HamptonsFilm’s SummerDocs Soar

The crowd-pleasing series brings a fresh slate of compelling documentaries.
War Game photo courtesy of HamptonsFilm

By Regina Weinreich

Picture panoramic views of Malaysia as a backdrop for a tutu-like, red skirt-clad balletic Russian in a flying leap, held aloft by a buff partner on the tiniest of precipices—a 118-story construction site, a needle in the air. No, this is not CGI, but a live daring performance captured in the documentary Skywalkers: A Love Story, to be screened at SummerDocs, in its 16th edition, on July 5. For attending filmmakers Jeff Zimbalist and Maria Bukhonina, “It’s a career high to be selected for such a curated lineup,” Zimbalist says. “We look forward to the audience response.”

Skywalkers: A Love Story photo courtesy of HamptonsFilm

The elite doc series, a cornerstone of HamptonsFilm programming, founded by Artistic Director David Nugent and Chairman Emeritus Alec Baldwin, has since its inception showcased crowd-pleasing, feature-length nonfiction films that have gone on to Oscar nominations and wins (think Navalny). With its international focus, outstanding cinematography and core romance, expect Skywalkers to be an awards contender.

Also prize-worthy is War Game (directed by Jesse Moss and Tony Gerber), grounded in the January 6, 2021, insurrection, screening on July 20. The genre-defying hypothetical exploration features players in the drama we all witnessed, now strategizing in a fantasy/nightmare of a civil war. Set in their “situation room,” key figures such as Lt. Col. (ret.) Alexander Vindman appear. Think of this U.S. Army officer and whistleblower in a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode. 

At Sundance, where the film premiered, Moss said during a Q&A, “We were able to assemble this extraordinary crew of 80 people for one day in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2023, and exhume the ghosts of January 6, 2021. We were in the same hotel where the insurrectionists themselves stayed, and we were reclaiming it, I think, for democracy.”

Among those in the room are former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, senior adviser to the president. “We have a Congress that is deeply divided,” said Heitkamp. “We need to hold them responsible. If there are no political consequences for gaslighting January 6, then it’s going to be repeated. It’s time that movies like this spark conversation.” Expect Alec Baldwin to reprise his SNL impersonation.

Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story photo courtesy of HamptonsFilm

Another Sundance hit, Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story, directed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui, tackles the question: What makes a hero? At a career highpoint, and married to Dana for a mere three years, Reeve was permanently paralyzed from the neck down in a horseback riding accident. In the difficulty of adjusting to his horrific new reality, Reeve became an inspirational activist for the disabled. After his death in 2004 at age 52 and Dana’s soon after, to lung cancer, their children have carried on the work of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. 

The filmmakers rose to a creative challenge, asking: “How do you avoid the tropes and pitfalls of the classic ‘biopic’—linear, cradle-to-grave storytelling? How do you create a film that feels fresh and urgent for a contemporary audience? We always felt this approach would elevate the film, delivering a core theme of what it is to be a hero, heightening the emotion.” Following the screening on August 14, Christopher’s son Will Reeve will join Nugent and Baldwin onstage at Guild Hall; expect cheers and tears. hamptonsfilmfest.org