David Nugent watches a lot of films. He reads a lot about films. And, sometimes, he just gets lucky.
Last year was a good year for the Hamptons International Film Festival’s artistic director. The films he selected for the annual program racked up 32 Oscar nods, including the winners for Foreign Language Film, Documentary Feature and Best Picture.
And it wasn’t’ the first time his selections did so well.
“There’s no other festival on the East Coast that has screened the eventual Best Picture winner more than twice in the last five years,” Mr. Nugent said last week during a telephone interview. “And we’ve done it four of the last five.”
In 2008, it was “Slumdog Millionaire.” In 2010, “The Artist.” Then, “The King’s Speech” won in 2011 and, most recently, “Argo” took the title last year. East End audiences saw them all before they hit the mainstream movie scene and, on Thursday, a new lineup will lead off the upcoming awards season once again.
This Columbus Day weekend, directors, producers and stars—among those expected include: Renée Zellweger, Helena Bonham Carter, Dane DeHaan, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Anna Paquin, David Duchovny, Ralph Macchio, Kevin Connolly, Spike Jonze and Joe Wright—will flock to a slew of red carpet events across the East End. While here, they will have the option to select from the 130 films being screened, narrowed down from 2,000 submissions from all over the world. The movies will be show at six theaters—from Southampton to Montauk—during the 21st annual festival now headed up by executive director Anne Chaisson—Karen Arikian’s successor.
“I think Karen was ready to move on and I’m up for the challenge,” Ms. Chaisson, who had worked with the festival for 10 years and served as the advisory co-chair before she took over the executive director role, said last week during a telephone interview. “I go to film festivals around the world myself. You know you’re always going to see great films, but if there’s something you’re interested in learning about, look through the catalogue at some of the panels and talks, and go outside your comfort zone. You’re always going to be surprised by something you didn’t know and you can get a really well-rounded look at what’s going on in the industry.”
The biggest films to screen at this year’s festival will include “Kill Your Darlings” and “About Time,” which are the opening night films, plus Centerpiece films “August: Osage County” and “Nebraska,” and the closing night film, “12 Years A Slave.”
Other buzzed about events include the “A Conversation With …” talks, to be held at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor this year. The two talks will feature Ms. Bonham Carter, who is starring in “Burton and Taylor”—one of the Focus on UK Film: Spotlights—on Saturday, October 12, and Mr. Dern, whose performance in “Nebraska” has already earned him the Best Actor prize at the Cannes International Film Festival, on Sunday, October 13.
Movie lovers will have the opportunity for one-on-one time with filmmakers during several events. The free “Rowdy Talks” series will kick off with a discussion by documentary director Barbara Kopple on Friday, October 11, over breakfast at Rowdy Hall in East Hampton. On Saturday, October 12, the “Rowdy Talks” continue with three of HIFF’s Golden Starfish Competition contenders—Christine Malloy, Dan Shadur and Gudmundur A. Gudmundsson. On Sunday, the series will conclude when five filmmakers will meet to discuss the past, present and future of independent cinema in New York. Though free, tickets will need to be printed out and presented for admission for the “Rowdy Talks” events.
Many of this year’s films will be followed by discussions, including the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize-winner, “Decoding Annie Parker.” The film follows the story of Ms. Parker, portrayed by Samantha Morton, her battle with breast cancer, and the geneticist, acted by Helen Hunt, who tries to find the missing link between DNA and cancer.
“What’s amazing is that Annie Parker will be coming to the festival,” Ms. Chaisson said. “She’s quite the maverick.”
The Films of Conflict and Revolution program will also make its mark on the festival, as it has for the past 14 years, by dealing with the complex issues and effects of war and violence. The winning film, “Plot for Peace,” traces the behind-the-scenes diplomatic maneuverings to release Nelson Mandela from jail in South Africa in the 1980s, and honorable mention “The Square” follows the Egyptian Revolution beginning in 2011.
“I don’t think I have ever seen a film that has been able to depict an actual revolution in process, in real time,” Ms. Chaisson said of “The Square.” “That film does that. I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets a huge nomination.”
Variety’s 10 Actors to Watch panel returns for its second year on Saturday, October 12, at the First Presbyterian Church of East Hampton with a fresh slate of talent, including Léa Seydoux, appearing in “Blue is the Warmest Color;” Lupita Nyong’o, starring in the festival’s closing night film, “12 Years a Slave;” and Jack Huston and Dane DeHaan of “Kill Your Darlings.”
“Kill Your Darlings,” the debut film from director John Krokidas—also starring Daniel Radcliffe, Michael C. Hall and Ben Foster—tracks the meeting of Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs during Ginsberg’s early days at Columbia University.
“We thought it was a really interesting take on the Beat generation with a great, young cast by a real up-and-coming American director,” Mr. Nugent said. “And we thought it had a real freshness to it.”
Southampton will open on Saturday night with “About Time,” a romantic comedy starring Domhall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams and Bill Nighy from Working Title Films—the English production studio behind “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” “Notting Hill,” “Atonement” and “Les Misérables,” to name a few—which will be honored on Saturday, October 12, at Guild Hall in East Hampton.
“It’s hard to do really good romantic comedies. And that’s what this is,” Mr. Nugent said. “It’s a really strong romantic comedy with a little sci-fi element because there’s time travel. I was just really charmed by it.”
A star-studded ensemble led by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts light up Centerpiece film “August: Osage County.”
“The Saturday slot, I’m pretty sure this is where we had ‘Argo’ in the festival last year,” Mr. Nugent recalled. “It’s a big night and it seems like a great spot for it.”
Other noteworthy films include director Spike Jonze’s “Her;” “The Invisible Woman” from British director and actor Ralph Fiennes; “Running From Crazy” by Ms. Kopple; and “Tim’s Vermeer,” directed by Teller, which follows Texas-based inventor Tim Jenison as he attempts to solve how 17th-century artist Johannes Vermeer managed to paint so realistically 150 years before the invention of photography. Mr. Jenison will be attending the screening, Mr. Nugent said.
Rounding out the festival is a film grabbing headlines around the country, practically buzzing already with Oscar hype: “12 Years a Slave,” from director Steve McQueen. Based on a true story, the film tells the tale of a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery in 19th century America, one of the “most shameful, brutal and ugly” periods of American history, Mr. Nugent said. Last month, the feature snared the Audience Award at the Toronto Film Festival—the largest in North America, he reported.
“This film is just so well done and so important,” Mr. Nugent said. “Steve McQueen is just an incredibly talented filmmaker who is not afraid to tackle intense subject matter, is not afraid of a long take—which is to say a shot that lasts a long time, as opposed to MTV-style editing with a lot of quick cuts. He’ll hold onto something for a long time, even if it’s intense. He tackles it head-on.”
Six months from now, Mr. Nugent will be anxiously watching the Academy Awards with the rest of America. This year’s HIFF lineup is strong, he said, with films among the best of the year. But he’s still hesitant to name a winner this early on.
“There’s a new Martin Scorsese film that’s about to come out with Leonardo DiCaprio,” he said. “I haven’t seen them all. I’ve seen a lot of them, but I haven’t seen them all. I’m guessing, with limited information, as it were.”
Without divulging a specific title to be mentioned in print, Mr. Nugent did make a guess at the Academy Award winner for Best Picture for 2014. And, no surprise, it will be screening this year at HIFF.
The 21st annual Hamptons International Film Festival will kick off on Thursday, October 10, and run through Monday, October 14, with screenings, panel discussions and red carpet walks at theaters from Southampton to Montauk. For a complete schedule of events or to purchase tickets, visit hamptonsfilmfest.org.