summer becomes routine, the
Stony Brook Film Festival
appears like an oasis on the
horizon. Whether you're a
cinephile or just an
entertainment seeker, beginning
tonight — and for the next nine
nights — you can escape the
doldrums by entering a unique
venue shared each evening with a
thousand friends you've yet to
meet. Now in its 14th year, the
Stony Brook Film Festival offers
Long Islanders an alternative to
the usual multiplex summer fare.
Each year, Festival Director Alan Inkles assembles a schedule of independent films that is quite diverse. Different genres, cultures, subjects and languages are represented. Some films are cast with names we recognize; others introduce talented unknowns. "I hope every one of these films has something worthwhile for people to watch," said Inkles. "[With] a pass, they can see 37 films. … [My intent is] that this festival will broaden the horizons of our audience. I hope by the time August 1st rolls around, they've been challenged, they've seen a lot of different kinds of films — and, ultimately, they've been entertained. That's what this is about."
Inkles is especially pleased with the selection this year. "I think this is the best festival ever — or so far," he corrected himself. Of course, he says this every year. But he truly believes it. And there are reasons for us to believe as well. For one, there were more entries to choose from this year than ever before. Between January and May, Inkles and his staff viewed nearly 800 films from around the world. The festival's growing acclaim in indie circles has producers and filmmakers jockeying for a slot, and the relationships nurtured over the past decade-plus help Inkles obtain top quality films. So what's on the agenda this year?
The Opening Night film is "The Answer Man," a comedy starring Jeff Daniels (currently on hiatus from the Tony Award-winning Broadway play "God of Carnage") and Lauren Graham (of "Gilmore Girls" TV-fame). The film was written by first-time director John Hindman, and is about the reclusive author of a best-selling spiritual book and a pair of unexpected relationships — with a "rehabbed" bookseller and a comely chiropractor — that change his life. From Magnolia Pictures, this film is scheduled to open in theaters tomorrow. Advance tickets for opening night are sold out. (A limited number of single tickets may be available at the box office at 7:45 pm.) At press time, it was anticipated that Lauren Graham might be present for the screening and the party to follow. We'll see.
Of Friday night's feature films, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead" caters to the current pop culture fascination with vampires. "It's a very cool film," said Inkles. "From the minute it began to the minute it ended, it just held me. It was well done; a very funny, creative story, good production values and a great cast. We've got the East Coast premiere and the whole cast, led by Jake Hoffman [Dustin's son] will be out for the screening. [Perhaps even Sean Lennon — John's son — who wrote the score]. The New York-based production team: writer/director Jordan Galland, producers Mike Landry and Carlos Velazquez will, of course, be here too." The cast includes Long Island's own Ralph Macchio ("My Cousin Vinny") and Jeremy Sisto ("Law & Order").
Saturday night at 7 pm, festival favorite Mary Stuart Masterson ("The Cake Eaters") returns with another family project — the world premiere of "Tickling Leo." She produced, with husband, writer/director Jeremy Davidson, and brother, cinematographer Peter C. B. Masterson. Set around the days of Yom Kippur, the film portrays three generations of men in the Pikler family. "It's a film of the heart," said Inkles, "with a lot of good people in it: Lawrence Pressman, Eli Wallach and Ronald Guttman ['All My Children']." This film highlights another reason that Inkles loves this festival: "Annie Parisse and Daniel Sauli, the young couple in 'Tickling Leo,' are young actors who are brilliant in this film," he said. "You may not know their names, you may not know their faces, but they have a great career ahead of them. It's great having the big name stars coming — but just as important to me are these rising young actors and filmmakers who may someday be famous — or may never be famous — but for their moment here on the stage [at Staller], they're famous."
The closing night feature on Aug. 1, "The Little Traitor," is based on the novel "Panther in the Basement" by Amos Oz. Lynn Roth wrote the screenplay, produced and directed this story, which is set in Israel in 1947, shortly before the country achieved statehood. It describes a most unlikely friendship between a British officer (Alfred Molina) and a young Jewish boy (Ido Port). Veteran actor Theodore Bikel plays a security officer who must investigate this unusual relationship. "The Little Traitor" is scheduled for release in theaters in September.
Although Inkles said it's difficult to find documentaries suited to the 1,000-seat theater, there are two documentary features on the schedule. Other festivals have the option to screen documentaries, appropriately, in much smaller venues, he told me; for him a documentary "has got to have a worldly feel to it. 'Life is a Banquet: The Rosalind Russell Story' [July 26] has that — and more." Based on her autobiography, written and directed by Jonathan Gruber (with narration by actress Kathleen Turner) it's a portrait of a Hollywood legend that you have to be "of a certain age" to remember. "The moment the movie ended," said Inkles, "I ordered 'His Girl Friday,' 'Auntie Mame' and 'Gypsy' because I wanted to see [Russell's] work."
"Blindness — Saramago in China" on July 25 "plays much more like a narrative feature," said Inkles. "It's really very interesting. You're watching a theater company in China try and put on this play by a Portuguese playwright. It's kind of avant-garde and strange. [In the play] everyone goes blind. You're watching these actors walk the stage, blind, and as they're doing that, it keeps cutting back and forth to the Portuguese agent who is trying to negotiate [the rights] with the Chinese. It's a surreal conversation."
In addition to the 21 features — half of which are foreign language films — there are 16 shorts. Of particular note is a submission titled "After the Storm" (July 26) from Michael Lloyd Green, a young filmmaker at Florida State University. "This film has been getting some real attention," said Inkles. "I think it's been submitted for an Academy Award nomination. It's a harrowing, hard-hitting, fictional drama about surviving a catastrophic hurricane — and its aftermath."
An animated short from Spain, "The Painter of Skies" on July 27, deals with similar subject matter: devastating storms wreaking havoc on a home. As with documentaries, it's difficult to find animation with production values suitable for high definition projection on Staller's big screen. But this short and a German one titled "Lovesick" ("Liebeskrank"), on July 26, made the cut.
Inkles is extremely grateful to the Friends of Staller Center and several loyal private donors for stepping up to help fill some gaps in sponsorship funding. Thanks to their generosity, passes and tickets remain reasonably priced. This year, passholders ($70 each) will receive some additional perks. They will get preferred seating via a specially designated line in the lobby, with seating guaranteed up to 15 minutes prior to screening time; discounts on Festival Party tickets; and exclusive access to the Filmmaker Buffet Supper ($30 per person) on Saturday, July 25. The festival's hospitality sponsors are also providing discounts to passholders this year.
Individual tickets ($8; $6 students/seniors) will be sold subject to availability. Tickets for the Opening Night Party and Closing Night Awards Reception are $20 each for passholders and $25 each for nonpassholders, also subject to availability.
The full schedule was listed in a special Stony Brook Film Festival supplement included in all Times Beacon Record newspapers last week. Feature length films are also listed in this week's calendar on page B14. You may access a listing online at www.stonybrookfilmfestival.com; or obtain one by calling the Staller Center Box