On The Film Festival Trail of An Academy Award Recipient, Marshall Curry

Four-time Academy Award-nominated documentary director, cinematographer and editor, Marshall Curry, recently received an Oscar for Best Live Action Short, The Neighbor’s Window, a narrative. How did that happen? William Goldman, American novelist, playwright, and screenwriter received Academy Awards for screenplays for some of my favorites– Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, (Follow the money) The Princess Bride. Goldman’s quote came from a Lawrence O’Donnell tweet recently: “Nobody knows anything. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for certainty what’s going to work. Every time out, it’s a guess and if you’re lucky, an educated one.” Marshall Curry got this one right on.

I followed his work since 2005. One of my first Film Festival reViews festival circuit appraisals was for the AFI/Discovery Silverdocs Film Festival (known as SILVERDOCS back then), Silver Spring, Maryland where I had lived for ten years. It was Street Fight, Cory Booker’s first run for mayor of Newark, New Jersey against Sharpe James that caught my attention. I didn’t keep up with the Jersey mayoral races at the time, however, this documentary captured the fierceness, the scope and breadth of what was at stake in Newark as I knew it. I sat transfixed, gripping the edge of my seat, not knowing what was going to happen next.

Perhaps it was the connection I had with Newark. Despite growing up in Clifton, known as the “White Lily” situated between Paterson and Passaic, I found design work (Paterson 200th Anniversary logo) and monster music connections (Capitol Theatre downtown Passaic) and just down the road on Route 21, was Newark Trade Typography, where I began my graphic design career. I freelanced for New Community Corporation with their neighborhood rebuilding efforts and came home often from Maryland via Penn Station near the Iron Bound section. Curiously, I was interested in the connection Marshall had at the time. Street Fight went on to win numerous awards and was nominated for an Academy Award, Best Documentary Feature. 

While his work covers a wide range of interests, the subjects and topics have an instinctive similarity– showing a person(s) life on the edge, making deliberate personal choices often being a challenger of the norm as seen in a “David vs Goliath” situation with corrupt sabotage tactics in urban politics (Street Fight); two boys and a girl pushing their abilities at a young age for a top spot in a demanding competition with professional NASCAR aspirations (Racing Dreams); the ethics of a radical environmental group, Earth Liberation Front, and definition of domestic terrorism taking activism to the next level (If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front); an American lacking in general aim or purpose in life leaves home to join the Libyan revolution (Point and Shoot); archival footage of a German American Bund Nazi rally where 20,000 filled Madison Square Garden listening to anti-Semitic, pro white-Christian Nationalist sentiments (A Night at the Garden). This 7-minute short was projected onto Madison Square Garden in New York City on the 80th anniversary of the 1939 event. Obviously, he uses strong positions to make a point come alive showing sentiment and a sense of purpose. So, when did the narrative, the story, the plan, the project come into fruition?

Last April, I saw The Neighbor’s Window at Tribeca Film Festival known for supporting lots of local as well as international filmmakers. It’s my direction as well. I am always on the look out for filmmakers that I know having seen their work travel the film festival circuit. I was not disappointed. The 20 minute drama held my attention from the start. Owning up to feeling of a little guilt when making quick assessments or judgments while holding a penchant for innocent voyeurism (listening in on a conversations often made in public without consciousness) that should be respected as private. Back in the day, the joke was when you wanted to hear the news, you open up your window. If you wanted to watch reality television, you look out your window.

It made me remember all of my neighbors, past and present, most but not all of them were good and kind and caring. I strived to cultivate neighborly relationships with a looking out for one another sensibility without stepping over the line, doing favors without keeping score, being available when there was a need without having to ask. It’s different these days. It’s not as easy to “Know Thy Neighbor” as hardly anyone knows who their neighbors are much less have an opportunity to interact with them on a regular basis. Cultural differences and respecting others as well as our own privacy are normal issues.

