Starfish Fix

Written By: Francie Scanlon

The fix is always in.

It has to be.

Somebody is always wanting something that they simply aren’t fixed to have.

Not straight up that is; not on the merits, not what equity would dictate.

But who cares about that when what you want is what you want and your destiny is The Hamptons.

Nobody ever travels to the Hamptons for second best – let alone a tie.  They go, if at all, to win.

And nowhere is that fact more self-evident than at The Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF).

Indeed 2014 was the fifth consecutive year in which the Festival’s Audience Award-winning film was nominated for Best Picture, with two particular films – namely THE ARTIST and THE KING’s SPEECH – ultimately garnering the top prize during their respective OSCAR-tide(s).

HIFF  itself has the distinction of being an Oscar-qualifying festival for short films as well hosting four competitions of selected films – the GOLDEN STARFISH AWARDS (GSA) – spotlighting emerging filmmakers, thereby buttressing their creativity at a critical juncture and orchestrating the intangible chatter  zeitgeist within and without the industry and to hemispheres far-flung.

In sum and substance, HIFF is the mollydooker of The East – it incubates what is not yet ripe for jamboree and sashays sparkling distilled directorial spirits into a magnum of cinematic cabernet that would make a cooper blush.

But I digress – the jubilee sampler, the sweet spot of this harvest Film Festival’s theatrical tequila is the maze of publicists who hover in, around, below and about like mini-mouse drones fixated on the grand get – the placement piece that will make distributors swoon, the twitter ‘140’ that will light up at least 1,400 screens and the instagram image that will instantaneously make Kim Kardashian envious like a back-lot hag without a scintilla of sugar in her many bowls, a singular empty cask.

That’s now.

Flashback 1992:  illuminate moment of inception, please.

What would one reasonably expect from a former Hollywood casting director who conceived and launched the HIFF in 1992 ably aided and abetted by an initial board member who owns Silvercup Studios, the owners of Nick & Toni’s, author Steven Gaines ( Philistines at the Hedgerow : Passion and Property in the Hamptons ) and money manager Joe Zicherman.

WOW:  the ultimate casting cocktail: means of production, super-craft service, story-teller deluxe and cash cows in the gilded nearby Eastern pastures.

Flashforward 1997:  pilot moment of engagement, please.

When I first arrived at the HIFF on a mid-day sun-bereft Saturday in October, 1997 – fresh off an empty LIRR caboose out of Jamaica, I was met by pageantry worthy even for an abdicated Queen.

Why, you ask; myself, as well.

Tracing my steps to that moment – through the mine fields of publicists who weren’t keen to speak with a free-lance NEWSDAY writer, requesting screeners for anything that had a “Queens-connection” – I still quake recalling my feeble answers to the assembled throng offering me lifts off that LIRR station to the Festival Press office.

They knew who I was.  I had no idea they even existed.

How could this artful collision occur all in the name of story-telling.

Simple.  NEWSDAY was hell-bent – or at least my Editor wanted to keep his gig – on growing its then outer-Borough readership by running feature stories that hopefully had some redeeming social value if not newsworthiness.


Nestor Miranda, a then recent graduate of St. John’s University, had written and directed a very compelling narrative, portrayed very capably by a mostly unknown group of actors, searching for their own personal artistic redemption whilst enabling the tale of an immigrant cab driver who only wanted to drive the American Dream.

No uber.

No NYC Taxi & Limousine sanctioned medallion.

Rather a perhaps unlicensed livery car fetching and ferrying people when no one else would, to places no one else could.

Sound familiar.

You bet it does.

Great film-making reflects the eternal as birthed in the here, the now; when and wherever that might be.

That’s why I believed in  DESTINATION UNKNOWN, wrote as if I did and when it won the GOLDEN STARFISH Award I received a call the very next day from Mr. Miranda.

Nestor told me that his Grandmother read the NEWSDAY feature [accompanied with a still from the film] and said:  In all that’s been written about you, no one else ever spelled your name correctly, got the facts right, told your story.

I told Nestor to please tell his Mother:  My NEWSDAY Editor would not let me do less.

But there’s a back-story to this young director’s journey:  he had shot his whole load – i.e., maxed out his credit card limit to make this virginal jaunt.

The pay-off:  a tie for “Best American Independent Film”.

HOME BEFORE DARK had one might suspect all the smart money betting on it.  Filmmaker-director, producer and writer of  HOME BEFORE DARK,

Maureen Foley, is after all the great-granddaughter of Mairtin O Conghaile, an Aran Island legal whose stories were collected in the 1890s and published as “Scealta Mhairtin Neile” (1994) [and who presently is the manager of special projects, Office of the dean of Arts and Humanities at Harvard University].

Just as Nestor Miranda was seeking to sketch the contours of his very own pictorial American Dream – mirrored in his protagonists story – Ms. Foley was seemingly desirous of delivering on her own literary pedigree.

No one saw me coming.

But those in the know read that NEWSDAY feature published on the very Friday of the night that would see the premiere of DESTINATION UNKNOWN a the HIFF 1997.

So when I arrived the very next day there were not surprisingly some very soured souls who awoke to the celebratory cheer surrounding  DESTINATION UNKNOWN.   

In Art as in Life one cannot scout nor dictate all outcomes in advance.

And why should it be otherwise – the soul of film-making is harnessing that inescapable prism of the impossible within the lens of the impossibly probable.

If the fix was in – it found a way out – in a memorable STARFISH tie.

Mission accomplished – HIFF 1997.