By Lauren Clarke-Bennet & Heather Bryce

Once again the Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF) made its mark in the world of cinema by bringing together a world class grouping of films and a collective of iconic celebrities and VIPs to present and promote their coveted projects.

As you might expect, this year’s Festival was hopping with celebrities and parties galore. Alas, it was also a time of sadness, both for the films that dealt with uncomfortable subjects and because filmmaker, Nick Louvel, a promising talent at the onset of his career, was tragically killed just weeks before the festival – in the Hamptons where he’d just delivered the reels of his 2015 Brizzolara Family Foundation Award winning documentary, The Uncondemned, a gripping film about prosecuting rape as a war crime.

Alec Baldwin, incoming co-chair along with Randy Maestro, and Artistic Director David Nugent, Chairman Stuart Match Suna and Executive Director Anne Chaisson worked their magic to put a spectacular festival together that included programs, events and a plethora of new films to bring to the discerning Hamptons’ audience. And here are a few of the highlights:

To kick off the festival, director James Vanderbilt, producer Brad Fischer and actor Dennis Quaid, who were spotted chatting at the c/o The Maidstone lounge prior, introduced the Opening Night biopic, TRUTH. Also starring Academy Award® winners Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford, the film chronicles the story of anchorman Dan Rather’s fall from grace during his reign at CBS’s 60 Minutes. The film is a surprisingly candid account of the investigation into George Bush’s military record by renowned producer Mary Mapes, author of  ‘Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power,’ and the missteps that ended both Mapes’s and Rather’s careers at the mega network and beyond. Well done and a must-see for those who are interested in how journalism and politics affect one other.

To continue the momentum of a stellar turn out for the film TRUTH, the Festival threw a fetching party at THE CLUB at Philippe’s in East Hampton where celebs and VIPs mingled with the movie Under the World Cinema banner, Son of Saul, brilliantly directed by Laszlo Nemes, was one of several submissions at the festival on the Holocaust. This powerful film follows a Hungarian-Jewish concentration camp prisoner named Saul Auslander, who as a member of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz, was made to corral his brethren into the “showers” to be gassed, then deliver the corpses to the crematorium. The film not only took home the Grand Prix prize at Cannes this year but was Hungary’s Oscar submission and is probably one of the most brilliant yet disturbing narrative films on Holocaust subject matter to date. Hard to watch but a must-see for those who are interested in this period in history and can stomach its graphic depiction.

The Champions documents the rescue, rehabilitation and subsequent adoptions of the maimed and frightened dogs in NFL Quarterback Michael Vick’s vicious pit-bull fighting ring. With not a dry eye in the house this doc follows a handful of men and women who stepped in even under tremendous pressure from animal welfare organizations to euthanize the lot and gave the dogs a second chance.

Filmmaker and cancer survivor Meghan O’Hara, who produced FAHRENHEIT 9/11 and BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, debuted her new film,The C Word, which investigates the connection between the western lifestyle and the current cancer epidemic. The educational documentary, narrated by Morgan Freeman, reveals how medical professionals treat the symptoms and not the underlying causes. A must-see for those who are not up to speed on this subject matter.

Alec Baldwin went one-on-one with Dan Rather during a segment of  ‘A Conversation With’ delving into Rather’s career and what led up to his firing from 60 Minutes, where he worked for 24 years to become anchor and Managing Editor. With an outstanding journalistic career that spanned some six decades, he covered some of the most important stories of our time. But from a journalistic mistake came a monumental career downfall. With perseverance Rather has happily returned to the reporting he has always loved, creating the Dan Rather Reports on HDNet’, an Emmy® Award-winning show and is also president and CEO of News and Guts.

The mesmerizing film Meadowland by first time director Reed Morano, follows the parents (played by Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson) of a missing 8-year-old boy from the bathroom of a gas station. The unimaginable grief sets up their struggle to find a way to heal their lives and brings the audience to their emotional knees. Bravo!

The Chairman’s Reception held at Stuart Match Suna’s East Hampton manse has been a mainstay during the HIFF’s 22-year run. Countless VIPs and Celebrities have graced the red carpet and his home to mingle, sip, nosh and network during the festival. This year the Baldwins with their adorable babies Carmen and Rafael in tow, Christie Brinkley with son Jack, Olivia Wilde, Bobby Flay, Rudy and Judy Giuliani and Michael Moore could be seen and heard enjoying a little down time in between their hectic schedules.

HIFF’s Centerpiece Film, Spotlight, starring Oscar nominees Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Racheal McAdams along with Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup and John Slattery is a powerful feature based on actual events in Boston concerning child abuse by priests in the Catholic Church. The expose chronicles the actions of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team who won a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering a worldwide web of pedophilia and cover-ups. Festival artistic director David Nugent surprised the audience when he announced that one of the priests referenced in the film was his soccer coach and English teacher back in high school. A stunning film and must see for those who are interested in learning about this horrific piece of the church’s history.

Award winning filmmaker Michael Moore (Roger & MeBowling For Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11sicko And Capitalism: A Love Story)arrived on the Red Carpet of his ‘A Conversation with’ segment (wearing his signature trucker hat and stylish Lacoste sweatshirt) to promotehis newest film, Where To Invade Next, a project that culled ideas from European countries to be applied here in America. The filmmaker’s goal as told in his conversation with Chair of the NY Film Critics Circle, Marshall Fine, was to tell a story about America without filming one minute in the US, which he brilliantly accomplished – garnering a standing ovation and the Audience Award for best documentary feature.

A Conversation with ‘Golden Globe and Variety’s Creative Impact Award’ winner, Emily Blunt was a treat. Best known for her roles in My Summer of Love and The Devil Wears Prada, she has recently earned a Golden Globe nomination for ‘The Baker’s Wife’ character in Rob Marshall’s film adaptation of the musical Into the Woods. Interestingly Blunt struggled with stuttering and all its pain from ages 7 to 14. However one of her teachers encouraged her to take up acting which helped her overcome her speech impediment and she now sits on the board for the American Institute for Stuttering.

Alec Baldwin engaged in a lively discussion on Indian Point, a documentary by Ivy Meeropol about the controversy over the aging nuclear power plant in the New York metropolitan area and shot over a four-year period. This film features Gregory Jaczko’s work to close the power plant that looms just 35 miles north of Manhattan and his ouster as chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A must see for all who live in and around the vicinity of the plant.

Hamptons’ resident Alan Alda gave a shout out to Stephen Spielberg’s latest flick and the HIFF’s Closing Night Film, Bridge of Spies, which stars Tom Hanks. A sensational dramatic thriller, is the true story of a Brooklyn lawyer who risks everything and finds himself in the center of the Cold War when sent by the CIA to negotiate with the Russians for the release of an American U2 pilot. Alda, a cast-member in the film, spoke before the screening and singled out actor Mark Rylance, who plays a KGB agent, calling him “the greatest actor on the planet.”

For more info and the list of Awards please go to: www.hamptonsfilmfest.org