Pictured Above: A still from “American Symphony,” which will be featured at the Hamptons Doc Fest’s Pennebaker Award Gala Dec. 2.

This year’s Hamptons Doc Fest will once again masterfully capture the breadth of human experience in a series of 30 films shown over the course of seven days at the Sag Harbor Cinema and Bay Street Theater beginning Nov. 30.

The films cover a broad range of topical ground, from the masterful telling of the story of an accomplished composer and his wife as she struggles with cancer to the story of the first group of Jewish girls sent to work at Auschwitz, to investigative reporting on the ravaging of the seabed and a look back at the news throughout the 20th Century with veteran broadcaster Dan Rather. 

The thread of human connection, and the necessity of telling true stories, binds these films together.

The centerpiece of the festival this year is the film “American Symphony,” expected to be an Oscar contender, a film by Matthew Heineman, who follows former Late Show with Stephen Colbert bandleader Jon Batiste as he works to premiere his “American Symphony” at Carnegie Hall as his wife, writer Suleika Jaouad, undergoes treatment for leukemia.

Heineman’s crew followed the couple throughout the process, creating an intimate portrait that Variety has called “quite possibly one of the best love stories seen on film in over two decades.”

Mr. Heineman will receive the Hamptons Doc Fest’s Pennebaker Award, given in the name of the late filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker to honor groundbreaking work in non-fiction filmmaking, in a gala celebration and screening of the film beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 2 at Bay Street Theater.

Heineman has taken on big subjects in his work for the past decade —including the war in Afghanistan, ISIS in Syria, the first wave of Covid, the drug war in Mexico and the American healthcare system.

Mr. Heineman, whose 2015 “Cartel Land” was nominated for an Oscar, has told the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures’ A.Frame online magazine that he loves embracing the “type of unpredictability and adaptation inherent in making vérité films. By doing so, my goal always is to try to humanize stories that often seem so far away or are relegated to stats or headlines.”

A photo of four of the 999 Slovakian Jewish teenage girls who were some of the first people sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
A photo of four of the 999 Slovakian Jewish teenage girls who were some of the first people sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Another very human story being told at the festival is “999: The Forgotten Girls of the Holocaust,” directed by Hampton Bays-based author Heather Dune Macadam. Ms. Macadam, author of a bestselling 2019 book on the same subject, documented her interviews with some of the 999 Jewish women from Slovakia who had thought they were going to work in a factory for a few months of government service to help their families when they boarded one of the first trains full of prisoners headed to the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1942.

“Teenage girls were not important. They were not intellectuals,” Macadam told Time in 2021. “Intellectual men have owned Holocaust literature. I truly believe it is misogyny, and I also think it’s classist.”

“999: The Forgotten Girls of the Holocaust,” has received the festival’s Human Rights Award, and it will be screened at Bay Street Theater on Tuesday, Dec. 5 at 8 p.m.

Stories of women are heartfeltly told throughout the festival, including the tender opening night film “In the Company of Rose,” about the complex life of poet, journalist and human rights activist Rose Styron, widow of novelist William Styron, which will be screened at the Sag Harbor Cinema on Nov. 30 at 8 p.m., followed by Q&As with Ms. Styron and director James Lapine. 

The festival’s Impact Award, co-presented with New York Women in Film & Television on Friday, Dec. 1, goes to Regina Scully, the founder of the Artemis Rising Foundation, dedicated to media projects that transform culture, for the film “Obsessed with Light” about the life of wildly original dancer Loïe Fuller, who also pioneered the creative use of electric lights for the stage more than a century ago.

The festival’s first-ever Legacy Award will be posthumously awarded to Nancy Buirski, who established the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in North Carolina in 1998, and directed six award-winning feature documentaries, including a trilogy exploring racial justice. The award will be presented to Buirski’s sister, Judith Cohen, at a tribute at the Sag Harbor Cinema on Dec. 3 at 2 p.m., followed by a screening of Buirski’s 2011 documentary “The Loving Story,” about Mildred and Richard Loving’s quest to marry as an interracial couple in Virginia in the 1960s.

Films about the environment also take center stage, including Matthew Rytz’s “Deep Rising,” winner of the festival’s Environmental Award, about the International Seabed Authority’s work green lighting “massive extraction of metals from the deep seabed floor.” The film will be screened on Wednesday, Dec. 6 at 4:30 p.m. at Bay Street Theater. 

Other environmental films of note include “The Rainbow Warrior,” about the 1985 bombing of Greenpeace’s flagship, screening at Bay Street Theater on Nov. 30 at 2:30 p.m. and “Orca — Black & White Gold,” exposing the illegal trade in endangered wild orcas on Dec. 1 at 5 p.m. at the Sag Harbor Cinema.

The festival’s closing film is “Rather,” a series of candid reflections by the iconic broadcaster Dan Rather, now 92 years old, “on his decades of service, and without the pressure of deadlines, look to the future of democracy and a dedication to the truth.” The film is directed by Frank Marshall, a founder of the production company Amblin Entertainment.

“We still need people who have principles, integrity, and believe in telling the truth,” Mr. Marshall told IndieWire as the film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival this June. “The world has changed for all of us on the entertainment side. The studios are all owned by these big conglomerates. When those things started to change, when it was all about making money, that’s a whole other documentary.” 

All ticket sales will be conducted through hamptonsdocfest.com, where a full schedule of films can also be found. A limited number of tickets may be available at the door at individual venues. An all-access festival pass can be had for $200, while tickets to individual films are $15. Tickets to the Opening Night Film and the Impact Award Film on Thursday and Friday are $25, and tickets to the Saturday Pennebaker Career Achievement Award Gala at Bay Street Theater are $60.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she 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

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