Film Festival Magic
COW Library : Indie Film & Documentary : Harry Pallenberg : Film Festival Magic
My partners and I spent three years working nights and weekends around our day jobs to make "Women in Boxes," a documentary about magic's better half: the assistant. It was a labor of love. We begged, borrowed and stole (AKA, deferred payment) - whatever was necessary to get the job done.
Our first festival stop was CineVegas, in - you guessed it! - Las Vegas, which made perfect sense for the subject of the film.
From the word "go," this was a glorious experience. A few years ago, Trevor Groth left the fabled Sundance festival to become the artistic director for CineVegas, now in its 10th year. The list of who's whos is endless, but includes Dennis Hopper (resident festival host), this year's honorees Anjelica Huston, Don Cheadle, and James Caan, just to name a few.
After getting our acceptance letter, we were assigned a liaison who guided us through the festival with deluxe treatment. We felt like stars.
When we arrived, there was a big black Cadillac Escalade waiting for us at the airport to whisk us to our free rooms. But who wanted to stay in the room? We headed for the filmmakers lounge, which was decked out with a bank of computers for our use, a ping-pong table, Stella Artois and Bombay Gin on tap, free massages, daily buffet, and a media relations person who drove us around to our various morning news show interviews. (Side note: wacky AM news shows start really early.)
There were numerous other perks, including my favorite: midnight bowling with Morgan Spurlock ("Super Size Me," "Where In the World Is Osama bin Laden?"). We played with films like "Get Smart" and "The Rocker." I missed those, but we had a red carpet entry with Robin Leach making us feel rich and famous, even though we are neither, and our film played to a packed house.
Although this was the best experience of the three festivals, it was also the most "Hollywood." This is not always a bad thing. I'm just saying that my memories of this fest will be the events and royal flush treatment, not the films themselves.
So maybe Trevor has a tiny bit of work left to balance the parties and the films. I hope (and pray) to be back to see how he does it!
DANCES WITH FILMS
We were soon set for our Los Angeles premiere at Dances with Films, which bills itself as the last truly independent independent film festival. If you have a known star, producer or director, don't even apply.
I love this! It drives me mad when I hear of "indie films" with superstar actors and multi-million-dollar budgets. Indie film is when you spend years of your life on a project you really believe in, and you beg, borrow and steal for every inch you get.
An inch? Dances gave us a mile!
Leslee Scalon and Michael Trent started the festival eleven years ago to help promote their own film. They did it again the next year just to prove that they could, and by year three they had alumni coming back with their next film. Nothing would stop the indie spirit.
They were organized, helpful, supportive and fostered a communal feeling for all those involved. Granted, there was no ping-pong or free beer on tap, but there were lots of good films playing to full houses, with genuine people (a very rare thing in LA) behind them.
I should have known when I heard that the West Hollywood International Film Festival crushed their name down to WHIFF.
WHIFF! My first thought was smelling a gross WeHo scent, and then I started thinking of the sports connotation…a miss. Who would want to associate their film with missing?
My next clue was when, five days late for the notification, the festival director called and said, "I was very surprised by your film. I thought it was going to be about women who wear men's underpants." It went downhill from there.
Whereas CineVegas and Dances were in regular contact via email and phone calls, WHIFF would take 4 or 5 days to return a call. The other festivals either had a delivery check list months in advance, or at least kept us up to date as to how we could screen the film, get help with the press and so on.
At WHIFF, I had no idea how bad it really was until the day of our screening. Our showing was set for 5 PM. I was still not sure what format would or could be played. I got there an hour early with an HDCAM tape, a DigiBeta tape, and a DVD.
There was only a single person in the WHIFF booth. I started to ask about formats when the woman there said, "Oh, I'm not sure that film is even going to play!"What?! I really started to lose my cool. "Hey, don't yell at me - I don't even work here," she said. "I'm just a friend of one of the filmmakers. All the WHIFF people left the theater an hour ago. I just decided to sit down and try to help."
What?! No WHIFF people were even there?
It turned out that there were three screens, but only one projector - until another filmmaker rented one out of his own pocket. (A few of us took his card and offered to send him a check to help. Mine's in the mail.) That still only left two screens available, which meant many films were scratched. The saddest situation involved a short film, "L'Altro," by two Italian kids who flew with their dad all the way from Italy for the world premiere. What a letdown!
It turns out that three different filmmakers and an audience member knew a little Italian and tried to help them. After a false start (they had a PAL Beta), their film finally got to play about seven hours later• to a packed house of nine people. It really broke my heart. They were devastated. The look on those almost baby faces was sooo sad. Afterwards, they came up to me and said, "This is Hollywood." I don't know if it was a question or a statement. Either way, they were depressingly right.
We managed to get our film on too, only about one hour late, to about the same nine people, but at that point, I really didn't care. I became enamored with the bonding together among us, with anyone who was there trying to get it done.
In a way, more than any of the others, it was actually our festival.
LAURELS AND LOVE
Being treated like a high roller is awesome, Dancing without any stars is great, and really puts the focus on the films. Even when you smell a rat, well, it's probably still a rat, but running the maze with fellow rats can be fun.
So, fellow indie filmmakers, I say enter as many fests as you can. Get those laurels. Just don't hang your hopes on having distributors standing outside the theater to greet you with a bidding war. Go because you have to make your movie, go because you love to see others with the same drive and passion express themselves.
Go for the love of film.
THE MAKING OF
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