Even before the pandemic, streaming was dramatically changing how and when we watch films. Since March, with the closure of theaters, not only has the film industry had to scramble repeatedly to reschedule or abandon theatrical releases, film festivals have had to reinvent themselves as well.
This year’s Hamptons Doc Fest, set to launch on Friday, Dec. 4, had planned an expanded program at multiple cinemas, but it will instead present a slate of 28 features and seven shorts virtually, over a 10-day period. Now in its 13th year, the festival will, as always, present a diverse lineup of documentaries covering politics, history, science, biography, social justice, the environment, and the arts.
It will open with Sam Pollard’s “MLK/FBI,” which illuminates the F.B.I.’s surveillance and harassment of Martin Luther King Jr. throughout the 1950s and 1960s as part of its attempt to discredit Dr. King and other Black activists. A conversation between Mr. Pollard and Clayton David, Variety’s film awards editor, will follow the film, which will become available at 7 on opening night.
This year, Frederick Wiseman will receive the Pennebaker Career Achievement Award, sponsored by Lana Jokel, for a singular body of work that spans more than five decades. His newest film, the four-and-a-half-hour “City Hall,” which illuminates the inner workings of the government of Boston, will be available from Dec. 5 through Dec. 8.
Before the screening, Jacqui Lofaro, the festival’s executive director, will present the award online to Mr. Wiseman. His acceptance speech and a short career overview by Josh Siegel, curator of the department of film at the Museum of Modern Art, will follow.
Other awards include the Art and Inspiration Award, sponsored by the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation, which will be presented to “United We Sing,” Dan Petracca’s film about a choral group from the University of Rochester that traveled to rural Kenya to sing and bond with a group of AIDS orphans.
Loira Limbal’s “Through the Night,” which focuses on two working mothers and a child care provider whose lives intersect at a 24-hour daycare center, will receive the Robin L. Long Human Rights Award for its focus on the contemporary reality of nonstop work.
The Andrew Sabin Family Foundation Environmental Award will go to “Fish and Men,” Darby Duffin and Adam Jones’s film that exposes the high cost of cheap fish in the modern seafood economy and the forces that threaten local fishing communities and public health.
All the award-winning filmmakers will participate in question-and-answer sessions as part of their programs, and video segments from directors will accompany most of the films.
Many of the other films in the festival address social or political issues, both historical and contemporary. Nancy Buirski’s “A Crime on the Bayou” focuses on the case of Gary Duncan, a Black teenager who, in 1966, challenged Leander Perez, a powerful white-supremacist district attorney in Louisiana, by fighting his conviction for a crime he did not commit all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“When Liberty Burns” also resonates with today’s Black Lives Matter movement. Directed by Dudley Alexis, the film examines the life and death of a Black insurance executive who died at the hands of Miami law enforcement officers in 1980.
Bared Maronian’s “Bloodless: The Path to Democracy” captures the story of the nonviolent revolution in Armenia that brought down an oligarchical regime in 2018, while “The Dissident,” directed by Bryan Fogel, focuses on the brutal death of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist critical of the policies of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel’s “The Road Up” follows four Chicago residents on the path from destitution to stable employment, while “Opeka," directed by Cam Cowan, tells the story of an Argentine soccer player turned missionary who works with poor families living in Madagascar’s largest landfill.
The unknown history of how a closeted officer, Col. Patsy Thompson, was forced to discharge an Army hero, Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, for being a lesbian, is the subject of Cindy L. Abel’s “Surviving the Silence.” Carolyn Jones’s “In Case of Emergency” follows nurses across the United States and reveals emergency rooms stretched to the breaking point by public health challenges.
For “Meat the Future,” Liz Marshall followed Uma Valeti, a co-founder of Memphis Meats, a leading startup in the field of food science. The company grows real meat from animal cells in a controlled environment, free from disease, infection, and the need to breed, raise, and slaughter animals.
A number of the films treat individuals and families in a variety of not always ideal circumstances. Radu Ciorniciuc’s “Acasa My Home,” a multiple award-winner, follows a family from an idyllic life in the Romanian wilderness to the urban jungle of Bucharest. In “Love and Stuff,” the director, Judith Helfand, becomes a new single mother at 50, only seven months after caring for her terminally ill mother during her in home hospice.
For “Overland,” Revere La Noue and Elisabeth Haviland James spent hundreds of hours filming falconers in the U.S., the Middle East, and Italy. “Some Kind of Heaven,” directed by Lance Oppenheim, focuses on a married couple, a widow, and an 82-year-old bachelor coping with life in a Florida retirement community.
In Maite Alberdi’s “The Mole Agent,” an 83-year-old hired by a private investigator to be a mole in a Chilean retirement home becomes increasingly involved in the lives of the residents. Autism is the subject of “The Reason I Jump,” Jerry Rothwell’s exploration of the experiences of non-speaking autistic people around the world.
Culture and the arts always figure prominently in the festival. “Barney’s Wall: Portrait of a Game Changer,” directed by Sandy Gotham Meehan and Williams Cole, focuses on Barney Rosset’s sculptural wall mural as a way into a study of the political and cultural impact of the crusading Grove Press publisher.
Jennifer Lin and Sharon Mullally’s “Beethoven in Beijing” ranges from the Philadelphia Orchestra’s 1973 visit to China to contemporary musicians in that country, while Hal Rifken’s ”Behind the Strings” tells the story of four classically trained musicians who fled from China to the West and performed for 36 years around the world, before being invited back to China to present the chamber music that had been banned during the Cultural Revolution.
The life and films of Stanley Kubrick are the subject of “Kubrick by Kubrick,” for which Gregory Monro, the director, drew upon tape-recorded interviews conducted with Kubrick over 20 years. “So Late So Soon” is a portrait by Daniel Hymanson of Jackie and Don Selden, a couple of aging Chicago artists struggling to maintain their eccentric life.
Sean Scully, an Irish-born contemporary American artist, is the subject of Nick Willing’s profile “Unstoppable: Sean Scully and the Art of Everything.” “Uprooted: The Journey of Jazz Dance” is Khadifa Wong’s documentary about the complex history of an art form that is rooted in slavery.
Alex Winter was given unlimited access to the family and archives of Frank Zappa, the iconoclastic singer-songwriter who died in 1993. “Zappa,” which was entirely crowd-funded through a Kickstarter campaign, includes appearances by the musician’s widow, Gail Zappa, and several of his musical collaborators.
Like the features, the shorts address a diversity of subjects, among them Syrian refugee women in Jordan, pioneering female crew members, the Apollo Lunar Module, a tea shop in Memphis, and aging optimistically.
Tickets to individual films are $12. With the exception of “City Hall,” all will be available for viewing through Dec. 13. Tickets and more information can be found at hamptonsdocfest.com.