Pictured Above: D.A. Pennebaker and his wife and filmmaking partner Chris Hegedus | Sonia Moskowitz photo

For 12 years now, the Hamptons Doc Fest, long held at Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theatre, has featured the very best in documentary filmmaking, so it’s only fitting that this year the festival is honoring a Sag Harbor legend: Documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, who died this summer at the age of 94.

The festival, which will be held over five days from Dec. 5 to Dec. 9 at both Bay Street Theatre and the Southampton Arts Center, is holding a tribute to Pennebaker at its Saturday night gala at Bay Street, where the Lumiere Career Achievement Award will be renamed the Pennebaker Career Achievement Award.

Shooting "Dont Look Back" with Bob Dylan.
Shooting “Dont Look Back” with Bob Dylan.

Pennebaker was a pioneer in the use of hand-held film cameras with synchronous sound,  vital to the development of cinéma vérité, allowing documentary filmmakers close access to the inner lives of their subjects. 

He documented political campaigns — including the 1960 Democratic presidential primary between John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey in “Primary” and Bill Clinton’s first run for the presidency in 1992, “The War Room — and was a fervent chronicler of musicians of the 1960s, including the landmark 1967 film “Dont Look Back,” which followed Bob Dylan on a tour of England, and films of the  Monterey Pop Festival, John Lennon, David Bowie and Depeche Mode.

“The War Room” will be screened as part of the festival on Saturday, Dec. 7 at 4 p.m. at the Southampton Arts Center.

The Hamptons Doc Fest’s Saturday gala begins at 7 p.m. on Dec. 7, with an 8 p.m. tribute to Pennebaker with his wife and filmmaking partner, Chris Hegedus, and Bridgehampton filmmaker and Pennebaker protégé Lana Jokel.

They will also screen Pennebaker’s first film, “Daylight Express,” a short film about a ride on the Third Avenue El with music by Duke Ellington.

A young James Carville & George Stephanopoulos work to elect then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton to the presidency in "The War Room."
A young James Carville & George Stephanopoulos work to elect then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton to the presidency in “The War Room.”

The inaugural Pennebaker Career Achievement Award will be given to filmmaker Robert Kenner at 8:30 p.m. 

Kenner made the 2008 film “Food, Inc.,” about the industrialization of the American food industry and its effect on workers, consumers and the environment, which will be screened at 9 p.m.

He is also the director of “Merchants of Doubt” (2015), about how the truth about dangers like tobacco smoke, toxic chemicals and global warming have been obscured, and “Command and Control” (2016), about a 1980’s nuclear missile accident in Arkansas—both of which have screened at previous Hamptons Doc Fests.

Robert Kenner will receive the first Pennebaker award.
Filmmaker Robert Kenner will receive the first Pennebaker Careeer Achievement Award.

In addition to a full slate of films Thursday through Monday at the Bay Street Theatre (including a full day of free screenings on Monday sponsored by Douglas Elliman), this year’s festival includes partnerships with other arts institutions. There will be  screenings of unique films not showing at Bay Street at the Southampton Arts Center throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday.

The Friday Night Spotlight film at 8 p.m. at Bay Street is co-presented with the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center, which is working to revive the Sag Harbor Cinema.

The film, “Citizen K,” is a deep dive into the strange case of one-time Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who rocketed to wealth and prominence in the 1990s, served a decade in prison, and became an unlikely leader of the anti-Putin movement. 

It was directed by the festival’s 2016 Career Achievement Award winner Alex Gibney, who will be interviewed after the screening by Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center’s artistic director Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan.

The Opening Night Film  on Thursday, Dec. 5 at 8 p.m. at Bay Street Theater, is “Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack,” which is also the recipient of the Doc Fest’s Art & Inspiration Award. It is a documentary about the now 88-year old East End artist who holds a unique place in the history of contemporary art, following her trailblazing life as an Abstract Expressionist in the 1950s to her successful career as the sole female Photorealist in the 1970s, to her monumental sculptures of recent decades and long-term struggles as the mother of a child with autism.

The Q&A afterwards features the artist herself and directors/producers Deborah Shaffer and Rachel Reichman.

Sunday night’s spotlight film, on Dec. 8 at 8 p.m. at Bay Street Theater is “Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn” From a young age, director Ivy Meeropol was taught that Cohn, as the assistant prosecutor responsible for the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, was the man who effectively murdered her grandparents. The film, a uniquely personal look, depicts not only a brutal man but also serves as an interrogatory work in search of the true character behind an icon of the political right in America. 

A still from “Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn”
A still from “Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn”

The closing night film, “3 Days, 2 Nights,” will be screened on Monday, Dec. 9 at 8 p.m. Directed by East Hampton resident John Breen, the film In 1974, Mark and Andy Godfrey, aged 11 and 8, went on a family ski vacation to Aspen, Colorado. Their plane tragically crashed, killing their parents, brother and sister, while they survived for three days and two nights in the frigid mountains of Colorado. For nearly 40 years they rarely discussed the crash, with this film representing a cathartic reconciliation, directed by Breen, who has been a friend of the brothers since their childhood in Houston. Breen will be on hand for the post-film Q&A.

On Sat., Dec. 7, at noon at the Southampton Arts Center, the festival is screening “At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal.”

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who presided over team doctor Larry Nassar’s trial and sentencing, and is in the film, will be on-hand for a Q&A after the film. The screening is part of the Courage First program from the Foundation for Global Sports Development.

The full weekend of screenings includes more than 30 films. 

“Selecting the very best docs for our 2019 program was both challenging and rewarding,” said festival founder and executive director Jacqui Lofaro. “With screen space for about 30 films, it’s always a mountain to climb—which films make it and which don’t. We believe our festival picks are among the best and most compelling stories, many unique and untold, but each the spark for new thinking.”

More information, and all tickets, are available online at hamptonsdocfest.com. Tickets to regular screenings are $15 for adults and $13 for senior citizens. Tickets to the Friday and Sunday night Spotlight films are $25, tickets to the Saturday gala are $60 and a full festival pass is $200. Monday’s Douglas Elliman Community Day films are free, but reservations are required either on the film festival’s website or at the Bay Street Theatre Box Office at 631.725.9500.

— Beth Young

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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