Over the course of five days, the festival offered a jam packed calendar with screenings, conversation sessions with celebrities, panel discussions, and parties. According to the press release, this year’s edition featured 107 films. In addition to the different competition and non-competition sections of the festival, this year’s festival paid tribute to new Scandinavian films, with 15 feature length films from Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Norway.
One of these selections was the Danish feature film APPLAUSE, by first time filmmaker Martin Pieter Zandvliet. It is a strong character piece about a recovering alcoholic actress coming to terms with her failings as a mother and wife. Actress Paprika Steen plays Thea and, as always, delivers a captivating performance. While writing the script, Zandvliet taped Steen’s stage performance of Martha in Edward Albee’s WHO IS AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? At first, this was meant for research purposes only, but during the development of the script, pieces of these recordings were woven into the story. And, very effectively, they serve multiple purposes: offering glimpses into Thea’s life as an alcoholic, but also featuring her art as an actress. And so after receiving the BEST ACTRESS award at this year’s KARLOVY VARY INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIAVL, Steen was also honored by the Hamptons International Film Festival with a Special Jury Award for Outstanding Achievement by an Actor.
Also offering a strong female performance by a Danish actress is Annette K. Olesen’s disturbing feature LITTLE SOLDIER, starring Trine Dyrnholm. Drynholm plays Lotte, a Danish soldier back home from duty and struggling to find her way back into civilian life. With a father engaged in numerous shady businesses (including prostitution), Lotte starts to work for him as the driver for his Nigerian girlfriend and prostitute Lily. Slowly and gradually, a friendship between the two women—both destructive, disillusioned and despaired—develops and Lotte is finally able to confront some of her inner demons to move on in life. Olesen subtly and sensitively addresses many grave issues including post traumatic stress disorder, human trafficking, prostitution as well as a dysfunctional and violent father-daughter relationship. The film premiered in Berlin earlier this year and was awarded with the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.
Sherry Hormann’s DESERT FLOWER, which premiered in Venice earlier this year, features another strong female lead character. Based on the life of Somalian supermodel Warsi Dirie—played by the stunning Ethiopian model and actress Liya Kebede–the film recounts Dirie’s escape from Somalia via the catwalks of the world, to the world-stage at the United Nations in New York. Far more important than her rags to riches story, however, is Dirie’s role as a spokesperson and activist. A victim of female genital mutilation herself, she has made it her cause to give a voice to the voiceless. The film effectively addresses this important human rights issue in one of its strongest scenes when Dirie delivers a heartfelt speech to the members of the UN.
Addressing another important human rights issue in Africa is MY NEIGHBOR, MY KILLER by documentary filmmaker Anne Aghion. For the past 10 years, Aghion has been visiting Rwanda and documenting the peace and reconciliation process. In weekly mandatory court meetings called Gacaca, the entire village comes together on the village green and holds court to try and judge their perpetrators. Aghion draws attention to the victims’ trauma and numbness and the painful process of remembering the horrors they witnessed and endured.
Fifteen years after the atrocious genocide that left over 800,000 Rwandans dead and imprisoned more than 100,000 people, this documentary reminds its audience that it will take a long time for the wounds to heal. In the discussion following the screening, Aghion questioned whether reconciliation is actually possible, or whether all one can hope and strive for is a peaceful co-existence.
MY NEIGHBOR, MY KILLER was part of the politically charged competition sidebar CONFLICT AND RESOLUTION.
A completely different kind of trial was featured in Vikram Jayanti’s THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY OF PHIL SPECTOR. Produced for the BBC, this fascinating documentary cleverly combines a sit-down interview Spector granted the filmmaker prior to his retrial for murder of actress Lana Clarkson with footage from the actual trail, archival interviews with Spector and music clips of his recordings. In this context, Spector’s songs take on a whole new dimension – offering meaning and clues to his character. The result is a gripping portrayal of a complex personality. And rather than condemning him of murder, as one might assume after the opening scene of the film, Jayanti paints a nuanced picture of a creative mind, reveals some disturbing background information and even evokes empathy.
Those are only 5 out of the pool of 107 films – but there were just too many events, receptions, brunches, panel discussions and parties competing, and too little time to do it all. So, more next time…
Following below is the list of awarded films and filmmakers:
Golden Starfish Award for Best Narrative Feature:
“The Misfortunates,” directed by Felix van Groeningen
Special Jury Award for Outstanding Achievement by an Actor:
Paprika Steen, “Applause”
Golden Starfish Award for Best Documentary:
“Long Distance Love,” directed by Magnus Gertten and Elin Jonsson
Special Jury Award
“Musgabe and the White African” directed by Lucy Bailey & Andrew Thompson
Golden Starfish Award for Best Short:
“Dust Kid,” directed by Jung Yumi
Best Film of Conflict & Resolution:
“Rabbit a la Berlin,” directed by Bartek Konopka
Audience Award for Best Narrative Film:
“The Young Victoria,” directed by Jean-Marc Vallee
Audience Award for Best Documentary:
“Waking Sleeping Beauty,” directed by Don Hahn
Audience Award for Best Short:
“This is Her,” directed by Katie Wolfe
Zicherman Foundation Award for Best Screenplay:
Felix van Groeningen for “The Misfortunates”
Kodak Award for Best Cinematography:
Ruben Impens for “The Misfortunates”
Kanbar Indie Award:
Antonio Campos for “My Adventures in Ladies’ Undergarments”
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Prize:
“Agora,” directed by Alejandro Amenabar
Roc Skincare Gold Standard in Filmmaking Award for a feature female director:
Cheryl Hines for “Serious Moonlight”
Wouter Barendrecht Award for Pioneering Vision
“Big River Man”, John Maringouin
For more information on the festival, please visit www.hamptonsfilmfest.org