The counterbalance in the story is the relationship between husband and wife as they progress with having small children while trying to even out their personal and professional identities. Finding interrelationship harmony within a demanding and often chaotic family lifestyle can be daunting and disheartening. Comparing to others’ seemingly pleasurable home life can bring home the adage of “careful what you wish for” sentiment. It may be why this short hit a chord in our collective consciousness with seeing a little of the “Getting to Know You” without getting too preachy about it.

Watching festival films with audiences is my barometer for how a small gesture like this film, can make an impact. It hits home. I saw it as a genuine crowd pleaser appropriately affecting the general consensus with, in this case, winning numerous audience awards. I recommended it to a film festival committee and happy that they programmed it into their schedule. The Neighbor’s Window is an engaging personal story, told beautifully on many levels. Not surprising from other Marshall Curry documentaries, whose work vicariously takes us into other people’s lives and their inner workings, recognizing their dominant and often fragile human qualities while paying tribute to the human spirit.

In Part II of On The Film Festival Trail of An Academy Award Recipient, Marshall Curry, I’ll delve into the film festival strategy that took him from an East Coast festival nomination onto the West Coast red carpet for an Oscar. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s definitely worthy. Stay tuned.

In Search of RUSH Beyond the Lighted Stage, Lighting a Candle for Neal

Hearing of Neal Peart’s death last week, I didn’t know if I was a fan or not, but it made me realize how much connection I had to their music. I’d be subjected to RUSH by coworkers where I was the only women art director among a pool of guys. When the 9-5 crew in the ad agency blew out, the creatives stayed long after. There were killer deadlines, thus opportunity to blast tunes that would release waves of air guitar and drummer moves amid splatterings of creative juices. I dug it. I didn’t know anything else beyond the lead singer’s voice sounding like my co worker’s grandmother.

I see many heartfelt condolences and consequently, I identify with unrelated persons and posts on FB groups, past workplaces, music dens and radio stations such as WNEW-FM, and iconic live performance venues like Capitol Theater that no longer exist. When you watch RUSH Beyond the Lighted Stage, a documentary made in 2010, you will understand how close the trio Alex, Geddy Lee and Neal have been for over four decades and where their musical road less traveled took them. Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen, directors and producers of this dynamic rockumentary, did an admirable job. Sight and sound. Heart and soul.

The screening took place at Tribeca Film Festival. Being involved with a musician, I steered towards watching music used in films and the music docs. It was downright amazing. A mid-afternoon screening totally packed the house with mostly males baby-boomer age with their bro friends and teenage sons singing every word, nodding and body snapping to the phrases, air guitars synced to the time changes, foot stomping thundered under my seat. Incredible, I thought, would this turn out at a midnight screening? Yuri and I soon learned that while it was hours away, the line kept getting longer down the Lower Eastside block. I asked a ticket line festival volunteer dressed in a vintage RUSH T-shirt, “How far does the line go?” His response, “to Cleveland.”

The midnight hour did not disappoint. Sitting in balcony seats, I scanned the audience beyond the gilded cage and counted a handful of women tucked here and there amid the testosterone overload. It was a remarkable experience at the time and ten years later, we’re revisiting this film on Netflix. It certainly rekindled a longing for the music that was able to unite and create a loyal fan following unwavered for years and now, generations. The film offers an in-depth look at the RUSH, phenom chronicling the band’s history and road to musical and personal transformation from Canadian high school gyms and church basements to vast arenas around the world. They built their city. The fans came and rocked the night away.

And their appreciation of fans is sincere, expressing it colorfully and with humor as guys in a band. Aside from the obvious Siamese Twin-like bro-friendship between Alex and Geddy Lee, there is deep love and respect for Neal, who they still called “the new guy.” A lot of time was focused on Neal’s philosophical outlook through the decades of lyric-writing, improvement of drumming capabilities with Freddie Gruber, continued experimentation, shyness and tightly maintained privacy. His tragic personal story showed how insurmountable grief can grip their professional family at the time. After five years, 50K motor cycle miles, occasional postcards, and a new life, he came back. Their musical cohesion and camaraderie brought them together again creating masterpieces. They stopped touring in 2015 for a reason.

