“This is the perfect place to be at this time of year,” says Hamptons International Film Festival Artistic Director David Nugent. “It’s still warm and sunny, but the leaves are turning.” Indeed, the pleasures of the East End don’t wane with the summer. In fact, as Nugent, who is originally from Maine and splits his time between Amagansett and Manhattan, is quick to point out, it’s the fall and winter that offer the nearly quarter-century-old festival its most thrilling seasons. Celebrating his 10th year overseeing the event’s programming, Nugent, a film historian who has taught film studies at Harvard and New York’s New School, looks to the months between the Labor and Memorial Day weekends to explore ever-richer artistic terrain. Curated public events, screenings of classic films and documentaries, and an educational focus, already seen in the intensive Screenwriters Lab, are just a few of the off-peak pleasures that await what Nugent calls “our passionate fan base of movie lovers.”
Those movie lovers, ranging from local farmers to Howard Stern and Madonna, offer as diverse a mix as the films themselves, helping to create the character of a festival known for its daring—and, increasingly, for its impact on awards season. As Nugent says, “People have ideas about what the Hamptons are, but to think that the Hamptons are any single thing—hedge-funders, fishermen, families at play—is not at all true.” Perhaps a refusal to be pegged explains how it is that in the past six years alone, each of the six films to go on to receive the Academy Award for best picture had its East Coast premiere in the Hamptons.
Breakout moments in festival history include the East Coast debuts of the 2008 sleeper hit Slumdog Millionaire, Carol, Bridge of Spies and last year’s best picture Oscar winner, Spotlight. This year, Nugent has his eye on the moody Manchester by the Sea, directed by Kenneth Lonergan and starring Michelle Williams, Casey Affleck and Kyle Chandler. Buzzworthy vibe notwithstanding, HIFF preserves its soul, even while wrapped in brightly lit red carpet. “This is an intimate festival,” says Nugent. “We don’t have big auditoriums or hotels to house crowds. But in that small theater with you are the greatest actors, writers and directors.” And, of course, the greatest movies. Oct. 6-10