Like the proverbial tree falling in the forest, a philosophical riddle nags at every film festival: If a movie is shown, but no celebrities are around, will anyone come to see it?
The answer: Perhaps, but it's best not to take the risk.
To that end, the organizers of the 17th annual Hamptons International Film Festival, launching Thursday at six theaters throughout the region, have made a concerted effort to attract boldface names. So far Pierce Brosnan, Ethan Hawke, Cheryl Hines and Bryce Dallas Howard are expected to attend. Sharon Stone, a recipient of this year's Outstanding Achievement in Acting Award, will speak to audiences, as will Alan Alda, Steve Buscemi and veteran producer Martin Bregman.
Other behind-the-camera types, such as Mira Nair (director of "The Namesake"), James Toback (who recently directed "Tyson") and cinematographer-director Barry Sonnenfeld ("Get Shorty," "Men in Black"), will anchor events.
WHAT'S NEW THIS YEAR
"We worked a little bit harder on it this year," David Nugent, the festival's director of programming, said of all the celebrity wrangling. And the decision to launch the festival on a Thursday (rather than the usual Wednesday) and move it up a week to coincide with the long Columbus Day weekend also helped with stars' schedules, he said. "Last year our dates didn't line up well, and this year they do."
But what about the movies? Among the 107 feature and short films from around the globe are 15 world premieres and 18 U.S. premieres, one of which is Terry Gilliam's "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus," the last film to feature Heath Ledger. The festival's other major coup: a sneak preview of the comedy-drama "Up in the Air," starring George Clooney and Vera Farmiga, due in theaters Nov. 25.
Here are 10 must-see films (click the title for showtimes and tickets):
Meg Ryan catches husband Timothy Hutton having an affair with Kristen Bell. The script is by the late Adrienne Shelly ("Waitress"); director Cheryl Hines, of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," is expected to attend this screening.
The opening-night film stars Susan Sarandon and Pierce Brosnan (set to appear at the screening) as a couple recovering from their son's death. The cast includes Carey Mulligan, whose performance in the upcoming drama "An Education" is already drawing raves.
Eight short films by Michael Gondry, Gus Van Sant, Wim Wenders, Jane Campion and others tackle problems on our planet. Co-director Mira Nair hosts this benefit screening for her nonprofit African film workshop. U.S. premiere.
A critics' favorite at the Toronto International Film Festival, this drama set in 1937 Nanjing follows various characters, including a Nazi businessman who saved thousands of Chinese lives.
The closing night film is the last to star Heath Ledger, who died during production. Director Terry Gilliam used Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell to supplement Ledger's scenes; all play one character.
Showing not far from where it was filmed, this dark comedy stars Jeff Daniels as a troubled writer trying to shake his imaginary childhood friend, Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds). With Emma Stone ("Zombieland"). Screenings Saturday and Sunday, too.
See the entire schedule of movies and panels, plus a list of nearby restaurants and attractions in ExploreLI.com's guide to the Hamptons Film Festival.