Hamptons Doc Fest honors Sag Harbor’s acclaimed cinéma vérité pioneer

A Tribute To Penny




D. A. Pennebaker. Independent/David Corio

“Find a story that you believe in and find a passionate subject. You just have to get out there and go do it,” Chris Hegedus said, a word of advice to filmmakers of today. “It’s like James Carville said in ‘The War Room’ — ‘Golf is a game of luck, the more I play, the luckier I get.’”

Hegedus, of course, is referring to the documentary she and her late husband, D.A. Pennebaker, directed in 1993 — a film that captures the true spirit of the couple behind Pennebaker Hegedus Films.

“Pennebaker and I filmed as a two-person crew. We followed passionate people who were taking a risk to fulfill a life dream,” Hegedus said. “But when the filming gets tough, and your subjects no longer want you hanging around, it’s great to have a partner to commiserate and strategize with. I think that this film embodies the risk that we and other documentary filmmakers take when filming a real-life story.”

Pennebaker, known by just about everyone local as Penny, lived his life through cinematography, and he and his wife created films that are still talked about today. The International Movie Database lists 63 director credits.

This year, the 12th annual Hamptons Doc Fest, which runs from Thursday, December 5, through Monday, December 9, will honor Pennebaker, who passed away at his home in Sag Harbor this past August, at the Saturday Night gala on December 7 at Bay Street Theater. An 8 PM tribute will present Hegedus with the inaugural Pennebaker Career Achievement Award from Bridgehampton filmmaker and Penny protege Lana Jokel, followed by a screening of his first short film “Daybreak Express,” which debuted in 1953.

It’s a bittersweet moment for Hegedus.

Robert Kenner. Independent/Melissa Robledo

“Penny was my biggest cheerleader,” she said. “He’d tell people all the time that there was nothing he loved more than making films with me. Since his death, countless filmmakers have told me how Penny took the time to talk to them about their films, how meaningful it was for them and how he inspired them. He was truly selfless — he loved making films and telling stories. When he got the [Academy Honorary Award in 2012] he told the Hollywood audience, ‘Thanks. I didn’t think that you even knew who I was!’ He was surprised and grateful,” Hegedus recalled.

The Pennebaker Career Achievement Award will also be presented to documentarian Robert Kenner, who will be interviewed by East Hampton filmmaker Don Lenzer.

“I’m honored to get the award,” Kenner said. “Penny represented the best of cinema vérité today. I grew up in that world and he was always considered the Godfather of it.”

After the bestowing there will be a 9 PM screening of Kenner’s Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning film “Food, Inc.,” about American food industrialization. It reached a wider audience than Kenner expected.

“It appealed to a very conservative audience and that was a very big surprise — it was a surprise to industrial agriculture,” he said. “They always thought they were feeding the world and they were very proud. And all of a sudden this film comes along and questions everything about what they are doing.”

The Hamptons Doc Fest will highlight over 30 films. Some will also be played at Bay Street; others at the Southampton Arts Center.

“It’s always a mountain to climb — which films make it and which don’t,” festival founder and Executive Director Jacqui Lofaro said. “We believe our festival picks are among the best and most compelling stories — many unique and untold, but each the spark for new thinking.”

Spotlight films will be shown at Bay Street Theater at 8 PM. The opening night film is “Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack,” shown Thursday, December 5. It received the Hamptons Doc Fest’s Art & Inspiration Award, and will be followed by a Q&A with the artist herself, an East Hampton resident. Friday night’s spotlight, “Citizen K,” directed by Alex Gibney, is co-presented with the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center, and Sunday’s is “Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn,” directed by Ivy Meeropol.

Monday night’s closing film, “3 Days, 2 Nights,” directed and produced by East Hampton’s Jon Breen, will be followed by a Q&A with Breen.

For a full film lineup with descriptions visit www.hamptonsdocfest.com.

nicole@indyeastend.com