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Tales From the Celluloid Strip

The Hamptons International Film Festival has been luring Oscar-caliber movies—and movie stars—to the East End for 21 years. In anticipation of this year’s event, we asked Alec Baldwin, actor and host of HIFF’s SummerDocs series, to chat with the newly appointed Executive Director Anne Chaisson about the evolution of the event and what to expect from this year’s festivities.

Anne Chaisson inside Guild Hall, which hosts many of HIFF’s screenings

The Hamptons Film Festival has shown the Academy Award best picture winner four times since 2008, including Slumdog Millionaire; The Artist; and The King’s Speech.

The Artist

The King’s Speech

Alec Baldwin: Do you remember when and where you and I first met?
Anne Chaisson: We first met about 11 years ago, just after the release of a movie I produced named Roger Dodger. You wanted to discuss the idea of remaking the incredible 1968 film The Swimmer—which starred Burt Lancaster—in the Hamptons. We met again in 2005 at the opening night of the film festival, and we’ve been friends since.

You’ve been involved with HIFF in many different capacities—film producer, juror, co-creator of the Advisory Board with Jeff Sharp, director of development and now executive director. How has the festival changed during that time?
Over the past 21 years it’s grown exponentially and critically. Former heads Denise Kasell—now executive director of the Coolidge Corner Theater—and Raj Roy—the chief film curator at MoMA—developed the festival into an international film competition that gave the then-richest award, the Golden Starfish Award, worth $200,000 in goods and services.

They also started a strategic partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to award $25,000 to a science-related film—the first festival to achieve this kind of alliance—and began attracting socially conscious films with a program called Conflict and Resolution, celebrating films dealing with the effects of war and violence. This turned the

Hamptons Film Festival into the festival for foreign language international films.
We’re also very proud that we’ve shown the Academy Award best picture winner four times between 2008 and 2012 [Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, The Artist and Argo]. We’re the only East Coast festival that can make that claim.

It’s also important to note that we’re still a nonprofit that needs support to survive.

Why are film festivals important, and what effect do they have on a film and on the industry as a whole?
They’re important to the filmmakers who want to get their films seen by theater audiences; to the audiences who love to see new artists and actors in person and hear their personal stories; and, most importantly, to the local community that enjoys the cultural experience.

Festivals are part of the marketing strategy for art house films, and they can also help films that are still looking for distribution. The more festivals a film attends, the more enticing it can become to buyers. And although a filmmaker can release a film directly on the Internet, it still requires publicity and exposure, and festivals provide that—not only nationally, but often internationally.

And what specific impact do festivals have on the local community?
First and foremost, film festivals bring income to community businesses. We have around 25,000 attendees who rent hotel rooms and homes, eat at restaurants and shop in local stores. We’ve been told that the festival helps to extend “summer rates” for local business. And, of course, many of our attendees are local, culture-loving film enthusiasts who attend our films, panels and conversations, which have showcased stars such as Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Gere and James Franco.

We’ve also become a year-round institution with programs for everyone. You and David [Nugent] curate our popular SummerDocs series each summer. We’ve also been offering a student film workshop for six years with Guild Hall and LTV. We’ve brought visiting artists to elementary, middle and high schools through a grant we received from the Long Island Community Foundation. And we partner with the Parrish Art Museum, the new Southampton Center and the Watermill Center to present film programs across the East End all year long, thanks to a grant from the Suffolk County Film Commission.

Finally, we host a Screenwriters’ Lab each April—again, thanks to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation—and bring together four established mentor-screenwriters and four burgeoning screenwriters, who work to enhance and develop screenplays.

How do you approach selling a festival pass to a seasoned filmgoer versus someone who’s more inexperienced, filmwise?
We program a diverse lineup of 100-plus films that appeal to any age and budget. Individual tickets range from $13 to $30—making it one of the least-expensive cultural things to do in the Hamptons!—and our passes and packages range from all-access $1,500 tickets, which are 20 percent off through Labor Day, to the $125 Filmmakers Discovery package, where you get six tickets to different panels and films. There’s something for everyone.

Many people think it’s impossible to get tickets, or they don’t know how to get a ticket, but we have box offices in East Hampton and Southampton and, starting this year, in New York City. You can also buy the new Companion Package, which is $700 for two tickets per event, and allows you to choose tickets online two days before the box office opens, ensuring that you get tickets to the most popular films.

Most important, there are always tickets available day-of—you just have to be willing to wait in our rush line while we count available seats. We want our filmmakers to have sold-out films as much as film enthusiasts want to see their films—that’s the main reason to have a film festival.

What programs are you excited about this year?
There are so many! It’s my first year as executive director, and David and I are thrilled to be partners in providing a stimulating and vibrant mix of films, talks and panels.

We will, of course, have sneak previews of films vying for the Oscar. There’s also our Alfred P. Sloan winner, Decoding Annie Parker, starring Helen Hunt and Samantha Morton. And our lineup for Conflict and Resolution is shaping up to be quite provocative and inspiring.

There’s also going to be a very special tribute, to be announced mid-September, along with who’ll be participating in all our events. It’s going to be a really strong year.

Where do you see this festival in five years? And what changes do you predict for the film business, overall?
There have been quite a few outspoken film luminaries, such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, who are predicting a Hollywood “implosion.” Then there are those like Steven Soderbergh who feel anything worth watching will end up on TV, and that what we see on the big screen will be geared only to 3-D, action-packed, CGI/animated films.

If that’s true, I feel the film festival will become an even more important event, one that will preserve the collective experience of enjoying a movie onscreen with an audience.

I could also see the festival growing from a five- to a 10-day event. With HIFF’s legacy, its unique position in the industry and the incredibly strong brand that the Hamptons itself has, I believe we’re positioned extremely well for even more growth. We have a loyal, enthusiastic audience, and I hope to implement a membership program to provide the financing to make that dream a reality.

The 21st annual Hamptons International Film Festival will take place Oct. 10-14.