Hamptons Film Festival Launches 25th Anniversary Edition Amid Oscar Streak

Courtesy of TIFF

The Long Island event holds the distinction of being the only East Coast film festival to have screened the eventual best-picture winner for the past seven years.

The Hamptons International Film Festival kicked off its 25th anniversary edition Thursday night with the world premiere of an Itzhak Perlman documentary and Dick Cavett receiving the inaugural edition of an artistic champion award named for him from HIFF co-chairman Alec Baldwin.

Over the course of Columbus Day weekend, HIFF will present the U.S. premieres of Margot Robbie's Tonya Harding biopic (I, Tonya), Andy Serkis' directorial debut Breathe and a special event for critically acclaimed horror film Get Out, released earlier this year. In addition, the festival will feature screenings of Oscar hopefuls like The Shape of Water, The Florida Project, Call Me by Your Name, Darkest Hour and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

The Long Island event holds the distinction of being the only East Coast film festival to have screened the eventual best-picture winner at the Oscars for the past seven years. But despite this impressive streak, artistic director David Nugent says the HIFF team is simply interested in screening the best movies.

"We're looking for, 'What are the best films each year?' And we hear the same buzz everyone else hears. We have no idea which films are going to go on to win awards," Nugent tells The Hollywood Reporter. "The first year we ended up screening the eventual best picture winner, I don't think anyone would have believed over the summer that a film that was in Indian and English with no-name actors would go on to win best picture when we screened Slumdog Millionaire, or that a silent French film in 2011 would have won or that Moonlight would have won. We pick what we think are the best films and leave those decisions up to the guilds that make those decisions."

It's this pursuit of quality pictures, Nugent said, that led him, executive director Anne Chaisson and their team to add I, Tonya and the Get Out event to this year's lineup. Both projects are considered to be Oscar contenders, with I, Tonya receiving a great deal of buzz around its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, where Nugent and Chaisson excitedly saw the movie.

"[Anne and I] both saw [I, Tonya in Toronto] and thought it was just hilarious and really sharp," Nugent says. "Margot Robbie and Allison Janney, really the whole cast but those two in particular, give great performances. We worked on it as quickly as we could to get it confirmed for the closing night for the U.S. premiere and have Margot Robbie come [to the festival], and I think our audiences are really going to love it."

Chaisson recalls: "I was so excited when I called David to tell him, 'Oh my God, I love I, Tonya. I just saw it.' He said, 'I'm confirming it right now.' I was jumping up and down."

As for Get Out, even though the movie was released nearly eight months ago, Nugent says they wanted to look back at a film that had a significant impact on the past year. 

"Looking over the year in films, this film has been such a phenomenon. It's the most profitable film of the year, one of the best-reviewed films of the year and we look back sometimes too at what the year has been in film and this film has been such an important part of the year," Nugent says.

Get Out stars Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams are set to attend the festival along with producers Jason Blum and Sean McKittrick and writer-director Jordan Peele for an exploration of scenes from the film and a conversation about its themes and their relevance to today's political and cultural climate. Or, as Nugent says, a discussion "about everything that went into this film and it becoming the phenomenon that it has gone on to become."

Overall, Nugent says, "The main criteria is quality so we always look for the best films that we think will work out here."

And that includes foreign films, particularly since, as Nugent puts it, "we're living in an area which doesn't have a lot of year-round art house programming and is somewhat limited to the first-run commercial films out here."

The East Coast enclave will even host the world premiere of a film set 3,000 miles away in the affluent L.A. suburb of Palos Verdes — Jennifer Garner-starrer The Tribes of Palos Verdes.

"We play films from all over the place, from Africa to Los Angeles. We're OK playing films that are based in L.A. It's a film about a family moving to a very wealthy community in Los Angeles and whose children take up surfing," Nugent says. "The Hamptons is many things. One of them is a wealthy community for a lot of people and this big surf community out here. So even though it's a few thousand miles away on the West Coast, there's a lot that's relatable about it. We just thought it was really well directed and Jennifer Garner gives a wonderful performance."

The festival is also honoring Julie Andrews, who has a home in Sag Harbor, with a lifetime achievement award, with Chaisson calling the acclaimed actress, "the most wonderfully worthy human being we could think of." This year's program will also feature world-premiere screenings of films about the 2016 election and conversations with Annette Bening, Rob Reiner and Patrick Stewart, among other highlights.

On HIFF's 25th anniversary, Chaisson says, "Many people out here are giving of their time and their spirit and their energy, and for us, it's about celebrating all of those people who have supported us over the years — from volunteers to the local store that houses our box office to patrons who've been coming forever, people who buy all-access passes, people who are with us all year for every event that we do. That's what we're celebrating and celebrating the future."