Similar to our Kubelka moments, Yuri and I discussed this film long into the night amid wine toasts and tokes to RUSH’s remarkable musicianship and longevity. It was the simplicity of a trio and the complexity of instrumental paragons combined with literary themes and chronicles of mythic sagas. They defined the way drummers learned to play. They set the standard for excellence of taking their instruments out to the max and found ways to better themselves. They were influencers and progenitors going far beyond the progressive rock era number three only to the Beatles and the Stones. Yuri notes he may finally think of himself as a fan.

That insurmountable grief resonates again a decade later as the news of Neal Peart’s death from a glioblastoma reaches the masses and irrevocably touches individuals. The same brain cancer that took my mother twenty-two years ago, it is an incurable and devastating disease to have happen to a loved one. Hearing that his struggle lasted for over three years is gut-wrenching. Asking for their privacy to be respected at this time is a small request for such a noble heart. Rest in peace, Neal.

A Cine Qua Non Moment Episode 104

One of the many life’s surprises that comes from attending film festivals is connecting with people who contribute to the continuing advancement of the arts and in this case great storytelling. A visit from Jesus Pimentel-Melo, executive director of the Cine Qua Non Screenwriting Lab, situated in the heart of Mexico turned into an CineQNL Alice Guyexceptional conversation about the two-week residential workshop as well as a gift of beautiful writing journal with a dedication to my hero, Alice Guy Blache. I was touched.

Our conversation began with her work as the first woman film director, the way to be natural and how the screenwriting lab curates the group, matching writers to their benefit.

In addition to script guidance provided by the facilitator through workshop sessions and one-on-one meetings, there is additional professional advice by guest speakers. Participants have ample time for writing imbued with inspiration from their surroundings. The lab offers the participants the opportunity to workshop their projects with other international filmmakers, be part of a community of other like-minded artists, and access the Cine Qua Non Lab film professional network, all in an absolutely beautiful, protected setting, free of stress and distractions.

It’s fascinating to make such a connection within Narrowsburg, a place my family has called “our second home” for almost fifty years. Likely the reason why it keeps calling me back to the Delaware River, is its natural beauty, its serenity, and the arts that surround it. Time to take in the golden hour and wait for the hummingbirds to arrive.

Woodstock Film Festival 2019 Part II

Condor&Eagle On Stage

Going to Woodstock Film Festival is like going to your summer place, your country home, your neck of the woods, literally. It’s a pleasure to return to the Upstate areas in the early fall, as the season and weather changes, into a familial vortex of indie films and filmmaking connecting artists, fiercely independent mavericks with a worldly, film loving, film festival organizers and appreciative audience.

A happy destination festival with an established brand, loyal sponsors, a walking around town with cultural events and contemporary programming vision amid an artsy ‘60s atmosphere. It’s been awhile since “command central” moved from a rustic outpost with an apple cider, autumn leaves atmosphere that had a fireplace going on those crisp, drizzly, cold snaps into a light, and airy open space, a contemporary art gallery in the center of town. Several venues and the Box Office –just around the corner – are in walking distance allowing new arrivals to orientate themselves, survey the main drag, Tinker Street, scope out the shops and find the right choice for a dining pleasure.

On nice days, its a wonderful walk to the Woodstock venues– the Woodstock Playhouse and the Upstate Films Woodstock. I even made it to Bearsville Theater once, almost turning into the Byrdcliffe Artists Colony; however, without a shuttle service of some sort, you need a car and more so, the understanding of how and where to park your car. Respecting businesses parking areas so as not to cause any more unsettling during the several days of film festival for people who live and work there. It’s only challenging if you are completely unfamiliar with the layouts and did not check in advance the maps, transportation, accommodations info offered online.

