David Nugent Looks Back at 10 Years of SummerDocs!

As we count down to #HIFF’s 10th #SummerDocs season, Artistic Director David Nugent is sharing memories from the past decade of documentaries!

In early 2009, HIFF’s astute Advisory Board suggested that HIFF become a place for the then-burgeoning popularity of documentaries, and start to showcase several each summer. From this meeting was born SummerDocs, in partnership with our longstanding friends, Guild Hall of East Hampton.

As someone who taught the history of documentary film, I loved this idea. When I mentioned it to Alec Baldwin, then on the Advisory Board, he said that he wanted in.

The Cove 650THE COVE, dir. Louis Psihoyos, 2009

For our first event, we chose a film whose electric premiere I’d attended earlier that year at Sundance. THE COVE, which chronicled a brave group of artists’ and activists’ attempts to shut down an annual dolphin slaughter in Japan, became the first entry in the program. Following a standing ovation, Alec and I introduced filmmaker Louie Psihoyos, film subject and activist Ric O’Barry, and producer Fisher Stevens, who joined us on stage for the first of the 34 post-screening discussions we’ve done since.

Eight months later, to our delight and astonishment, the same film team walked on stage to accept The Academy Award for Best Documentary in a ceremony co-hosted by my co-host, Alec Baldwin.

Pentagon Papers 650THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA: DANIEL ELLSBERG AND THE PENTAGON PAPERS, dir. Judith Ehrlich, Rick Goldsmith, 2010

The second year of our SummerDocs program brought out some very special guests. Just as Wikileaks began to make waves with document dumps in 2010, we screened a fascinating chronicle of Daniel Ellsberg’s role in the release of the Pentagon Papers and the risks that he faced for doing so.

Following the screening, the filmmakers were joined by both Ellsberg himself and legendary journalist Carl Bernstein for one of the many politically-oriented discussions in the program’s run.

LastPlayAtShea 650THE LAST PLAY AT SHEA, dir. Paul Crowder, Jon Small, 2010

Closing out our second season was a screening of THE LAST PLAY AT SHEA, which told the story of the history of Shea Stadium and that of the musician who helped close out its amazing run.

Long Island own’s Billy Joel joined us on stage for a discussion of both his career and that very special night, when he played the last music ever heard in the stadium.

My personal highlight of the night was walking into the makeshift green room, which held Billy Joel himself, who was waiting for the film to end, with Guild Hall’s piano tucked into the corner. As I stood outside the door, I heard the room come to life as the Piano Man entertained himself by tickling the ivories to pass the time. Truly one of the most memorable experiences that I’ve had in this program’s history.

SUGARMAN 650SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN, dir. Malik Bendjelloul, 2012

When Alec and I screened this film about the mysteriously ‘forgotten’ and ‘lost’ singer Rodriguez, our audience was captivated. Following the screening at Guild Hall, we talked with director Malik Bendjelloul.

After the Q&A, we said we had one more special guest… and we introduced Rodriguez himself. I’ve never seen audiences leap up from their seats as quickly and enthusiastically as in this moment.

The next night, we booked Rodriguez into the Stephen Talkhouse, where he played in front of about 50 people. Early the next year, the film won The Academy Award for Best Documentary, and Rodriguez was playing to sold-out screenings of thousands of people.

zen of bennett 650THE ZEN OF BENNETT, dir. Unjoo Moon, 2012

Legendary singer and supporter of the arts Tony Bennett joined Alec and me onstage for this insightful look at his life in THE ZEN OF BENNETT.

One of the many highlights of the night was hearing Alec’s perfect impression of Tony while seated next to the man himself!

EAST HAMPTON, NY - AUGUST 31: (L-R) Rory Kennedy and Alec Baldwin attend The Hamptons International Film Festival Presents ETHEL Sponsored By Capital One on August 31, 2012 in East Hampton, New York. (Photo by Janette Pellegrini/Getty Images for The Hamptons International Film Festival)

ETHEL, dir. Rory Kennedy, 2012

Trivia question: Which filmmaker has had the most films in the SummerDocs program? That distinction goes to Rory Kennedy*, who brought this touching portrait of her mother Ethel Kennedy to our program in 2012.

