Remember when documentaries were the last thing moviegoers wanted to see?
Not anymore. Non-fiction films are booming in popularity, thanks to an increasing appetite for content about politics, current affairs, history and famous figures. Riding that wave locally is the Hamptons Doc Fest, now in its 12th year and preparing to deliver its biggest festival yet beginning Dec. 5.
"We have 31 films, the most we've ever had," says festival founder and director Jacqui Lofaro. "We've got a very strong and growing audience for docs. We're the only game in town, as an all-documentary film festival."
In addition to its largest-ever lineup, the festival is expanding beyond its traditional home base, the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, and adding a second venue, the Southampton Arts Center. It's proof, perhaps, that the festival was right to streamline its name two years ago – it was then called the Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival – and that its year-round programming has helped raise its profile. Like the larger (and unaffiliated) Hamptons International Film Festival, the doc festival also benefits from relatively easy access to filmmakers, many of whom live at least part-time in the area. That means many screenings will be followed by Q&A's and live interviews – always catnip to film-fest audiences.
"Something about the Hamptons just pulled people out there," says filmmaker and festival board member Chris Hegedus, who purchased a home in Sag Harbor in the 1970s with her husband, D.A. Pennebaker. The festival will screen their Oscar-nominated collaboration from 1993, "The War Room," about Bill Clinton's presidential campaign, and will also inaugurate a Pennebaker Career Achievement Award in honor of the late director. "The artist community that came out there in the '40s, '50s, '60s, they just loved the space and the light," Hegedus says of the Hamptons. "It was the perfect place to create. And that really spoke to me as well."
Some of the subjects of this year's festival are also Hamptonians, most notably the visual artist profiled in "Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack." An East Hampton-based painter now in her late '80s, Flack was the rare female presence in such artistic movements such as Abstract Expressionism and Photorealism before turning her focus to sculpture. Directors Deborah Shaffer and Rachel Reichman, who spent several years following Flack, will speak at the screening along with the artist herself.
"There's a whole documentary filmmaking community out there," says Shaffer, who is based in Brooklyn. "I had been out to this festival once before, so I knew of it. I was thrilled when I submitted our film and thrilled when they asked for it to be the opening-night film."
Here are several highlights from the festival:
QUEEN OF HEARTS: AUDREY FLACK (Thursday, Dec. 5, at 8 p.m. at Bay Street Theater) The opening-night film is a study of Flack, an East Hampton-based artist who turned 88 this year. Flack and the filmmakers will hold a post-screening discussion moderated by Parrish Art Museum director Terrie Sultan.
SEAT 20D (Friday, Dec. 6, at noon at Bay Street Theater) Jill Campbell's film focuses on Suse Lowenstein, a Montauk resident whose son was killed in the 1988 explosion of PanAm flight 103 in Lockerbie, Scotland. Both the director and her subject will speak at the screening.
CITIZEN K (Friday, Dec. 6, at 8 p.m. at Bay Street Theater) Oscar-winner Alex Gibney ("Taxi to the Dark Side") tells the zig-zagging story of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once said to be Russia's wealthiest man before serving a decade in prison and then becoming a leader of the anti-Putin movement. Gibney will hold a Q&A at the screening.
DESERT ONE (Saturday, Dec. 7, at 4 p.m. at Bay Street Theater) Director Barbara Kopple ("Harlan County, USA") revisits the 1979-1981 Iran hostage crisis. She will hold a Q&A at the screening.
AT THE HEART OF GOLD: INSIDE THE USA GYMNASTICS SCANDAL (Saturday, Dec. 7, at noon at Southampton Arts Center, 25 Jobs Ln.) Erin Lee Carr's documentary shows how Larry Nassar, the doctor for the USA Gymnastics national team, used his position to sexually abuse young athletes. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who sentenced him to 40 to 175 years in prison, will hold a Q&A at the screening.
THE WAR ROOM (Saturday, Dec. 7, at 4 p.m. at Southampton Arts Center) One of the gold-standards of political docs, about Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, returns for an encore. Directed by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker.
VERY RALPH (Sunday, Dec. 8, at 4 p.m. at Bay Street Theater) A bio-doc on Ralph Lauren, the Bronx-born kid who became synonymous with aspirational fashion. Director Susan Lacey will speak at the screening; Barbara Kopple will serve as interviewer.
17 BLOCKS (Sunday, Dec. 8, at noon at Southampton Arts Center) Davy Rothbart's study of the Sanford-Durants, an African-American family in Washington, D.C., is built around home-video they shot over the course of 20 years.
3 DAYS 2 NIGHTS (Monday, Dec. 9, at 8 p.m. at Bay Street Theater) Two brothers, Mark and Anthony Godfrey, open up about a subject they rarely discussed even between them: the 1974 plane crash that stranded them in the Colorado mountains when they were 11 and 8, respectively. Director John Breen, of East Hampton, will speak at this closing-night screening.
WHEN|WHERE The Hamptons Doc Fest runs Dec. 5-9 at the Bay Street Theater at 1 Bay St. in Sag Harbor and the Southampton Arts Center at 25 Jobs Lane
TICKETS $15-$25; passes are $200.
INFO 631-237-8055 or go to hamptonsdocfest.com.