Fleeing Europe on the eve of Hitler’s planned Bucharest invasion of 1940 never sounded like a tragic nightmare when Kenny Mann’s mother, Erica, told her the tale.
Instead, it was an adventure—a midnight escape, crossing the Danube River from Romania to Bulgaria in a fishing boat and, after a short stay in Israel, relocating to Africa with her husband, Igor.
Their daughter’s story begins in Athi River, Kenya—a childhood, family history and quest for identity that she weaves with the growth of the British colony into a republic in her film debut, “Beautiful Tree, Severed Roots.” The film will screen on the second day of the Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival on Saturday, December 7, at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, the village Ms. Mann has called home for almost three decades.
“I think the Colonial period in Africa hasn’t really been examined well enough from a white perspective, but that wasn’t my first impulse,” the filmmaker said last week during a telephone interview. “It started with my teenage questioning, realizing that we have three races in Kenya—African, Asian and European—and how separately we all lived. Our house was the only house I knew of, when I was growing up, where you would find guests of other nations and nationalities. I knew from a very early age that there was something about our family that just didn’t fit in. That we were different.”
That realization has always lingered in the back of her mind and, this weekend, it will grace the big screen for the first time. Ms. Mann’s film is one of 22 selected from nearly 100 submissions that will screen at the sixth annual festival, which gives documentaries—both premieres that have been turned down by larger festivals, as well as films that have been previously screened—a second chance. It kicks off on Friday, December 6, with Kevin Flint’s “Hot Water” at 4 p.m., followed by two docs by Neil Leifer— “Portraits of a Lady” and “The ConVENTion”—and concluding with “The Only Real Game” from director Mirra Bank.
On the surface, none of these documentaries have anything in common, according to founder Jacqui Lofaro. The first tackles environmental issues. The second covers a group portrait session with 25 artists painting portraits of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The third was shot at the Vent Haven ConVENTion in Kentucky, which drew 536 ventriloquists from 14 countries. And the last explores the power of baseball in the remote state of Manipur, India.
But below the plot lines, each and every film that will screen this weekend has a local tie, Ms. Lofaro said. And they thrive on the documentary format: unscripted, unplanned and full of spontaneity, she reported.
“As I always say, a good documentary is a good story,” Ms. Lofaro explained last week during a telephone interview. “And in the hands of someone with talent, you have a film that people will remember and talk about. Our festival really looks at artists, politics, human experiences in a way that will leave you with other dimensions of life.”
After Ms. Mann’s “Beautiful Tree, Severed Roots” screens on Saturday at 10 a.m., a slate of films and events will be held over the next 12 hours. Among them are the Young Voices Program, which will showcase six student films; “Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater” produced and narrated by 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater’s granddaughter, CC Goldwater; “All Me: The Life and Times of Winfred Rembert,” a documentary by Vivian Ducat on the life of the African-American artist who spent seven years in prison; and “Treasures from the Rubble” by Alexandra Branyon, a story about unconventional Alabamian artist Lois Wilson, whose work with found objects became the nucleus for the Fayette Art Museum, an icon of Southern pride.
Saturday concludes with the HT2FF Gala, a tribute to filmmaking team D A Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus of Sag Harbor, Ms. Lofaro said, followed by a screening of “The War Room,” a behind-the-scenes look into Bill Clinton’s campaign headquarters and the 1992 New Hampshire Democratic primary that earned the couple an Academy Award nomination in 1993.
“The whole point of the gala is to celebrate people in the world of documentary film who are real giants,” Ms. Lofaro said. “Who have been pioneers. Who have paved the way. Who see reality in a way that teaches the next generation of filmmakers, documentarians, how to move.”
The final day leads off at 10 a.m. with “Shut Up & Look” by director Maryte Kavaliauskas, an intimate look at the quirky and reclusive artist Richard Artschwager. “Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride” from Amy Nicholson will be shown at noon. This film tells the story of the power struggle between Zipper carnival ride operator Eddie Miranda and Manhattan planners.
At 2 p.m., the festival will screen its Best Shorts Program, followed by “Two: The Story of Roman & Nyro” at 4 p.m., which documents the journey of songwriter Desmond Child and his lifelong partner, Curtis Shaw, as their lives intertwined with the woman who would conceive their twin sons. At the age of 9, the twins narrate the film by director Heather Winters, a two-time Sundance-winning producer.
“It’s very unusual, but in a great way,” ” Ms. Lofaro said of the film. “In the very beginning, they’re christened by Bon Jovi.”
The closing documentary is “Larry Rivers Public & Private” by Bridgehampton resident Lana Jokel, who began her career working for documentarians Richard Leacock and Mr. Pennebaker. She will be honored with the Filmmaker’s Choice Award at 7 p.m. for her documentaries on famed artists, including Howard Kanovitz, Lee Krasner, Robert Motherwell, Isamu Noguchi, Claes Oldenburg and, of course, Mr. Rivers.
“She has a capacity, as a filmmaker, to ask the question no one wants to ask, and she does it with grace and style,” Ms. Lofaro said of Ms. Jokel. “This is what makes our festival so special. It’s really a chance to see talent and work you’re not going to see on television, that you’re not going to see in theatrical release, that deserves a second shot. You can see them at Take 2.”
The sixth annual Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival will open with screenings on Friday, December 6, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor. The festival continues on Saturday, December 7, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday, December 8, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. A Q&A hosted by Bonnie Grice and Andrew Botsford will follow every screening. A gala honoring Sag Harbor-based filmmaking team D A Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus will be held on Saturday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 per screening—or $13 for seniors—$30 for the gala and $100 for all screenings and events. For full schedule and more information, call 725-9500 or visit ht2ff.com.