Columbus Day weekend in the Hamptons is synonymous with the Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF), which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. We recently caught up with Anne Chaisson, who has served as HIFF’s Executive Director since 2012, about the milestone anniversary, the Festival’s past and future, and more.
What goes into curating each Festival?
AC: So much! The Festival is not only films. We have an artistic director who takes care of that portion of things, which is the crust of the programming. We have a large screening committee and a programming team that is on staff that goes through thousands of submission to get to the Film Festival that you see in our catalogue, which is around 150 in total. In terms of everything else, there are partnerships we have – Variety‘s 10 Actors to Watch. We do awards – we announced our Lifetime Achievement recipient, Julie Andrews, very early in the year and the year before that it was Edward Norton and the year before that it was Emily Blunt. We’re about to give an inaugural Dick Cavett Artistic Champion Award that we’re actually going to give to Dick Cavett on opening night. It was Alec’s idea. We love it. He is certainly a champion of artists and we want to be able to honor what he’s done for artists, especially since he’s local.
How has the Festival evolved over the years?
AC: We started as a film festival showing 40 or 50 films, mostly in East Hampton. I think we did some “Conversations With” at Bay Street the first year. Now, we span across the East End, with 13 screens and utilize the Southampton Arts Center, the East Hampton Middle School, Guild Hall. We used to use Montauk, but sadly the movie theater turned into a SoulCycle. And we use the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center as well. We’ve certainly moved about the East End. It’s a little known fact that we are the only event that happens on the East End on the same exact weekend in almost every village. We also play in every village at the same time. It seems like many things are specific to the villages, Sag Harbor Music Festival for example. We want to be that event, organization that spans across all the villages.
Is there any films you’re particularly excited for audiences to see?
AC: There are so many exciting films to see, anywhere from our opening night, world premiere of the Itzhak Perlman documentary to some of the films that are put forth by their country for the foreign Oscar contender. There’s a bunch of those: Under the Tree, The Square, and many more.
What are some of your most memorable moments from past Festivals?
AC: I’ve been coming to the Festival since 1999. From my standpoint, there have been many. The Festival has its uniqueness because of its topography because there’s farmland and ocean and pumpkin patches and vineyards. Certainly the first time I came out here I was in shock at the beauty of the area, plus getting to be with all of my colleagues in the fall, wrapped in sweaters and going to all of these gorgeous events and being able to celebrate. It’s certainly a place where not only does the community come together, but the industry has a chance to get away and come together in a very particular way. So, that was my first impression and most memorable. Others are amazing talks and events that we’ve had from Stevie Nicks and James Franco doing “A Conversation With”, we gave a Lifetime Achievement Award to Joel Schumacher that was a particularly lovely event with a great conversation and we surprised him with Kiefer Sutherland coming to give him the award. Seeing films – the times where you see a movie that completely blows you away. Seeing Melancholia – Lars von Trier’s film with Kirsten Dunst – it was one of those moments where I walked out and I was so blown away I had to literally go sit down in a café and think for a little while.
We have such unique venues as well, so your experience, watching movies or seeing films, in a particular kind of venue also leads to a specific memory and I feel like we provide those kinds of things in spades, which is why we’ve become a top 50 film festival in the world.
Is there anything new this year?
AC: We have a 25th anniversary book. That will be available at bookstores and merchandise areas during the Festival. We’re so excited about it. It covers the entire history of the Hamptons International Film Festival – from how it started, we cover every year, we cover every program we’ve ever done, anyone who’s ever helped us. So, it’s sort of like a history of the Hamptons. To be perfectly honest, I feel like we, like many non-profits out here, started in that ’92/’93 area. It was clearly a boom time for the Hamptons and all of these institutions survived today with the Hamptons being such a cultural arts mecca. It’s really a nice look back at the people and the community and the area and sort of how the Hamptons expanded and how we expanded with it.
You’re celebrating Jordan Peele’s Get Out. What was it about the film that stood out?
AC: First of all, it was sort of surprising an independent film of that size did so well with audiences, and it’s obvious, we feel, because there is such discourse within the nation and to have a movie that makes a very specific statement about what is race today. It just struck a chord with people. For a film that has sparked such controversy and discussion, when Universal reached out about doing a panel to have all of these people involved with it to come and break down the themes, we jumped at the chance because we want to be a part of the conversation.
Where do you see the Festival in 25 years?
AC: Definitely still here and definitely still in the communities we’re in. I would say we’d like to broaden further so more people mid-Island could get to some of the things we do, but I think we like the size we are and if anything, we would add more screens if there was a possibility, which we all know there is with the Sag Harbor Cinema.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
AC: It is important for people to know they are able to ride the Hampton Jitney between Manorville and Montauk, with seating availability, that a pass or ticket to a movie allows you to ride the Jitney. We want to encourage people not to drive and take the Jitney. You can go see movies in Sag Harbor, East Hampton, and Southampton, and not have to worry about parking. We also have a shuttle loop that we’ve been doing for 15 years that goes around East Hampton and also goes from East Hampton (long term parking) to Sag Harbor back to long term parking. Even if you’re in Southampton, you can park your car in Sag Harbor and take the Hampton Film Festival Jitney loop that gets you to East Hampton and back to Sag Harbor. More information is available at hamptonsfilmfest.org. It’s a holiday weekend and it gets really, really crowded as we all know.
The 25th annual Hamptons International Film Festival will be held Thursday, October 5 through Monday, October 9. Founders Passes and tickets are currently available for purchase.
For more information, visit hamptonsfilmfest.org.