Chatting With Holly Hunter at the Film Festival

Holly Hunter posed for photographs before her talk on Saturday at the East Hampton Middle School auditorium. Morgan McGivern

After a quick discussion following the screening of her film “Strange Weather” on Friday night in Southampton, Holly Hunter sat down for a longer chat with Thelma Adams on Saturday afternoon in the East Hampton Middle School auditorium as part of the Hamptons International Film Festival. 

“Strange Weather” follows Ms. Hunter’s character on a crusade through the South, in search of the truth about her son’s death. While never stated outright, the force that compels her forward appears to be the compunction that it will somehow set her free from the grief that has hobbled her for many years.

The film by Katherine Dieckmann challenges a lot of stereotypes of gender and geography. It focuses on Ms. Hunter’s both rough and refined character as well as two friends, all well preserved, but obviously over 45. That these rural Southern characters are depicted as having rich interior lives and a mature physicality that still has a capacity for love and sex is unusual for mainstream filmmaking and the movie has not found a distributor. 

Part of Ms. Adams talk with Ms. Hunter was on the continued struggle for women in the film business to make movies that are personal to them and that feature people who look like them. Ms. Adams pointed out that it was not only on the production side of things that the male viewpoint overwhelms the female, but also in film criticism where only 20 percent of critics are female. This can affect reception of films that like Ms. Dieckmann’s might benefit from a more receptive and nurturing environment.

A highlight of the event was Ms. Hunter’s discussion of meeting Frances McDormand early in her salad days in New York City through their boyfriends at the time. When both relationships ended, the two women became roommates. Ms. Hunter was offered a role in “Blood Simple,” the first film by the Joel and Ethan Coen, but had to turn it down because of a conflict. She sent Ms. McDormand to read for it. Not only did she get the part, she fell in love with Joel Coen, to whom she is still married.

Ms. Hunter was not left out of the bargain. She was then offered the lead role in “Raising Arizona,” the second film by the Coen brothers and the one that launched her career. She has made several films with them since, and her respect for them has only grown. “There’s a narrow window for many directors where they find their personal scene, they mine it, then pass through it, and then it’s gone. The Coens just keep going decade after decade.”

She said her 5’ 2” petite frame has always stood in her way of getting parts. For both “Broadcast News” and “The Piano” she had to prove she could do those parts without being tall. In regards to the Oscar she won for “The Piano,” she said “There’s no downside to winning an academy award, but it doesn’t make a career for you.” She said she loved that it was something she could pass on to her children and that Al Pacino, an actor whom she very much respects, gave it to her, but “It doesn’t soothe all ills.”

Holly Hunter and Kim Coates in "Strange Weather"
Thelma Adams and Holly HunterJennifer Landes
Anne Chaisson, the HIFF executive director, joined Katherine Dieckmann and Holly Hunter after the screening of "Strange Weather" in Southampton.Jennifer Landes