What better way to escape the cold than spending all day nestled inside a cozy Hamptons theater engrossed in highly entertaining documentaries?
From Thursday, November 30 through Monday, December 4 you can do exactly that during the 10th annual Hamptons Take 2 Film Festival (HT2FF) at Bay Street.
We recently caught up with Festival Founder and Executive Director Jacqui Lofaro about the 10th anniversary, new additions, and more.
What goes into curating each festival? Do you have a selection committee?
JL: We do. We have a large screening committee and then the final programming is put together by myself and Karen Arikian.
What do you look for when reviewing submissions?
JL: One of the advantages we have is that we have fewer requirements than most of the tier a festivals, who often if you’ve screened there before, they don’t want your film. That’s why we’re Take 2. The criteria is that it has to be a really well made doc, we look at production values, and a solid story. We don’t take international films at this point – only because you need a much larger infrastructure than we have. But really, that’s it – if it’s good doc, a feature or short – we’re open to it. And then of course we invite certain films, so we have that combination of invited films and submitted films.
When starting the festival, why did you decide to stick with documentaries?
JL: Because I’m a documentary filmmaker. I make docs so and one of my documentaries I couldn’t get into a festival. Bonnie Grice was interviewing me and she said, “Well, are we going to see your film in HIFF?” And I said, “It didn’t make the cut.” She said, “Jackie, that’s terrible. You should start your own festival.” And I said, “I think I will.” And that was ten years ago.
And it’s been quite successful since.
JL: Yes, I mean ten years… it’s hard to imagine. They’ve zipped by.
What does it mean to you to be celebrating the Festival’s 10th anniversary?
JL: It’s joyous. I couldn’t be happier and we have cultivated a very strong, passionate documentary audience. There are people that say to us, “Can’t wait for your festival to start” and “I love docs.” That’s very reassuring to me. Sometimes I meet people a year later at some event or party and they’ll say, “You know, that documentary that I saw at your festival…” and they then begin to tell me the whole plot of the documentary, so I know that this is really impacting people.
Tell me a little bit about this year’s group of filmmakers?
JL: Well, it’s very diverse. We have some awards that we’ve never had before. We have the Sloane Shelton Human Rights Award. That’s going to The Lavender Scare which is a wonderful film on that period in history – in the 50s when the US government booted out employees who were homosexuals. And Josh Howard, the filmmaker, will be here. We have almost 98 percent of the filmmakers coming to do Q&As. Then we have the Hector Leonardi Art & Inspiration Award and that’s going to Richard Kane’s film, I Know a Man…Ashley Bryan. An extraordinary 94-year-old artist that lives up in Maine and he is the love of the community and beyond. He’s written nearly 40 children’s books, he does puppetry, stained glass, painting – he’s just a joy and I met him this summer. I took the mail boat to Cranberry Island, Maine to meet him and there he was in the pasture painting wildflowers. We have for the first time the Break Out Director Award, which will go to a director that has done a first or second film. It’s going to Catherine Bainbridge for Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World” a fascinating documentary about Native American music being one of the strongest influences in all types of music. She’ll be there. And the Filmmaker’s Choice Award is going to Helen Whitney and Helen Whitney is a long-term documentarian. She has a huge filmography and this is her newest film called Into the Night: Portraits of Life and Death. It is about our finitude, but it’s not a depressing film. It’s a very upbeat film. She tackles a difficult subject in the most creative ways. It’s a film everybody should see.
We’re screening Spielberg, Susan Lacy’s film. That’s the Friday night Spotlight. The opening film is The Opera House, Susan Froemke’s film about the Metropolitan Opera. That is our graphic on the website and cover of the program and posters. That’s Leontyne Price from 1966 when she opened the Metropolitan Opera House – the new one at Lincoln Center – she played Cleopatra.
We have a shorts program, which is really nice. We try to do one every year because there are fans just for the shorts.
For me, people say, “What’s your favorite film?” but it’s too difficult to choose one. Letters from Baghdad: The Story of Gertrude Bell and Iraq is a winner and that’s our Sunday night Spotlight. The filmmakers will be there and Janet Wallach, who wrote one of the definitive books on Gertrude Bell, is coming out and will be doing the Q&A with the filmmakers.
By having so many of the filmmakers attend, what do you think that adds to the Festival?
JL: It makes it so much richer. Audiences tell us, “We love the films but we love the Q&As.” Because the filmmakers are sharing stories of how they made the films, not only why, but some of the more intimate details of their subject. So it’s another layer that’s a fascinating one. We work very hard to bring the filmmakers here.
How has the Festival evolved?
JL: Well, it evolved from four films in 2008 for a day, not even a full day. We didn’t charge admission, we had a little basket and you made a donation on the way out. We repeated those four films, we took it to the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center and we did it there, which is the most beautiful facility. Then we just grew, we really became much more formalized. We had a full submission process. This year we have 25 films and we added a day. That fifth day is a free Community Day sponsored by Douglas Elliman – so that’s really wonderful. The Closing Night Film is the Killer Bees and the first film of the Community Day is Dr. Blake Kerr’s film, Eye of the Lammergeier, – it’s the world premiere and he is so excited for it. He’s been going to Tibet over the years with hidden cameras and this film is much about the Chinese military occupation of Tibet and its impact on people. It’s just amazing footage.
What inspired the Community Day?
JL: We were in conversation with Douglas Elliman and we talked about this fifth day and Carl Benincasa, Douglas Elliman’s Regional Vice President of Sales, said, “This is something we would like to support. Can we underwrite it?” Of course I said, “Yes!” So it’s a full day of films with all the popcorn you can eat and they are underwriting it.
And you’ll be closing out the festival with films from several local filmmakers.
JL: That’s right. We have Dr. Blake Kerr, who’s local, we’re repeating two of the award films, the Art & Inspiration and Human Rights, and then we’re closing with Killer Bees.
Besides the Community Day, is there anything else that is new?
JL: The awards. The Gala is honoring Liz Garbus. Liz is, again, a very seasoned filmmaker. We screened her film, What Happened, Miss Simone?, a couple of years ago. She was nominated for an Academy Award for the film. Liz is going to be with us and she’s receiving the Lumiere Career Achievement Award on Saturday night. We’re screening Shouting Fire – it’s a film a lot of people haven’t seen, but it’s stories from the edge of free speech. Her father, Martin Garbus, who is a very well-known First Amendment attorney, he is in the film and he will be with us during the Q&A. Susan Margolin, one of our advisory board members, will be doing the Q&A with him.
What stands out about Liz’s work?
JL: I think what stands out is she’s very into social justice issues. All of her films, when you go way back, she did Girlhood, her first film was Angola, where she actually had access to that prison, so social justice issues are really the backbone of Liz’s work. Even in Miss Simone, when Nina Simone’s political beliefs were challenged, Liz included that as spine in her film.
Is there anything you would like to add?
JL: Come and have a festival experience. I tell people not to come for just one film because they can do that at home. Come for the day or half the day and have lunch or go to dinner. Sag Harbor is perfect for that because it’s walkable.
Tickets range from free to $150.
Bay Street Theater is located at 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. For more information visit, www.ht2ff.com.