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Bill Cunningham documentary in East Hampton

New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham, who captures

New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham, who captures fashion trends on the street, is the subject of the film "Bill Cunningham New York," directed by Richard Press and produced by Philip Gefter. The film will be screened July 14 at Guild Hall in East Hampton. Photo Credit: First Thought Films, 2010

You’ve seen uptown fashion gods and downtown eccentrics treated with equal grace and curiosity in his photos, which chronicle the way people dress.

But far less has been known about the ultra-private New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham, whose columns “On the Street” and “Evening Hours” document fashion trends on the streets and at elite soirees.

Get a glimpse at the man, above right, behind the lens in the documentary “Bill Cunningham New York,” which screens Thursday at Guild Hall. (The film kicks off Guild Hall’s Red Carpet Film Series, which shows seven classic films or documentaries through Aug. 25.)

It took filmmaker Richard Press and producer Philip Gefter eight years to convince Cunningham to be filmed and another two years to shoot and edit the film.

“We had to capture him the way he claims to capture his own subjects: ‘discreetly, quietly, and invisibly,’” Press says in a director’s statement.

Using only a small consumer camera and no crew, Press and Gefter also capture the contradiction of Cunningham’s no-frills existence – he has lived in the same small studio above Carnegie Hall for 50 years, travels on a worn-out bicycle and never eats in restaurants – with the luxury of his photographic subject matter.

Rather than a strict biopic, viewers will see Cunningham at work in the office, on the street, and yes, even in his tiny studio. Fashion and society fixtures Anna Wintour, Tom Wolfe, the late Brooke Astor, David Rockefeller and others also relay their love for Cunningham.

Since its debut last year, “Bill Cunningham New York” has garnered numerous awards, including Best Storytelling in a Documentary at the Nantucket Film Festival and Audience Award Winner for Best Documentary at the Melbourne Film Festival, among others.

Perhaps the awards reflect Press' intent, which he outlines in a director's statement.

“Bill has dedicated his life to documenting what is unique and individual,” he says. “ I wanted the movie not only to be a portrait of him and by extension New York, the city he loves, but a celebration of self expression and self invention.”

“Bill Cunningham New York”
WHEN/WHERE 8 p.m. Thursday at Guild Hall, 158 Main St., East Hampton.
COST $12 ($10 members, $60 for series)
INFO 631-324-4050 or guildhall.org
 

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