If you listened to Sasha and Jeff on the third installment Oscar Poker, you might have heard about the Hamptons International Film Festival for the first time. I had the pleasure of attending for the past two years, this year wearing two hats (as I did with the Tribeca Film Festival) as box office manager and press. If you have never been to the Hamptons, you should know there is a fantasy like atmosphere that surrounds the festival and the area. For one thing, it was raining the day before the festival, and the day after, but perfection during the 5 days of screenings. “Only in the Hamptons,” patrons would say. People even noted that the leaves seemed to be changing right before our eyes. The number of deer and rabbits in the area seemed to increase those 5 days as well. Incredibly surreal, I have to say.
But let’s get to the movies. Last year I was surprised to find out the festival had been going on for 17 years, and was even more surprised by the films that were showing. Although I was mostly working the box office, I was able to see “Up in the Air,” which I believe had only screened twice at that point. I also saw “Ajami” shortly after it was announced as Israel’s submission for the Foreign Film Oscar. Last year also boasted some pretty great eye candy in terms of stars, but this year was something of a different entity. I mean, seriously, Madonna? Can’t get much bigger than that. Almost every major Oscar contender had a representative there, sometimes at more than one screening. Why? Well, at our first major staff meeting, it was spelled out flatly. There are a great deal of Academy members, many of them not actors we probably wouldn’t recognize that would be attending. The Hamptons may not have premiered these films for the first time, but in terms of Oscar, it is the voters who determine the winners after all and there were lots there.
On to the line up: “The King’s Speech,” “127 Hours,” “Black Swan,” “Made in Dagenham,” “Waiting For Superman,” “Client 9,” “Fair Game,” “Blue Valentine,” “When We Leave,” all there. I am not really sure how this compares to the likes of Telluride or Toronto, considering I have never been, but the line up was not only thrilling, but also an incredible challenge. Seriously I dare anyone to keep their wits about them after the 3 way “Blue Valentine,” “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Next,” Black Swan” trilogy. After seeing “Blue Valentine,” I had the option of going to the official closing night screening of “Black Swan” or running to see “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” (a ten minute walk away from the main venue, the local Regal Cinemas in a different theatre, Guild Hall) and coming back to see an added late night screening of “Black Swan.” Although “Hornet’s Nest” isn’t Oscar-y, I am a huge fan of the films and the books, and as a fan, I couldn’t resist. So I opted for all three.
Since it has been a week, and others have already said much, here is what I personally learned in the Hamptons.
Not everyone faints
I was really nervous walking into the “127 Hours” screening, and not because I was going to be a few feet away from James Franco, or because security was checking everyone’s bags making sure that we did not have our phones. BTW…have you been to a screening where guards watched the audience with night vision glasses in order to prevent piracy? It’s strange. Especially when they escort someone out because they pulled out an unchecked mobile phone. I was nervous because I had heard of all the faintings at previous festivals, and I was worried that if anyone was going down, it would be me. Before the film started Franco warned us that if we needed to cover our eyes not to be ashamed. And we would have plenty of warning. I really hate spoiling what happens, even though most of the AD readers probably know the outcome of “127 Hours,” but I will say this…by the time the big moment happens, at least at the screening I attended, there is a moment of euphoria on the character’s part and the audience. He breathes through it. We breathed through (almost collectively!). I found myself almost cheering him on with eyes surprisingly wide open. I rushed out of the screening right away because I needed to get to work, not allowing the film to really settle. After about a minute in the box office, I had a mini breakdown after what I saw. An incredible journey. And no one fainted.
After “Blue Valentine” screened at both Sundance and Cannes, I remember reading that most people couldn’t relate to Michelle Williams’s character. Why would she marry someone she wasn’t absolutely sure about? Why would she stay with him so long? It’s not like he was hiding who he was, and he is such a good father. Well, I hate to say it, but I have done exactly what she did…and without a child in the mix. And I STILL had a hard time getting out of the relationship. I have never felt there was a problem I couldn’t solve, and it took years to understand that people shouldn’t and probably couldn’t be “problem solved.”
