Women’s stories to spark conversation
One of the first things that shapes our self-mage is how we see ourselves on the big screen. It’s not just stories about women, but women telling the stories which is most important. At the 26th Annual Hamptons International Film Festival which runs October 4 to 8 this year, the percentage of female directors is 45 percent of the slate. Executive Director Anne Chaisson has made this part of her heartfelt mission. Compare this to the dismal 3.3 percent of women directing major Hollywood studio films, and you know you are in for a treat.
The good news at HIFF is not only the quantity but the quality of the content and the vast emotional swath of storytelling that audiences can enjoy. I have worked for the festival over the years and founded the HIFF Screenwriters Lab to help not just women directors but writers, and one of the lab’s alums Sara Colangelo returns in triumph with the opening night film, The Kindergarten Teacher, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal.
While there are major films in contention for Academy Awards with David Nugent as Artistic Director, who has an uncanny knack for picking films which win the major awards, there are also unsung heroes, or should I say heroines. You can experience the global experience of women from all walks of life and situations with dramatic, heartbreaking, and life affirming messages in their films both in front of and behind the camera. Lebanese director Nadine Labaki presents Capernaum, which won the Cannes Jury Prize. Her compelling story of a 12-year-old boy in the city slums of Beirut uses a cast of non-professional actors to reveal an unsettling truth equally fueled by righteous anger and deep empathy.
Two films portray the daring and courage of war correspondent Marie Colvin as she illegally crosses the border into Syria to uncover the story, the documentary, Under the Wire, and the feature film starring Rosamund Pike, A Private War. An off the radar film which is completely compelling is Ghost Fleet, directed by Shannon Service and Jeffrey Waldron. It portrays Thai human-rights activist Patima Tungpuchayakul who has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, and her team as they set off to rescue men who have been enslaved by the fishing industry. A mother, she puts herself on the line saying, “Fear is a kind of death. We shouldn’t die too many times.” It is a moving portrait.
Given the current news cycle, a not to miss Winnick Talk at Rowdy Hall will be on Friday, October 5, at 10 AM, “Our Bodies, Our Stories.” You have Ask For Jane from director/screenwriter Rachel Carey about an underground collective in Chicago helping women receive safe, illegal abortions in the 1970s. This Changes Everything presents a group of Hollywood’s biggest female names pushing back after the #MeToo movement. And Private Life from director/screenwriter Tamara Jenkins takes on the fertility challenge of modern-day women.
One of the Breakthrough Performers being honored is Amandla Stenberg who presents The Hate U Give. She has used her platform as an artist to crusade on conversations through social media about cultural appropriation, biracial identity, and gender and beauty standards. Then you have an award-winning documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy who presents the space program in Above and Beyond: Nasa’s Journey to Tomorrow, not only as a giant step for mankind but as a way to scientifically document climate change and our planetary future.
I can say, personally, that I have been having some of the most interesting, honest, and provocative conversations in my life as a woman given this point in our country’s history. I can say wholeheartedly that the films presented at this year’s HIFF will only add to the conversation in the most enlightening and enthralling way. And men, I am delighted and fascinated to hear your take on these amazing films as well.