Connections: The Popcorn Project

The festival that year was off to a smashing start

   Do you remember “The Piano,” a film starring Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, and a girl named Anna Paquin? Described by Jane Campion, the filmmaker, as a “Gothic exploration of the romantic impulse,” it was a hit at the first Hamptons International Film Festival in 1993, and, as they say, the rest is history. A part of that history is Ms. Paquin, 11 at the time, winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
    Enjoying, as I did then and have every year since, the opportunity to choose among many unusual movies, especially documentaries, and to see them more or less down the block, I am a HIFF fan.
    The festival that year was off to a smashing start, setting a pattern of screenings and seminars and, it may surprise you to know, enticing Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese to the stage at Guild Hall to talk about movie-making and film pre­servation.
    From the beginning, the festival also made room for films with a local connection, including one starring a half-dozen local residents: Frank Borth, Ed Ecker, Hugh King, Cal Calhoun, and Tom and Katie Browngardt. The Star columnist Patsy Southgate said the film’s message was “that you have to know when to quit.” I wish they would rerun that one.
    The first year was not entirely without problems. The most serious was the resignation of Joyce Robinson, the sparkplug who started the festival with a few others, working from her East Hampton basement. The artistic director, Darryl Robinson, stepped in. There was some initial grumbling among residents that the East Hampton Town Board contributed $10,000 to the effort, but most people had a wait-and-see attitude about who and how many the festival would attract. As for The Star, we gave the festival a welcoming hoorah and an editorial titled “Break a Leg,” way back then, and we feel the same way today.
    The envelope of newspaper clippings in The Star’s archives about that first year is thick, as are annual files up to about 2006, when the digital era took over. We expect the entire Star to be digitized eventually, but the old files are still more fun to pick through.
    Among them are copies of Take One, a four-page sheet of reviews, profiles, and gossip that The Star published for four years, from 1997 to 2000. It allowed the staff to play Hollywood reporter for a few days. Each edition boasted a pen-and-ink drawing, or caricature, by the illustrator Van Howell. Looking back, my favorite is of Meryl Streep, who starred in “Music of the Heart,” the closing-night choice in 1999. (In preparation for the role of a woman teaching schoolchildren in East Harlem to play the violin, Ms. Streep took lessons and practiced four to six hours a day, or so Take One says.)
    My only problem with the festival in recent years has been that I can’t take off enough time to see as many films as I would like. No matter. Two of the remarkable films I saw this year, “Orchestra of Exiles,” about the founding of the Palestine Symphony as World War II was brewing, and “Koch,” with the longtime New York City mayor on hand to answer questions afterward, reminded me of why the festival means so much to many of us.