This year, those logistic calculations determined my choice of film schedule. Remaining in Woodstock worked well for my limited time instead of branching out to the other theaters in Kingston, Rhinebeck, Rosendale, and Saugerties. It allowed a more relaxed, three-film-in-a-row, plus event schedule for the day. I got to see some great films that fit into my research for mastering the art of the film festival experience into the business of culture.

The story of the Mass MoCA in “Museum Town,” a High Line-type project where a long time factory employer, a local electric company, closed in 1984 sending North Adams, MA, into an economic depression. First time filmmaker, Jennifer Trainer is part of the story, one of a group of visionaries transforming the deteriorating structure into one of the world’s largest contemporary art museum. After the film, she talked about taking risks, having a gutsy mayor, local support, raising money, curator boldness, and having a great soundtrack. One of the key moments reveals musician/artist David Byrne willing to step up and promote a cause for contemporary art.

It seems the (violin) strings of music in film and musicians in film became a theme in other films like “Speed of Life,” described as a quirky, heartfelt film about the impact the sudden death of David Bowie had on a young couple. A more suitable title might have been, A Crack In the Universe after David Bowie Dies Opens into Magical Realism. It hits the right notes. The best part was a live musical performance by Robert Burke Warren, whose voice and acoustic guitar, with an especially lovely tone, was an excellent opener before the film. He played several Bowie tunes invoking images of Major Tom/Ground Control and BTW, whose shirts is he wearing? out of the “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars” album. I’m sure the majority of audience were transported back into the day, as I was sifting between a Bowie concert at Giants Stadium, his duet with Bing Crosby or his interview on MTV where he asked a VJ why there are not more black musicians on MTV. When given a convoluted explanation that music that is not rock and roll does not get played, David Bowie looked at him with very cool, half closed eyes, “Interesting.”

That’s not all. I personally time-traveled at the “I want my MTV” screening– back to August 1, 1981, standing on the edge of a major consumer seismic shift in the way we access the music we wanted to listen to anytime, all the time. I am a witness and willing participant because we had Cablevision. It was back in the day– mid-1960s– when now billionaire, Charles Dolan built a cable system business in NYC, launched HBO (Home Box Office), the first premium programming service which played mostly American-made indie films and some foreign, likened to the “soft porn at midnight” hour. After selling HBO to Time/Life, he started Cablevision and took it into the suburbs. That’s how we had MTV in Clifton, New Jersey. It wasn’t everywhere because of the sporadic cable company territories and the wiring technology necessary for expansion. Nonetheless, it made an IMPACT. Their famously infamous “I want my MTV” campaign to push for more expansion catapulted the nascent music video industry into the outer territorial stratosphere of moneymaking in the music business with the cable industry exploding.

I hate to admit the nostalgia feeling. I am trying to shed it like a snakeskin, but I must say, watching the last thirty five+ years of music videos I loved, I can recall every video frame, edit in my mind how I would have done it differently, noting when my top favorites might be playing because you can figure out the rotation schedule after a couple of viewings. I had a Google analytics mind in the making even back then. Producer Nick Quested arrived a few minutes after the music under video rolling credits and our leftover group of ardent MTVers, or just the generational curious, had an outstanding back-and-forth with him. Nick had shot many music videos and was privy to moments that audiences deem enviable and the great thin about him was that he became part of the group that share this amazing history with the generation who lived the years and future generations who will remember it as one of those moments, milestones in the history of our music culture. Kudos to everyone involved in this project. I loved that they included the David Bowie interview about race. He was a class act and a humanistic artist and music contributor for the good of the human race.

