True to its name, and not unlike many other “international” film festivals, the 26th annual Hamptons International Film Festival, which ran October 4-8, showcased groundbreaking films from around the world, including such distant locales as Korea, Poland, Iceland, Japan and Somalia. And like other film festivals, HIFF presented a series of thoughtfully curated “Signature Programs,” which this year included “Films of Conflict & Resolution,” “Compassion, Justice & Animal Rights,” “Air, Land & Sea” and “Breakthrough Artists.” All introduced audiences to premieres (or near premieres) of breathtaking films both large (Academy Award-winning director Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong bio pic, “First Man”) and small (Sara Litzenberger’s family-friendly, three-minute short, “Undiscovered”).
Unique to HIFF, however, is the “Views From Long Island” program, which focuses on local filmmakers, the unique landscapes of the East End of Long Island and the pressing political and social issues facing its residents. Spread throughout eastern Suffolk County, the venues of the Hamptons International Film Festival are located in Southampton, East Hampton, West Hampton and Sag Harbor — all historic fishing villages turned upscale vacation spots. But the county is home to more than a million people, many of whom make their living from the now threatened natural resources that have supported locals for generations — fishing and farming. This year, the “Views From Long Island” program presented one short and one feature that poignantly explored themes of loneliness and connection, class divide and tradition, set against the backdrop of the East End.
Emily Anderson’s short film “Only the Wind Is Listening” is set during the harsh, windswept months of the winter “off season” and explores the lives of just two residents of the eastern most village on Long Island, Montauk: a blocked writer, hunkered down with her laptop and an ample supply of wine (played by veteran actress and local resident Jennifer Ferrin), and a professional fisherman, plying his craft while mourning the loss of his wife and child (played by real Montauk fisherman Thomas Marmorowski, acting for the first time). But the film employs a third character — the wintery environs of Montauk: the fierce, and constant, wind; the white-capped ocean; the foreboding skies. As its title suggests, there is little communication among the locals who stay behind when the summer crowds have departed. But when the lives of the writer and the fisherman intersect — not with a cinematic “meet cute,” but with a small act of caring — the film offers a glimpse of hopefulness.
Set an hour inland (or “up island,” as the locals say) from Montauk, Michael Dweck’s “The Last Race” tells the larger story of the suburbanization of once rural Long Island through the intimate lens of the island’s last remaining racetrack, Riverhead Raceway. Opened in 1949 among fields and forests, the raceway has seen the value of the land on which it sits grow to some $10 million, as it has become surrounded by shopping malls, restaurants and office parks. Dweck grew up going to races at the Riverhead Raceway and originally set out to photograph every aspect of the track before its impending demise. Instead, he has created a film that finds beauty among rusted car parts and heroes among local fans and drivers.
For the track’s current, elderly owners, Barbara and Jim Cromarty, Riverhead Raceway is their lifeline, the labor of love that sets them apart from the moldering retirement of their peers in south Florida. For the local real estate developers and construction workers, it’s a financial opportunity waiting to happen. For the (mainly) men who race on the weekends, it’s an escape from their quotidian, blue collar lives as clammers, diner owners and auto mechanics. For filmmaker Michael Dweck — an award-winning photographer and contemporary visual artist for whom this is a first feature-length film — Riverhead Raceway represents class divide, the loss of the innocence of youth and the approaching end of a great Long Island tradition.
No release information is available for “Only the Wind Is Listening.”
Magnolia Pictures plans a November 16 theatrical and online release of “The Last Race.”
Top Image: Still from Michael Dweck’s “The Last Race.”