Passion for Docs Keeps Growing in Hamptons Take 2 Film Fest’s 10th Year
by Kara Westerman
The “golden age of documentaries” is certainly here, and the Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival, in its 10th anniversary year, is partly responsible and partly benefitting from this golden opportunity.
Netflix and HBO have made the documentary film de rigueur for the home watcher, but there is still nothing like a film festival where you can see a great film in a theater with an audience.
The Hamptons Take 2 Film Festival, which will have its 10th anniversary this year from November 30th — December 4th at The Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, is offering the chance to make an event out of our collective documentary passion by offering 32 great documentary films, past and present, over the course of the five days.
I met with Jacqui Lofaro, founder and executive producer of the festival, at her Bridgehampton office, where she proudly showed me the 10th anniversary brochure. She was bubbling over with excitement, and the confidence one can only gain by heading a successful film festival which started ten years ago as an experiment with only four films, one being her own. Hamptons Take 2 has grown a loyal following that now supports awards evenings and presentations and an unusually eclectic mix of excellent films.
“It didn’t cost us much to do the first festival because we didn’t have any of this,” she tells me, sweeping her arms across the giant table filled with this year’s sixty-page glossy brochure featuring Leontyne Price in her costume for Cleopatra, the opera that opened the new Metropolitan Opera House at the freshly-built Lincoln Center in 1976. Susan Froemke, whose credits include directing the classic Maysles Brothers documentary Grey Gardens, will present her film “The Opera House”, which traces the fascinating history and drama of building Lincoln Center, on opening night.
“We are a film festival about filmmakers and for filmmakers, created by filmmakers. We’re not celebrity-driven by any stretch,” says Ms. Lofaro, who believes that “the audience that has come along with us for the last ten years really appreciates that.”
Documentary filmmakers have never had an easy time raising money for films without star names attached to their projects.
Today “funding is still a continual saga for independent documentary filmmakers,” says Ms. Lofaro.
Even though documentarians might not have the headaches associated with adapted scripts, sets, or costumes, a documentary film may be a lengthier process from start to finish when you take into account the starts and stops and waiting in the fundraising process, and the fact that a director may not discover the extent and heart of the story until they are halfway through the editing process.
Being a filmmaker herself, Ms. Lofaro says “I know how much work and effort goes into making a doc. People don’t see it. When it’s on screen — they love it, they cry at the humanity of the story, but man, they don’t know what the filmmaker has to go through to get it there!”
To go through the process of spinning straw into gold and then to hit the final stumbling block — the festival circuit — is most maddening. Besides the entrance fees to festivals, and the waiting to hear whether your film will be included, the festival circuit has all kinds of regulations, she explains.
“If you screen at this particular festival, then you can’t get into Sundance because they want a premiere of your film, or they’re looking for a particular theme at a festival, so a lot of good docs just fall through the cracks. We had two films we had selected to be in our festival this year that had to withdraw, and one of them I know was because they are premiering their film at another festival.”
“We want doc filmmakers who have fallen through the cracks to get a second chance. Thats’ why Take 2 was named Take 2, to give filmmakers a second chance at having their films seen,” she said.
Ms. Lofaro’s vision is big and continually growing. She believes in every film she and her creative director Karen Arikian and their team have chosen. The eclectic mix of films on offer is intentional. Eager festival-goers can watch trailers on the festival’s website to get a taste of the wide variety of films from which to choose from.
This year you can choose a film like Ken Marsolais’ “The Bullish Farmer,” about a Wall Street financier who changed his career and life after a best friend died in the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center. He traded his high finance career for 185 acres of land in upstate New York, where he has been farming healthy food using traditional farming methods from the turn of the century. His life takes another turn when he comes up against Big Agriculture and becomes a passionate advocate for the disappearing small farmer.
In Emilie Bunnell’s film “Bean,” two twenty-something women are matched on the dating site Tinder, but within a few weeks of meeting they find that they are also a donor match for a kidney transplant for one of them who has Lupus — bring tissues for this one! Emilie Bunnell is a first-time director who has managed to gain the trust of the two families and offers us this intimate glimpse into an unbelievable journey.
Laura Poitras, the Academy Award-winning director of “Citizen Four,” which chronicled the flight and exile of Edward Snowden, is presenting her new film about Wikileaks founder Julian Asssange, “Risk.” “Risk” was filmed over six years in which Poitras had unprecedented access to Assange. She features herself as the voiceover narrator, giving the viewer an even more intimate experience of her personal encounter with the story.
