Survival Guide: Long Island Film Festivals

Film festivals on Long Island are like a boutique store with bargain prices. You’re skeptical to go, because you aren’t sure if you belong, or what exactly you’ll find there, but step in and you’ll find a warm, intimate atmosphere, and some really unique experiences you’d have never come across if you were still on the outside wondering “what if.” Or maybe you’re skeptical because you’ve always wondered why our little island, which is so close to the greatest city in the world, is limited to just a few film festivals and not the glamour and mystique of the West Coast. If it weren’t for our bone-chilling winters, though, we’d be the ones tweeting about seeing Brad and Angelina at the café, and Denzel Washington stepping out of a limousine near a fancy restaurant, and the natives of Hollywood and Los Angeles would be the ones wondering what could have been (Imagine, seeing “L O N G I S L A N D” written in massive letters in the pine barrens, or somewhere near Sleepy Hollow). Instead, we celebrate our stake in the film industry with a few annual film festivals that, like a pulse, keep our island alive with culture.

Besides these festivals in particular, the buzz in the film community indicates that festivals in general will be playing a larger role in the distribution of films in the coming years, as they give filmmakers an intimate, direct line to audiences. They’re massively important to our Long Island economy as well, says Michelle Isabelle-Stark. “The Hamptons Film Festival fills up the hotels in October, which is the offseason. It’s great to have them back every year, and it’s great for the economy as well.” Ms. Isabelle-Stark runs the Suffolk County Film Commission, which funds the Hamptons Film Festival, the Stony Brook Film Festival, the film series at the Westhampton Performing Arts Center, as well as the Golden Wagon Film Festival on Fire Island, among others, via a grant program. This grant program is also extended to 80% of the films shot in the county, be it a documentary, feature film or a narrative, via a “Finishing Fund” grant. “We only do professional films,” Stark says. “No student films. It’s competitive.” In 2009, they gave $15,000 toward a documentary film called The Last Six.

Long Island International Film Expo
When: July 9-18, 2010
Where: Bellmore Movie Theater, Bellmore
How accessible that makes it to you: Very
The movies: Eclectic and diverse. Documentaries, animations, feature Films, student films, shorts, and foreign films from around the world are shown here in a glorious creative melting pot.
Notable Premiers: LIE; Crazy; PS Your Cat is Dead
How many countries are involved: A great many. The 2009 festival saw filmmakers from places ranging from France to Abu Dhabi, all the way to Paraguay.
Who’s there: Notable appearances include the likes of Steve Buscemi (The Sopranos, Con Air), Ralph Macchio (The Karate Kid), and Billy Baldwin (Backdraft)
What you won’t see: Mainstream movies, or anything else to do with Hollywood, except for the fine-dressed chap you may be lucky enough to find in the seat next to you. Director Deb Markowitz explains: “Film festivals are sought out by sophisticated movie going audiences that want to see something different than what the mainstream media has to offer. Of course, there has to be quality as well.”
Yes in your backyard: President and Chairman Robert Hansen’s vision is to someday have a major movie studio here on Long Island.

Independent Filmmakers from around the world are invited to show their work here. Every genre is considered, and each can comfortably be accommodated by the Bellmore Movie Theater’s plentiful screening rooms. The first night is an exclusive invite-only party, where the participating filmmakers themselves will gather and meet with the sponsors, dignitaries and board members of the event. This is also where the press and media will be able to get their first glimpse at what the festival will be offering. The closing party and award ceremony for titles such as Best Short Film, Best Long Island Film, Best Art Direction, as well as individual things like Best Actor and Actress will be held on the final day of the festival, which this year will be the 18th of July.

Hamptons International Film Festival
When: October 2010
Where: Theaters ranging from Southampton to Montauk
The movies: Enlightening. Filmmakers come here from various nations to send a cultural message, whether it’s a deep commentary about differing global perspectives, or a real-life snapshot of life in a culture less fortunate than ours.
Notable Premiers: Slumdog Millionaire; The Wrestler; Up in the Air; The Messenger
How many countries are involved: At least twenty.
Who’s there: Steven Spielberg, Alec Baldwin, Frances McDormand, Martin Scorsese
Witness this: A unique “Breakthrough Performers” program that showcases up and coming talents. Alumni of this program include Emily Blunt and Blake Lively. It’s a strong program for young actors, and it’s run in conjunction with Europe’s “Shooting Stars” program, which also promotes young and rising talents.
Have you ever: Watched an interview with the likes of Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese? In person? Me neither. But in the “A conversation with…” program, you earn both their intimate perspective and the bragging rights to proclaim your first-hand fame experience, loud and clear. They’ve also been working hard to expand this program, and to hold it more than once a year.

