This year's Hamptons International Film Festival found itself thrust into the cauldron of Middle Eastern politics after a jury led by actor William Hurt found itself having to adjudicate between a selection of Palestinian and Israeli features and shorts programmed as part of an inaugural sidebar devoted to 'films of conflict and resolution.'
In the end, after a festival that deliberately tightened security measures during its five days in the exclusive Long Island beach community of East Hampton, a prize of $25,000 was shared between two filmmakers, one an Israeli, the other a Palestinian.
Israel's Avi Mograbi was applauded for his tongue-in-cheek mockumentary Happy Birthday, Mr. Mograbi set against Israel's 50th Anniversary celebrations two years ago; while Palestine's Najwa Najjar won for her 20 minute story Naim And Wadee'a that takes place during the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in the year that Israel was officially born, 1948.
Accepting her prize at a lavishly decorated tent on Saturday night, Najjar said she was "very pleased that the Palestinian side was heard" at the festival. "We will have peace or a process to peace will be re-ignited. I hate that word 'peace'. I prefer to say that will live in harmony," she said to applause. "I hope these films do more for the peace process than the Palestinians or the Israelis."
The new sidebar was initiated by the festival in conjunction with the Nobel Peace Laureates Foundation in order to focus on peace-building films and provide a forum 'to address, debate and exchange views on the roots of violence and conflict and the path towards peace and reconciliation.'
In light of the "hideous and startling events of the last week" Hurt noted the strange contrast between what he and his jury were watching and the sunny, festival disposition outside whenever they left the Hamptons' theatre venues. "Our task was impossible," he said. "There has been a sad synchronicity between this and current events' we would have liked to have seen more people in the movies, to have had more attention paid to these films. It was not too festive a festival, but we're glad we were here."
If the escalation of violence in the Middle East cast a pall over this particular sidebar, it did little to dent the fervour of the remaining award-winners on Saturday night. The big prize, the Golden Starfish for best fiction feature, went to Dani Minnik's Falling Like This, an teenage romance between an early 1980s San Fernando Valley delinquent and the tomboy who loves him. The raw cinema verite style also won the prize for best cinematography.
The Audience Award for best narrative film was won by Hans Petter Moland's Aberdeen, the Norwegian-UK co-production that stars Stellan Skarsgard, Lena Headey, Ian Hart and Charlotte Rampling. The drama about alcoholics and alcoholism is Moland's follow-up to 1995's Zero Kelvin.
The Golden Starfish for best documentary went to Keep The River On Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale by the brother-and-sister directorial tandem of David Shapiro and Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Finished with money from NextWave Films, and hopeful now of a US theatrical release, the film follows the return of a New York artist to West Papua and the Amazonian jungles of Peru where he confronts his former experiences with cannibalistic practices.
FULL LIST OF AWARDS:
Golden Starfish, Best Fiction Film: Falling Like This (dir: Dani Minnick)
Audience Award: Aberdeen (dir: Hans Petter Moland)
Best Cinematography: Alessandro Zezza (Falling Like This)
Special Recognition for Acting: Robert Forster (Diamond Men)
Special Recognition for Acting: Burt Young (Table One)
Prize in Science & Technology: SongCatcher (dir: Maggie Greenwald)
Golden Starfish, Best Documentary: Keep The River On Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale ( dirs: David Shapiro, Laurie Gwen Shapiro)
Audience Award: Fighter (dir: Amir Bar-Lev)
Special Honourable Mention: I Remember Me (dir: Kim Snyder)
Golden Starfish, Best Short: Dog Days (dir: Ellie Lee)
Honourable Mention: The Silent Love Of The Fish (dir: Vivian Sorenson)
AWARD FOR FILMS OF CONFLICT & RESOLUTION
Happy Birthday, Mr. Mograbi (dir: Avi Mograbi)
Naim And Wadee'a (dir: Najwa Najjar)