“The Rape Of Recy Taylor,” directed by Nancy Buirski, is about a 1944 case of gang rape against a 24-year-old black mother and sharecropper in Alabama by six white boys. Recy Taylor bravely identified her rapists and the NAACP sent its chief rape investigator, Rosa Parks, who “rallied support and triggered an unprecedented outcry for justice.” Rosa Parks was intimately connected to the Recy Taylor story. It is fascinating to see that her activism did not start with the 1955 bus boycott.
A local Long Island doctor has become an accidental filmmaker in “Eye Of The Lammergeier.” East Hampton’s Dr. Blake Kerr exposes the underside of China’s military occupation of Tibet, and it is astonishingly vivid. Kerr made his first visit to Tibet with a friend after graduating from medical school 30 years ago, and the two returned separately seven times with hidden cameras to document the abuses taking place. In never-before-seen footage, they have pieced together a terrifying story.
One of Ms. Lofaro’s favorite films, “Close Harmony,” is directed by Nigel Noble, who won the documentary Academy Award in 1982. “Close Harmony” watches the process of combining two disparate groups — 4th and 5th graders from Brooklyn Friend’s School and retirees from a Jewish senior center — for a joint concert. They start as pen pals and when they come together it is magic.
“I’ve seen it many times,” she tells me. “My heart just sings when I see it — I love it so!”
This is one of the films being presented as part of HT2FF’s Young Voices Program, which is dedicated to community youth and is open to students, faculty, and family. After the film screenings, the community youth will be able to participate in a hands-on film workshop with Megan Kiefer from the Take Two Film Academy.
Every film in the brochure sounds compelling, which might make it difficult to decide which films to see.
“I always pitch the whole festival. Don’t come for just one movie!” says Ms. Lofaro. “Come for a whole day, or an afternoon, or come for the whole program!”
One of the reasons the quality of the films chosen is so high is the fact that Ms. Lofaro is a documentary director herself. Her film production company, Justice Productions, grew organically out of her interest in local and national issues she felt weren’t getting enough attention. She told me about her interest in social justice and her love for Mahatma Gandhi. She’s drawn to subjects in which people don’t get their fair shake.
“It’s a tough justice system where people get caught in the wrong channels,” she says.
Her third film, “The Last Fix: An Addict’s Passage From Hell To Hope,” had Southampton Justice Deborah Kooperstein’s Southampton drug court at its center.
Because of the current opioid crisis, “The Last Fix” is still being shown and purchased regularly on Amazon.
“That film has legs,” says Ms. Lofaro proudly. But that film wasn’t accepted at the local Hamptons International Film Festival when she finished it and she didn’t understand why.
During an interview with WPPB radio DJ Bonnie Grice, who is now a co-host of the festival, Ms. Grice said ‘You know what Jaqui? You should just start your own festival!’ And her response was, ‘I just might!’”
Instead of slinking away from the rejection, “I used it as a springboard!” says Ms. Lofaro. “I knew it was a good film and that there were other good films out there.”
Ten years later, Ms. Lofaro is wistful about the fact that her first love, being a film director, has taken a back seat to the running of the festival.
“I don’t have a minute to make a film and that saddens me… but it’s worth it,” she says.
Besides the yearly Take 2 festival, HT2FF also hosts “Spring Docs” and “Film + Forum,” where films get an on-going life after the festival at Long island libraries.
“We offer about 60 or 70 films to local libraries at no cost and try to get the director or producer there for a Q & A afterwards. We’re extending the life of these films ten-fold,” says Ms. Lofaro.
This year, in celebration of the festival’s 10th anniversary, Douglas Elliman Real Estate has offered their sponsorship for an entire day of screenings, on Monday, Dec. 4, free to the community.
“Four great films at no cost and all the popcorn you can eat! That popcorn machine at Bay Street Theater will be humming!” says Ms. Lofaro.
She doesn’t hesitate to tell me that the hardest part of running the festival is when she and her creative director, Karen Arikian have to let go of a really great documentary.
“I got those rejection letters and I really know what it feels like!” she said.
The main reason they have to let great docs go is because of the logistics of having only one venue house the entire festival, but it makes for a much cozier experience to see everything at a theater like Bay Street.
Admission to films in the festival ranges from $15 to $25, and an all-access pass is $150. More details, along with tickets, are available online at www.ht2ff.com.
Kara Westerman is a fiction author, teacher, oral history facilitator and writing workshop leader. She received her fiction MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and produces and hosts the podcast Phantom Hampton: Stories From Where The Rest of Us Live.