I am also hearing a great deal about Natalie Portman being unlikeable in “Black Swan.” I did not feel that way at all. I completely understand the pressure of being the up and coming new thing (Portman), watching the folks just a bit older than me trying to figure out what their next step is (Winona) while an even younger version of me is clicking at my heels (Kunis). I have also been given a shot at a role I wasn’t quite right for. Trying to figure out exactly how to pull it off, discovering the character…becoming that character while everyone watches you fail. The educated actors know that failure is necessary in a rehearsal. But it is a difficult concept when you are a perfectionist. Although I was lucky enough not to have a stage Mom like the one Hershey plays, I saw plenty of people who did. I absolutely feel compassion for Portman’s Nina.
Harvey Weinstein on the run
I saw how hard Harvey Weinstein will work for his films firsthand. There was a day with a “King’s Speech” screening at Guild Hall (the location I mentioned was a 10 minute walk from the main venue) that was bookmarked between two “Blue Valentine” screenings at the main venue. After I walked out of the 1st “Blue Valentine” screening I was asked by a Brazilian TV journalist my opinion of the film and about the NC-17 rating. It was a good interview, and after it was over she said that Harvey had asked her to get as many comments as possible. I asked her where he was, and she said he had gone over to “The King’s Speech.” I decided to wait around in the main box office before my next screening at the other location for a bit since I had already seen “The King’s Speech.”
Now, before I tell you what happened next, I will express that it is not an easy thing to get to some of these screenings. I never would have made it from “Hornet’s Nest” to “Black Swan” if they hadn’t held the screening. I just didn’t have the energy to run. Well, apparently Harvey does. After attending “The King’s Speech” screening he ran back for the 2nd “Blue Valentine” screening. And lets just say, not all of him made it into the theater.
At the late night screening of “Black Swan,” people were quite punch-drunk. Most had either been attending screenings or working all day. There was a lot of nervous laughter, ooh’s and ah’s, as well as a few yelps. Walking out of the theater, everyone seemed to have been shaken a bit, but the reaction was mixed. I heard some people say they hated the film, others say they weren’t sure, and me a little bit confused about the film itself, but certain of Natalie Portman as a force to be reckoned with. Because of this uncertainty I decided to see the film again in the afternoon the next day. Totally different experience. The audience was much more receptive to the film, the laughter was minimal, and the applause was loud.
Marcia Gay Harden and I both like Colin Firth
One of the greatest joys of attending film festivals is how everyone (most of the time, that is…Madonna: not so much) is integrated together. After “The King’s Speech” was over, I rushed right out of the theater because I had to help my coworker sell tickets to the next screening. Before getting into the box office I had a chat with Marcia Gay Harden. We talked a bit about Firth’s performance being wonderful, and how much we both liked him in general (something that should help him go quite far in this year’s competition). As she walked off, she said: “see you at the after party!” I just smiled and went back into the box office.
Declarations are the easy way out
Last year I walked out of “Up in the Air” convinced it was going to win Best Picture. And I wasn’t afraid to tell anyone and everyone. Well, we know how that turned out. This year I have tried to keep from making declarations like that, but it isn’t easy, especially when I was so moved by both “127 Hours” and “Black Swan.” Take “Black Swan” specifically. Even after the second viewing my opinion of the film was (and is) still taking shape. I can say that the film haunted with and stayed with me kind of like “Mullholland Drive” did back in 2001. For some that will not be a good thing. For me it is a great thing. “Black Swan” is an example of when great filmmaking is also combined with my own personal taste. “Swan” is going to stay with me well past Oscar season 2011 not matter what happens. But while “Black Swan” may very well end up as my number one film of the year, I would be a fool to say it is a shoo in for the Academy’s top 10. I am too much of a fan to see objectively at this point. Especially in October. And as great as it would be to be the first to say a film or a performance was going to win or be nominated, or even say something is the best film since (fill in the blank), Awards Daily has taught me restraint. Even if it isn’t the easy way out.