The year-round documentary film series, which typically shows new works, added the flick to its summer schedule shortly after The New York Times photographer died in late June at the age of 87. This week’s event, which will be held on the lawn of Oceancliff, will be the third annual picnic contest which includes a fashion element — hence the blue theme.
Over the years, Cunningham, a native New Englander but lifelong New Yorker, made a point of shooting The Preservation Society of Newport County’s annual summer dinner dance. He was also a regular at the Newport Preservation Society’s Weekend of Coaching (as in horse-drawn 19th-century coaches).
The man-on-the-street photographer was often identifiable by his old-school bicycle and French workman’s jacket. Newport FILMS executive director Terri Conners said, “When you think of Bill, you immediately think of him in that blue jacket. Every review of the film I’ve read always mentions the blue jacket. When we were trying to think of a theme, we were getting all creative and fun. And then all of a sudden I was like, ‘How about blue — just blue?’ We figured it would be a simple, but beautiful visual to see all of this blue up against the ocean on this big, huge green lawn. We wanted to make this an homage to his signature blue jacket. So we’ll see.”
Kiel James Patrick, the designer behind his signature label, and his wife and co-owner Sarah Vickers will judge the attendees along with Erin and Thomas Ribeiro, owners of Rib & Rhein, and Bettie Pardee, author of “Living Newport: Houses, People, Style.” Along with the free popcorn, Kiel James Patrick is providing prizes for this year’s picnic winners, and Rib & Rhein will also be offering something blue. Conners and founder and artistic director Andrea van Beuren also advised judges to be Cunningham-esque.
“They will also be keeping an eye out in the way that Cunningham did, and illustrate his knack for capturing things that the average passerby might not give a second look to or would chalk up to, ‘Oh, that’s just New York.’” Conners said.
The documentary’s West Coast-based director Richard Press won’t attend, but Patrick McMullan will be at Oceancliff to talk about Cunningham.
Back in New York, Midtown pedestrians may have noticed that what was supposed to be a weeklong tribute to Cunningham at his favorite shooting ground has turned into a monthlong one. The street sign at the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street that New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray and New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet helped unveil last month is still there. There have already been a few meetings with city officials about installing a permanent memorial and everything is expected to be resolved by the fall, according to one person involved with the discussions.