyone at Hamptons Doc Fest. We are thrilled to continue our longstanding support of the arts in our local communities by sponsoring the Brown Harris Stevens Audience Award.”


Hamptons Doc Fest executive director Jacqui Lofaro and artistic director Karen Arikian recently announced that five of the 30 documentary feature films and documentary film shorts screened at the 16th annual Hamptons Doc Fest, were named to the Oscars Shortlists on December 21 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The Oscars Shortlists include 15 films in each of 10 categories which will advance in those categories for the 96th Academy Awards.

In the Documentary Feature Film category, two Hamptons Doc Fest films— “American Symphony” and “The Eternal Memory” –were among the 15 Shortlisted.

The film “American Symphony,” directed by Matthew Heineman who received this year’s HDF Pennebaker Career Achievement Award at the Gala on Dec. 2, follows stressed musician Jon Batiste as he prepares his original composition for its premiere at Carnegie Hall while his wife, writer Suleika Jaouad, is undergoing hospital treatments for her rare form of leukemia.

The film also made the Shortlist in the two separate categories of Music (Original Score) and Song (“It Never Went Away”).

“The Eternal Memory,” directed by Maite Alberdi, which won the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, tells the story of veteran Chilean journalist Augusto Gongora and his devoted wife and caretaker Paulina Urrutia, the former Chilean culture minister, as Gongora struggles with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Plus, a resounding three of the seven documentary film shorts screened at Hamptons Doc Fest’s innovative “Shorts and Breakfast Bites” programs on Dec. 2 and 3 made the Oscars Shortlists in the category of Documentary Short Film.

These include “The ABCs of Book Banning” (27 min.) directed by Trish Adiesic and Naz Habtezghi and produced by Sheila Nevins, about book banning in American schools told through the eyes of children; “The Barber of Little Rock” (35 min.) directed by John Hoffman and Christine Turner, about a barber’s visionary approach to the wealth gap by founding a community bank in Little Rock, Arkansas; and “Last Song from Kabul” (30 min.) directed by Kevin Macdonald about a group of daring young musicians in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover.

Stay tuned until January 23 when the Academy announces the shorter list of Nominees in each category, and March 10, when the annual Academy Awards ceremony announces the winners.