Words: Rob DeStefano

My last investment on Monday evening was the bonus showing of the Golden Starfish Award (GSA) winner in the documentary category. This cornerstone bestowal is given to the “budding pioneers” who have made “outstanding achievements in independent cinema.” Laura was the 2011 winner, the non-fictional story of a Brazilian immigrant obsessed with glamour and stardom. It is apparent that Laura has spent time networking and combing social circles in order to procure tickets to lavish parties, but when the clock strikes twelve, she must return to her disheveled Manhattan apartment where she schemes her next event. Laura is an undeniably interesting person – she unexpectedly surfaced several times throughout the film festival. The published description for the documentary references Little Edie of Grey Gardens: Little Edie is a “character” who cannot be mimicked or compared. And on that note, Fellipe Barbosa’s Laura is more of a blunder than it is an achievement.

The HIFF pamphlet description tells us several things: Laura is similar to Little Edie; she crashes extravagant parties; she has little money. I knew this going into the movie, it was restated throughout the film, and I left the theater with exactly what I had going in, not a thing more. It’s a pretentious and exploitive mode of documentation, and Laura calls their bluff several times, saying things along the lines of “This isn’t Grey Gardens!” Barbosa and his team wish it was, and they become so enveloped in their desire to emulate it that they forget the subject of their lens. Last year’s Catfish received heat for questionable validity and profiteering, but it succeeded at telling and structuring a story. There’s not enough behind Laura to deliver on a purely voyeuristic level: she’s unconventional, but arguably a clever and conscientious woman. The makers of Laura never explore her background, her philosophies, or who is at the core of the person who chases Clive Owen at parties. It is a documentary that lacks perspective and insight, but it even struggles to build a semblance of worth.

The Hamptons have regained their feel of early-sunset desolation since the HIFF team vacated on Monday. Listening in on a conversation at the now empty pub Rowdy Hall, it sounds that many residents are pleased with the festival closure: these are the people who enjoy the wintry allure of Long Island’s east end. On the other hand, those who attended the festival have already begun anticipating next year’s announcements.

HIFF’s modest venue sizes are one of the selling points, creating an intimate atmosphere for the screenings, Q&As, and panels. This brings to fruition the aspirations of both the industry and the spectators in attendance: for the filmmakers, a chance to personally showcase their product and establish contacts, while for the spectators, the opportunity to share close quarters with their inspiration and/or entertainment.

While the films – most of them – were captivating, I think the term entertainment in this festival is supplanted by “stimulation” and “efficaciousness.” My festival favorites (Martha Marcy May Marlene, Melancholia, Shame) and the honorable mentions (Like Crazy; Jeff, Who Lives at Home) all test the limits of modern filmmaking, giving life to characters and stories that deserve it. There’s a lot to be said for and learned from HIFF: I’m looking forward to 2012.

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