The Hamptons Film Festival is a cultural event. Karen Arikian, Executive Director of the Hamptons International Film Festival, explains, “It’s an intimate and welcoming atmosphere. You get to spend some very informative time with high-profile people.” In spite of itself, the atmosphere is laid-back, and informal. Arikian describes it as a “Small gem.” She’s had experience with big and small festivals alike, as she’s had a major hand in the Berlin film festival, so her experience is worth noting. The Hamptons International Film Festival is accepting film submissions until June 25th with an “early bird” deadline of April 25th.

Stony Brook Film Festival
When: July 2010
Where: Staller Center for the Arts, Stony Brook University
The movies: A seasoned blend of independent film formats from around the world, such as entertaining comedies, shorts, and documentaries. Press Associate Julie Rulon Greene describes the films as “Fresh, edgy, and unusual.”
Notable Premiers: For my Father; Route 30; Cat City
1,000: The number of people that can view a film in the Main Stage Theatre.
Interact!: You’ll have opportunities to ask filmmakers questions after screenings.

It’s the venue that sets this international affair apart from the rest of the pack. Not only is it the biggest in the region, but it’s the only one that’s working throughout the festival. Call it communist, but it grants the filmmakers an opportunity to more intimately and directly connect with large audiences, and it saves people the task of having to choose between two films they may equally want to see. It’s garnered itself a reputation for giving filmmakers a chance to really and truly show their work.

Furman Film Series
When: January 28; February 11, 24; March 4, 18. All screenings begin at 7:30, doors open at 7pm.
Where: Great Neck Arts Center, Great Neck
The movies: Art, foreign, classic and independent
Express yourself: After each screening, the filmmakers will be present, and will be eager to hear your feedback. That’s right. Yours. Not Hollywood’s or the Times’.
What to wear: Your thinking cap. Expect deep post-screening discussions with critics and scholars after every feature.

This film series is modeled after film series in New York City, like Richard Brown’s work in the Lincoln Center. “It’s a personal experience for the audience,” Founder and Director Regina Gill explains. “Film series serve an obvious purpose: give people a chance to see films that they won’t normally see on a normal basis.” It’s good for filmmakers too, as they have a direct way to interact with audiences, which enables them to figure out how and why audiences react to their hard work. So maybe you stumble upon the best movie you’ve ever seen, but you won’t leave without understanding it, which is most important in this artistic, expressive atmosphere. In the future, Gill’s vision is to expand the Furman Series to other theaters across the island.

Long Island Gay and Lesbian Film Festival
When: November 2010
Where: Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington
The movies: Expressive of the gay and lesbian voice in filmmaking.

As the largest Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender event on the Island, the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Film Festival showcases the gay voice in filmmaking, offering a unique variety of films. “We are the only live venue for 99% of the films we show. I see us having additional venues across the Island, so we can really serve Long Island with our unique films,” explains Steve Flynn, Festival Director.

Fire Island Golden Wagon Film Festival
When: August 2010
Where: Ocean Beach, Fire Island
The movies: Thought-provoking, and unapologetic. The idea is to inspire the audience, and to allow filmmakers to express their artistic vision.
Outdoor venue: Means you don’t have to go all the way to Fire Island just to sit in a boxy movie theater. Be wary of stray deer, and wear some sunscreen.

This festival has been held annually in Ocean Beach since 2003, in honor of longtime Fire Islander Tony Randall. Held in August, this festival features independent films from around the world that are interesting and provocative.

Long Island Wine Country Film Festival
When: August 2010
Where: Martha Clara Vineyards, Wading River
The movies: Varied and cultural, like a story about the service industry in Singapore in The Trainee.
See movies from: U.S.A., Singapore, and the U.K.
Wine tasting!: Enjoy the Long Island Wine Country while you’re already on your journey along the North Fork.

Held in Martha Clara’s Vineyard and hosted by Programming Director Ben Thompson, this festival has featured the likes of a commentary about a few womens’ trying times after some relationship troubles, The Dysfunctional Book Club, and Bitter and Twisted, the story of the impact a man’s death has on his family after his departure.

Horror Marathon at Cinema Arts Centre
When: August
Where: Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington
The movies: Horrifying and filled with white-knuckled terror, expect to see 35mm film presentations of classics like King Kong vs. Godzilla, Suspiria, and Spider Baby.
It’s always darkest just before dawn: The features start at 11pm and run through the night until sunrise, assuming you survive.
The horrifying twist: No admission fee, but you’ll have to pay to get out.