Doc Fest in Focus: Activists & Farmers

Pictured Above: Pigs at 8 Hands Farm in Cutchogue in Dom Aprile’s “Farming Long Island”

Growing up in Smithtown, filmmaker Dom Aprile was always fascinated by how the suburban sprawl of Long Island gave way to acres of farmland as you ventured further east, wondering how the farmers here worked the land and how they managed to stay afloat in such a pricy portion of the world.

William Lee of Sang Lee farms in “Farming Long Island”

In 2019, he began working on a new documentary, “Farming Long Island,” which will be screened on Tuesday, Dec. 7 at noon as part of the Hamptons Doc Fest at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor.

“I wanted to learn more about the local operations of farmers, and see what they were doing as far as regenerative agriculture and sustainability,” he said. “All the farmers I spoke to were very sustainability-focused and were truly stewards of the land, consciously putting back into the land through composting, grazing and crop rotations.”

In the film, he talks with farmers growing a wide variety of crops and livestock, from 8 Hands Farm in Cutchogue to the North Fork Brewing Company’s hops operation and Sang Lee Farms in Peconic. He also spoke with farmers still working the land up west, at Red Fox Organic Farm on the campus of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood.

“I was most pleasantly surprised with how intentional the farmers are about the work they do, how they have respect for their land and their communities” he said. “Most shared the same difficulty — price per acre. You have to make a lot of money to be able to stay farming on Long Island, or work through the [Peconic] Land Trust, where part of the cost is subsidized and they’re able to afford it that way.”

Mr. Aprile, who was never a fan of tomatoes, said he had a big change of heart after farmer Jim Adams, of Red Fox Organic Farm, asked him to pluck a cherry tomato right off the plant and eat it.

“My mind was blown, right off the bat,” he said. “It tasted so fresh and so sweet.”

While this is his first feature-length documentary, which he produced, directed and edited on his own in between other projects on his work schedule, it won’t be his last.

He’s hoping his next film will focus on Long Island’s marine environment, and the work aquaculturists are doing to regenerate marine ecosystems.

“As a filmmaker creating documentaries, I hope to leave an impression on an audience and inspire them to take action to support their local farmers, and buy produce or local meats at their local farm stands,” he said. 

This film is not the only entry into this year’s Hamptons Doc Fest that focuses on farming on Long Island. Also on offer is “The Soul of a Farmer,” a short by director Roger Sherman that shadows Center Moriches farmer Patty Gentry as she works a three-acre plot on land owned by the actress Isabella Rossellini, who calls Patty, a former chef, “the Picasso of vegetables.”

That screening will be a part of the 6 p.m. shorts program on Thursday, Dec. 9 at Bay Street Theatre.

Andrew Botsford will lead a Q&A with both directors after the films.

These films are just a small sampling of what’s playing at the Hamptons Doc Fest, which is now in its 14th year and will be held over the course of eight days — from Friday, Dec. 3 through Sunday, Dec. 5 at the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center, and from Monday, Dec. 6 through Friday, Dec. 10 at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor. Eleven films will also be shown virtually Saturday, Dec. 11 through Saturday, Dec. 18, after a successful all-virtual festival in 2020.

“Returning to the big screens at two iconic venues in Sag Harbor is what we hoped for in 2021. And it’s happening,” said Jacqui Lofaro, founder and executive director of Hamptons Doc Fest. “We are thrilled to share an exciting and diverse program of films with our documentary fans.”

Proof of full vaccination against Covid-19 and masks are required for in-person screenings, seating capacity will be limited to enable social distancing and no food will be served. 

Awards this year will go to directors and producers who’ve displayed a commitment in their work to social and environmental justice. 

This year’s Pennebaker Career Achievement Award goes to filmmaker Dawn Porter, a documentarian whose work ranges from CNN Films’ 2020 “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” about the legendary congressman and Civil Rights leader, to the 2018 four-hour Netflix original series “Bobby Kennedy for President” to an Apple TV multi-part series, “The Me You Can’t See,” with Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry on mental health.

Ms. Porter, who is an attorney, made her first documentary, “Gideon’s Army,” about three public defenders in the South, in 2013.

At the Dec. 4 awards ceremony, at the Sag Harbor Cinema at 9 p.m., two of Ms. Porter’s films — a short called “Bee Wayy: Promise, Witness, Remembrance,” about artists working to pay tribute to 26-year-old Kentucky EMT Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police in a botched raid in 2020, and an excerpt from “Cirque du Soleil” about the circus’s attempts to return to the stage in the aftermath of the first wave of Covid-19 — will be screened.

Her 2016 film “Trapped,” about abortion clinic laws in the U.S. South, will be shown at the festival on Tuesday, Dec. 7 at 2:30 p.m. at Bay Street Theatre.

Also being honored at this year’s festival is producer Diane Weyermann, who is slated to receive the festival’s first Producer Impact Award. Ms. Weyermann died in October, and her sister Andrea Weyermann will accept the award on her behalf.

Diane Weyermann, a public interest attorney, was a longtime executive at Participant, an activist  film company, and was an early champion of the sleeper hit “An Inconvenient Truth,” a documentary about former Vice President Al Gore’s quixotic, decades-long attempt to build public awareness about climate change through a series of PowerPoint lectures. 

While studio executives famously fell asleep when Participant was looking for distribution, Ms. Weyermann has been widely credited with pushing the film to acceptance, first at the Sundance Film Festival and then to the 2007 Oscars. Mr. Gore would then go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize that year, as public interest in his work began to coalesce.

Ms. Weyermann was also a guiding force behind the 2008 documentary “Food, Inc.,” about the corporate influences on America’s food supply, and 2015 Oscar winner “Citizenfour,” in which filmmakers join journalist Glenn Greenwald on a trip to visit Edward Snowden in Hong Kong, where the dissident hands over classified documents about the National Security Agency’s surveillance efforts.

“Citizenfour” will be screened at the Producer Impact Award ceremony and tribute to Ms. Weyerman on Sunday, Dec. 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the Sag Harbor Cinema, followed by a conversation between the film’s director, Laura Poitras, and Sag Harbor Cinema Artistic Director Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan.

The 30 screenings throughout the week run the gamut of topics, from the works of writers Joyce Carol Oates and Saul Bellow to the life of tennis champion Arthur Ashe to National Geographic pilgrimages to Antarctica, Bolivia and Tibet to trauma surgeons’ reactions to gun violence to a college newspaper investigating student deaths.

All tickets will be sold online at hamptonsdocfest.com, and no tickets will be sold at the door. An all-festival pass is $250, tickets to the Opening Night Film on Dec. 3 and the Diane Weyermann tribute at the Sag Harbor Cinema are $25, tickets to the Pennebaker Career Achievement Award Program on Dec. 4 are $50 and tickets to individual films are $15. A pass to the 11 virtual film screenings is $75.             —BHY

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Please prove you're human: