High 'Water' at Hamptons

International flair, political potshots highlight festival

NEW YORK -- Erik Poppe's ex-con drama "Troubled Water" and Megumi Sasaki's art collector documentary "Herb and Dorothy" each snagged two top feature prizes from jurors and audiences at the Hamptons International Film Festival this weekend.

Their overseas directors and events celebrating Jacqueline Bisset, Bibi Andersson, Fortissimo Films co-chairman Wouter Barendrecht and the 60th anniversary of Israel gave the fest a strong international feel. But it was comments by HIFF Rising Stars program mentor Frances McDormand criticizing Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin that stirred up the most conversation.

"Marge Gunderson is a fictional character, and so is Sarah Palin," said McDormand to wild applause at Sag Harbor's Bay Street Theatre Saturday, likening the "Fargo" character that won her an Oscar to the soundalike Republican nominee. "We always found (Marge) scary," she added, due to her "insular idea of the world."

The fest's expanded worldview was in part a reflection of newly appointed executive director Karen Arikian, the Berlin fest veteran taking over for longtime HIFF staffer Denise Kassel. This year marked the first foreign-born Industry Toast honoree, Netherlands native Barendrecht, whose Thursday night event brought a roast-like series of tributes from host John Cameron Mitchell, Toronto fest director Noah Cowan, Berlin fest director Dieter Kosslick and former Picturehouse chief Bob Berney.

The IndieWire/HIFF event also offered video tributes from the likes of Jim Jarmusch (who noted Barendrecht's "exquisite taste in weird movies"), and all noted Fortissimo's importance in supporting art house fare as the independent film financing arena faces what may be its toughest time ever.

Bisset's Sag Harbor interview event Thursday focused on her 40-plus-year career working in international cinema with some of the top directors in history, including George Cukor on his final film, 1991's "Rich and Famous" (which she described as "torture.")

In the Sunday ceremony hosted by "Daily Show" co-creator Lizz Winstead, the Norwegian/Swedish "Troubled Water" took home the $185,000 top Golden Starfish prize for a narrative feature along with its audience award, and "Herb and Dorothy" took the top $5,000 doc feature prize. Other $5,000 prizes went to Zicherman Family Foundation's screenwriting award winners Alexandru Baciu, Razvan Radulescu, Radu Muntean for their Romanian feature "Boogie" and the Brizzolara Family Award for Films of Conflict and Resolution to Aida Begic's "Snow."

The RoC Gold Standard Award for Female Feature Director was presented to Elissa Down for "The Black Baloon." The $7,500 Caroline's Comedy Emerging Talent Award was presented by board member Caroline Hirsch to writer-star Michael Spicer for "How I Learned to Love Richard Gere," and the Heineken Red Star Award went to writer-director Patrick Read Johnson for his HIFF world premiere " '77." A full list of winners is available at the HIFF Web site.