The New York Times

Arts, Long Island

A Film Festival Lets a Little Light In

Published: July 10, 2009


ALAN INKLES admits that the mix of movies he chooses as director of the Stony Brook Film Festival sometimes veers toward the ultraserious: “There are some seasons that are very dark, I find.”

But for the festival’s 14th year, which runs from July 23 to Aug. 1 at the Staller Center for the Arts on the campus of Stony Brook University, Mr. Inkles has come up with 37 feature-length and short films that make for a better balance, he said.

“I was really struck by that — the light, the dark, the roller coaster ride, some films with more messages and some that maybe are more playful,” he said.

The opening-night film, “The Answer Man,” a New York-area premiere (it opens commercially on July 24), may be all of the above. A sometimes bleak comedy, it stars Jeff Daniels as a reclusive author and pop-spirituality guru — an “answer man” to millions — whose own life is a wreck. Things start looking up when a single mother (Lauren Graham), her small son (Max Antisell) and a bookstore owner fresh out of rehab (Lou Taylor Pucci) enter the scene.

The film’s title character is “kind of based on my dad — a guy who is a supergenius, who can help anybody but himself,” said John Hindman, the movie’s writer and director. Not that Mr. Hindman is really all that critical of his father, Dick, a jazz pianist: He did, after all, cast him in a cameo role, as the piano player in a restaurant scene.

Fathers and sons drive the plot of “Tickling Leo,” a world premiere in which a young man (Daniel Sauli) takes his girlfriend (Annie Parisse) to visit his ailing father (Lawrence Pressman), from whom he has been estranged; gradually, the visitors unearth a family secret that dates to the Holocaust and a fateful wartime decision made by the young man’s grandfather (Eli Wallach).


Though historical events form the background of the movie, “I wasn’t interested in making a Holocaust film,” said the writer-director, Jeremy Davidson (whose wife, the actress Mary Stuart Masterson, was a co-producer of “Tickling Leo”). “I was interested in making a film about fatherhood and exploring how fathers and sons pass along history to each other.” (Mr. Davidson and Ms. Masterson will attend a postscreening question-and-answer session that is among the events spread throughout the festival.)

The parent-child relationship is also a theme in entries like “Mommy Is at the Hairdresser’s,” a Canadian film in which a betrayed wife walks out on her husband and her three children; “Kabei: Our Mother,” set in 1940 Tokyo; “For My Father,” an Israeli film in which a young Palestinian man takes desperate measures to restore his father’s good name; and “Flying Lessons,” a short film starring Dana Delany as the harried mother of a boy with autism.

So where is the “light” part of Mr. Inkles’ mix? One example, though of the black-humor variety, is “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead” (in its East Coast premiere), a tongue-in-cheek, tooth-in-neck vampire comedy by Jordan Galland that manages to touch on subjects like “Hamlet,” the Holy Grail and the playwright Tom Stoppard during its 89 manic minutes. The film stars Jake Hoffman, the son of Dustin, and its score was composed by Sean Lennon, son of John. (Also featured are Ralph Macchio, as a mobster with a mission, and John Ventimiglia, bloodier here than he ever was as the chef Artie Bucco in “The Sopranos.”)


With 16 foreign films in the festival, the dissonance between different cultures is a recurrent theme right up to the closing-night offering, “The Little Traitor,” an American-Israeli co-production making its New York-area premiere.

Set in British-occupied Jerusalem in 1947, on the eve of Israel’s statehood, “The Little Traitor” traces the unlikely friendship between a British soldier, played by Alfred Molina, and a young, ardently anti-British Jewish boy (Ido Port).

Based on a novel by Amos Oz, the film presents a “view of when Israel was occupied, instead of being the occupiers,” said Lynn Roth, its writer-director. “It was one of the main reasons I wanted to do it.”

Though its events take place more than 60 years ago, the film has continued relevance today, Ms. Roth said, in the Middle East and elsewhere: “All you have to do is befriend one person of the enemy, and it changes your perspective.”

Stony Brook Film Festival, July 23 to Aug. 1, Staller Center for the Arts, Stony Brook University. Information: (631) 632-2787;




Clockwise from top left, scenes from “Mommy is at the Hairdresser’s”; “The Little Traitor”; “The Answer Man”; and “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead.”