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East Hampton’s Jennifer Esposito showcases her directorial debut, “Fresh Kills,” at this year’s Hamptons Film Fest. (Photo courtesy of Hamptons International Film Festival)

Starting the first week of October, the Hamptons International Film Festival returns, marking its 31st year on the East End. Since its founding in 1992 the film festival prides itself on not only showcasing films acted, written, produced and/or directed by some of Hollywood’s biggest and brightest stars, but also highlighting the work of lesser-known independent filmmakers from around the globe as well as those hailing from our own Hamptons hamlets. It’s a festival that garners and exhibits both Oscar-winning films while simultaneously nurturing innovative filmmaking from local and international artists alike.

“We want to show the breadth of what films are made each year,” says artistic director David Nugent. “We function as a sort of greatest hits of films for the year. It’s a time where locals and visitors of the South Fork can catch up on a year’s worth of cinema. It’s for people who can’t find time to go to the movies. We’re offering a curated experience of movies for them.”

Maestro, (L to R) Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre and Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein (Director/Writer) in Maestro. Cr. Jason McDonald/Netflix © 2023.

This year the festival will run for eight days (October 5 to October 12) and is slated to screen well over 100 films, in both feature and short format.

“The festival had a record number of submissions this year and will screen 70 features and 46 shorts with eight world premieres, three North American premieres, 11 U.S. premieres, 13 East Coast premieres, and eight New York premieres,” says a press release from HamptonsFilm, the non-profit parent organization of the festival based in East Hampton also responsible for offering year-round screenings of narrative and documentary films, talks and educational programs throughout the East End.

According to Nugent, who came on in 2007, submissions for HIFF opened in February, just after the Sundance Film Festival essentially kicks off their calendar year.

“The [submission] process goes to about May,” he says noting, “We’re watching submissions up to early September.”

Mary Heilmann: Waves, Roads, & Hallucinations explores an abstract artist in her Bridgehampton studio. (Photo courtesy of Hamptons Film Festival)

Quality is at the top of the criteria when it comes to films selected for the festival, according to Nugent, adding there are several categories kept in mind when he and his team are considering films to be included for HIFF.

“It’s one big puzzle,” he says, noting the films are broken down into several sections: spotlight films, competitive documentary and narrative films (where the winning titles will be revealed during the festival), world cinema and short film. The festival also features films that fit into its signature programs: Views from Long Island, Compassion, Justice & Animal Rights, Conflict and Resolution, and Air, Land & Sea. This 31st edition of the festival will feature a lineup of films that are 49 percent female-directed and represent 42 countries from around the world, the press release says.

“When I inherited this job, I wanted to continue shining light on foreign language films,” Nugent says. “While the spotlight films are important, we are an international film festival, after all, and I think we do a good job with that.”

While Regal UA East Hampton serves as the main venue for the festival, films will also be shown at East Hampton Library and East Hampton Middle School on Newtown Lane, while a couple of talks are scheduled to take place at Rowdy Hall next door to the theater. “The biggest venue has 430 seats,” Nugent says. “Uniquely, our festival remains an intimate one.”

Highlights for this year’s HIFF include opening night, with the East Coast premiere of the narrative feature NYAD, exploring the life of American marathon swimmer Diana Nyad played by Annette Bening. The next day, on October 6, the festival will host the New York premiere of In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon as the centerpiece film of 2023.

The festival will close on October 12 with a screening of Maestro, directed by Bradley Cooper. Filmmaker Celine Strong will be on hand for a special screening of her latest feature Past Lives and will receive the festival’s breakthrough artist award on October 11. Views from Long Island, one of the signature programs of the festival, will include screenings of East Hampton resident Jennifer Esposito’s directorial debut Fresh Kills on October 7 and October 10.

These Days is a docudrama following the life of aspiring muralist Jay living in Brentwood, NY. (Photo courtesy of Hamptons International Film Festival)

While the festival is responsible for consistently showing some first-rate independent films, it also shows some of the biggest and most critically acclaimed films, most notably in 2008 when the first film that screened at the HIFF, Slumdog Millionaire, went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards the following year. Two years later The King’s Speech screened at the festival and also went on to win Best Picture on Oscar night a few months later. In total, a dozen films that screened at HIFF went on to win best picture during the following awards season.

With a national writer’s strike on since February, Nugent says planning this year’s festival was, for lack of a better word, challenging. “There are definitely certain actors and writers that will not be at the festival this year,” he says. “But still, I think this festival is so nice because we have such a great mix of talented, hardworking people out here. In a way, it’s something that’s very unique to our area.”

For a complete schedule of the films slated to screen, click here.

Tickets for the Hamptons Film Festival go on sale to the general public on Monday, September 25. For more information and for early access to tickets, click here.