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Hamptons Doc Fest Returns for Real

Mon, 11/29/2021 - 17:03
Cynde Strand filming in South Africa in a scene from “No Ordinary Life”

A year after it had to reinvent itself virtually, like film festivals across the globe, Hamptons Doc Fest will return with a vengeance this year, starting Friday with three days of films and awards presentations at the Sag Harbor Cinema. A full slate of programs, to be held at the Bay Street Theater, will follow from Monday through Friday, Dec. 10.

Now in its 14th year, the festival will present the 2021 Pennebaker Career Achievement Award on Saturday to Dawn Porter, who has directed and produced a series of critically acclaimed films since her 2013 directorial debut. 

Among the social and political issues she has explored are the Tulsa Massacre of 1921, the civil rights icon John Lewis, public defenders in the South, and the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama as seen through the lens of Pete Souza, the White House photographer.

After a 9 p.m. award ceremony that will include a conversation with Julie Anderson, a filmmaker and Hamptons Doc Fest board member, two of Ms. Porter's films will be shown: “Bree Wayy: Promise, Witness, Remembrance” (32 minutes), which looks at artists whose work paid tribute to Breonna Taylor, and a short excerpt from her new film, “Cirque du Soleil.” 

Ms. Porter’s award-winning 2016 film “Trapped,” which examines the effect of abortion laws on doctors, patients, and clinics in various states, will be screened later in the week.

Doc Fest will open with “Joyce Carol Oates: A Body in the Service of Mind,” a documentary on the famously private author by Stig Bjorkman, a Swedish writer, director, and longstanding friend of Ms. Oates, who granted him unprecedented access.

The festival’s Human Rights Award will be presented to Rex Miller and Sam Pollard for “Citizen Ashe,” which is about the life and career of Arthur Ashe, the first (and still the only) Black player to win the men’s singles titles at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and the Australian Open. 

“Bernstein’s Wall,” directed by Douglas Tirola and produced by Susan Bedusa, will receive the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation’s Art and Inspiration Award for its portrayal of the life and work of the composer and conductor.

Both the Hamptons Doc Fest and the Sag Harbor Cinema will recognize the life and work of the producer Diane Weyermann, who died in October, with the first-ever Producer Impact Award. After the presentation by Andrea Weyermann, her sister, “Citizenfour,” a documentary about Edward Snowden that Ms. Weyermann executive-produced, will be shown.

“After Antarctica,” Tasha Van Zandt’s film about Will Steger’s 4,000-mile 1989-90 trek across the continent and his solo journey 30 years later across the Arctic, will receive the Andrew Sabin Family Foundation Environmental Award. 

The festival will close with “Torn,” Max Lowe’s film about his family’s journey to Tibet’s Shishapangma, the mountain on which his father, Alex Lowe, died in 1999, with David Bridges, in an avalanche.

Films that engage with social and political issues dominate this year’s festival. “To Which We Belong,” directed by Pamela Tanner Boll and Lindsay Richardson, focuses on farmers and ranchers who abandon conventional traditions that are no longer sustainable in favor of practices beneficial to the planet.

Local farmers praise the sunshine, soil, and long growing season of the region in Dom Aprile’s “Farming Long Island,” while acknowledging the challenges many of them are facing today.

In “A Reckoning in Boston,” Jeff Rutenbeck, a white, suburban filmmaker, sets out to document low-income students of color in a Boston night school and winds up discovering his own complicity in racist structures.

Debbie Lum, who frequently explores subject matter in the Asian-American community, turned her attention in “Try Harder” to San Francisco’s Lowell High School, one of the best public schools in the country, and the pressure on students there to impress college admissions officers.

“GSW Gun Shot Wound,” directed by Jody Schiliro, illuminates the work that emergency room trauma surgeons are doing to help stop gunshot violence.

Brooks County, Texas, is the site of more migrant deaths than anywhere else in the country. In Lisa Molomot and Jeff Bemiss’s “Missing in Brooks County,” two families search for loved ones who have gone astray there.

“Into the Night: Portraits of Life & Death, Part 2,” directed by Helen Whitney, explores how rapidly advancing science in the field of aging might be changing how we think about death.

Richard Kane’s “Truth Tellers” chronicles the lives of courageous Americans through the eyes of Robert Shetterly, who painted 255 portraits of Americans who have had the courage to confront issues of social, environmental, and economic justice.

Five pioneering camerawomen who have gone to the frontiers of wars, disasters, and revolutions, including Tiananmen Square and the Arab Spring, are the subjects of Heather O’Neill’s “No Ordinary Life.”

“Tigre Gente,” directed by Elizabeth Unger, reveals the illicit jaguar trade in the Madidi National Park in Bolivia and the selling of jaguar teeth in China and Myanmar, both of which are threatening the survival of the species.

In 1983, ABC aired “The Day After,” a made-for-TV movie about a fictional nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. “Television Event,” by the filmmaker Jeff Daniels, covers the making and release of that film and the flood of media reaction that followed its broadcast.

Gudjon Ragnarsson’s “Raise the Bar” is the story of an 8-to-13-year-old girls basketball team in Iceland whose coach’s intense training program achieved remarkable results but stirred up controversy as well. 

The 2021 festival is more heavily weighted toward politics than the arts, but in addition to “Bernstein’s Wall,” there are other cultural entries. 

In “The Adventures of Saul Bellow,” the first-ever documentary about the Nobel Prize winner, Asaf Galay traces the author's rise to eminence and his identities as a reluctant public intellectual, a Chicagoan, a Jew, and an American.

Such luminaries as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Mel Brooks, Rob Reiner, and Colin Powell share their memories of Horn & Hardart in “The Automat,” Lisa Hurwitz’s look at the impact of the chain on 20th-century America.

Stig Bjorkman, the director of “Joyce Carol Oates: A Body in the Service of Mind,” is in front of the camera in “Movie Man,” a film by Stina Gardell, in which he watches films from his vast archive and telephones friends, among them the actors Isabella Rossellini and Alicia Vikander and the director John Sayles.

Kristina Lindstrom and Kristian Petri direct “The Most Beautiful Boy in the World,” a film about Bjorn Andresen and the effects of fame that followed his appearance in Luchino Visconti’s 1971 film “Death in Venice.” 

In addition to the abovementioned feature films, the festival includes two programs of short films, a Young Voices program aimed at middle and high school students, and, from Dec. 11 through Dec. 18, 11 films that will be available on demand from the event's website.

Most of the feature film presentations will be followed by conversations with the filmmakers. The host at the Sag Harbor Cinema will be Roger Sherman, a filmmaker and member of the Doc Fest advisory board.

Andrew Botsford, an arts writer, actor-director, and president of the Hampton Theatre Company, will perform the same role at the Bay Street Theater screenings.

Tickets are $15, $25 for opening night and tribute films; $50 for the Pennebaker Award program. A festival pass is $250. The Hamptons Doc Fest website is the source for tickets and more information.

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