Hamptons fest weathers storm

Lineup showed potential despite economic stress

In its 17th year and with the economic crisis swirling all around it, the just-wrapped Hamptons International Film Festival showed few signs of stress.

Sixty feature films and 55 shorts unspooled, about as many as last year. Economic pressures might be squeezing budgets but not creativity or craftsmanship as a number of the films seem not just playable in theaters but sustainable beyond the quickie one-week run.

For example, the outstanding "The Young Victoria," which won a HIFF audience award, goes beyond the historical epic and court intrigues to deliver complex characters whose emotional lives are at the forefront. Apparition releases the Emily Blunt starrer Dec. 18.

Several docs also showed boxoffice potential.

Vikram Jayanti's BBC-produced "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector" combines his startling, creepy interview with the "Wall of Sound" producer-turned-convicted murderer with archival material and a downpour of the original versions of Spector-written and/or produced classics from the Ronettes' "He's a Rebel" to the Beatles' "Let It Be."

The Mouse House from the mid-'80s to the mid-'90s gets an up-close-and-personal treatment from insiders Don Hahn and Peter Schneider in the downright dishy "Waking Sleeping Beauty." Schneider said the film will open in March in five theaters, but he's already showing it anywhere he can for free. The film won the audience award for best doc.

Sweden's "Videocracy," from Italian-born filmmaker Erik Gandini, is a shocking look at how much Italy's trashy TV culture has permeated the country and spawned rampant corruption and dissolute behavior. What this compelling doc, which will be shown today at New York's IFC Center, does not do is make any effort to explain why such a lamentable phenomenon has taken hold in Italy.

The fest's top award, the Golden Starfish, went to director Felix Van Groeningen's "The Misfortunates," a comedy about rowdy males that is Belgium's selection for the foreign-language Oscar race.

Several dramas from Scandinavia were winners, including Denmark's "Applause," about a self-involved alcoholic actress and mother on a downward spiral, and Norway's terrifically acted "A Rational Solution," which tells the story of two married couples on the verge of breakups because the husband in one couple and wife in the other fall in love.

In one of several talks with celebrities, veteran producer Martin Bregman -- in a lively interview with Hamptons regular Alec Baldwin -- emphasized the importance of story, which comes first in his formula for success (cast and director are Nos. 2 and 3). Bregman told some amusing stories about the business, including the time he bullied Paramount's Robert Evans, who refused to have Bregman-managed Al Pacino in "The Godfather."

HIFF director of programming David Nugent credited the "good taste" of his selection committee for the overall quality of this year's fest, which wrapped Monday.