During the Q&A, our audiences were beyond excited when Rory called out to the box in the back of Guild Hall where Ethel herself was seated.

*Kennedy’s other SummerDocs titles include LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM and TAKE EVERY WAVE.

EAST HAMPTON, NY - AUGUST 30: David Nugent and Alec Baldwin attend The Hamptons International Film Festival SummerDocs Series Presents THE SHORT GAME on August 30, 2013 in East Hampton City. (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Hamptons International Film Festival)

THE SHORT GAME, dir. Josh Greenbaum, 2013 Audience winner

Josh Greenbaum’s incredibly charming THE SHORT GAME focused on a group of 7-year-old golf players from around the world competing in the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship.

Prior to the screening, board member Pat Swinney Kaufman and HIFF friends Charlie & Mary Jane Brock generously hosted a reception at the Brocks’ house, where attendees could challenge some of these 7-year-olds to a putting contest, with proceeds to benefit HIFF’s educational initiatives. Color commentary was done by SummerDocs co-host (and HIFF Co-Chair) Alec Baldwin!

The film was such a hit that it also won our first Audience Award, sponsored by Candescent Films, who have now been generously supporting the festival for six years.

20 feet stage 65020 FEET FROM STARDOM, dir. Morgan Neville, 2013

One of our favorite guest hosts for the SummerDocs program has always been the singular Dick Cavett. In 2013, Cavett hosted a screening of Morgan Neville’s eventual Oscar winner 20 FEET FROM STARDOM, which focused on the backup singers so crucial to the the success of many pop classics.

The Rolling Stones‘ back up singer Lisa Fischer came to Guild Hall for the Q&A, after which she walked amongst the crowd and sang with members of the audience, helping everyone to find their own voices.

Take Every Wave 650TAKE EVERY WAVE: THE LIFE OF LAIRD HAMILTON, dir. Rory Kennedy, 2017

My birthday last year was spent in Montauk as Alec and I hosted a very special screening of Rory Kennedy’s TAKE EVERY WAVE: THE LIFE OF LAIRD HAMILTON. The night began with a sunset reception by the ocean at Gurney’s. The film was projected outside on a screen that billowed with the ocean’s winds, which was a perfect way to see a film that captures the majesty of Laird Hamilton’s surfing.

Following the screening, Laird joined Rory, Alec and me on stage to discuss the film and his career under the moonlight. Truly a birthday to remember.

The Hamptons International Film Festival SummerDocs Series Screening of ICARUSICARUS, dir. Bryan Fogel, 2017 Audience winner

The last SummerDoc screening of our ninth year was ICARUS, the fascinating tale of Bryan Fogel’s quest to understand doping in cycling, which led to his uncovering the staggering depth and intricacy of the Russian Olympic doping scandal.

Just like the first film in the series, THE COVE, this one would also go on to win the Oscar® for Best Documentary the following year.

It’s been a hell of a ride with this program, and we’re so excited for our 10th year. We couldn’t have done it without all of our wonderful partners mentioned here, with special thanks to Guild Hall of East Hampton for being our partner for 10 years, and another shoutout to Pat Swinney Kaufman and Mary Jane & Charles Brock for their ongoing support of SummerDocs.

A heartfelt thank you to my SummerDocs partner in crime Alec Baldwin, who shares my love for documentaries and continues to bring his incisive wit and curious mind to all of the films we’ve been lucky enough to screen. See you Friday night for the opening of our 10th year, ROBIN WILLIAMS: COME INSIDE MY MIND.

Join us for our upcoming screenings: BATHTUBS OVER BROADWAY on July 21, and CHEF FLYNN on August 25.

This year’s series is presented by Out East, a new real estate destination by StreetEasy.

Candescent Films Logo 200Candescent Films
 returns to sponsor the Audience Award for the 2018 SummerDocs series. Candescent Films supports documentaries that illuminate social issues. Join the conversation @CandescentFilms.