The film that made the most impact on me was the World Premiere of “The Condor and the Eagle”, opening with an Indian incantation, it is a film about the treaties and unity the indigenous people from North, Central and South America have taken the fight for climate justice to the streets and onto the big screen– an outreach to save the planet, Mother Earth. After the screening, a final prayer that includes all humankind in this struggle. As executive director and co founder of Woodstock Film Festival, Meira Blaustein remarked during the introduction, the film came to Woodstock film programmers very late in its festival schedule, but it was a film you couldn’t say no to, and they found a way to integrate this work of climate journalism as a World Premiere that included a special invocation by indigenous people after the screening. One of their strongest connections is the forest in the Woodstock area was mentioned as a revered place for Nature’s way for artists to converge on this spot and share their visions of being. I couldn’t agree more. Woodstock Film Festival fulfills in its capacity as a bona fide high end film festival experience. Congratulations on twenty years of being fiercely independent and looking forward to years to come. Stay the course. Take risks. Dream big. Fight hard. Fiercely Independent.

Woodstock Film Festival 20th– Taking Risks!

A stellar crowd came out to celebrate Woodstock Film Festval’s 20th year, kicking off in high style with a pre festival screening of The Apollo and filling most of the 1,500 seats at the Ulster Performing Arts Center, (originally the Broadway Theater and Community Theatre), located in Kingston, New York. Executive producer and co founder, Meira Blaustein greeted long time friends and supporters of the festival up until the final moments before showtime, beaming with joie de vivre as she welcomed film festival lovers, fiercely independent filmmakers, introducing the film and coming back afterwards for a conversation with producer, Lisa Cortes and The Apollo’s historian, Billy Mitchell.

It’s a long winding road to get to this moment that will be positioned in my film festival time capsule. I have a podcast with Meira during one of my early film festival reviews (2006?) an exuberant discussion of her vision, setting in motion a place for independent filmmaker to show their work and be recognized for the risks they have taken and how it will all turnout. It’s a mystery to some, but watching this adept tactician at work, I see several practices that

Returning to my own start, Film Festival reViews, I came and watched this one grow through the years from its infancy out of a tiny office between Mill Street Road and the main drag, Tinker Street, to its current stretch across a wide swath of the Hudson Valley– including (Woodstock), Kingston, Rosendale, Rhinebeck, Saugerties– a remarkable achievement. The fiercely independent maverick moniker stuck, aptly so, with some of the best films and programming; forthright and fascinating panel discussions; fostering indie filmmaker in the best light and opportunity; where film industry players can be found roaming the Woodstock streets and venues; and where you come across knowledgeable staff and dedicated volunteers.

Meira and I often would run into each other at Sundance Film Festival, Park City, Utah in the cold month of January where introductions would be made on behalf of one another, comparing notes and chatting over the reception offerings. That’s where you ask, “So, what are you up to these days?” And, that’s how it began for Lisa Cortes as she recounted how The Apollo project took an earnest turn into making it happen. She ran into long time associate, friend, colleague, Roger Ross Williams (also a guest programmer for Woodstock) at Sundance where they decided to bring in others with the ambition of turning back-in-the-day archival footage and historical anecdotes into a current living, breathing entity that continues bringing arts and culture to the Harlem community to this day.

It was a risk for The Apollo Theater’s survival, a risk for The Apollo film’s Opening Night prominence, as well as a risk to make this gala affair into a community wide, invitational screening, free of charge, a magnanimous gesture thanking film festival attendees and sponsors for their ardent supporters in the two decades of the Woodstock Film Festival. It worked. It’s a risk worth taking and that seems to be the thread that I find connects the films I have chosen to see. Boldness is choice, in the decision to screen important messages, and the pairing of connecting shadow and substance. It is a risk to put yourself out there, your work, your song, your story. As what I’ve experienced in the days of my attendance, it is a risk totally worth taking. I thought I could get this into one blog, but thinking of every moment of film and festival, I’m going to get into segments. The thread will remain– music in film and risk taking in life.

Big Eddy Film Festival – A Class Act

The eighth annual Big Eddy Film Festival Narrowsburg, New York on the Delaware was a class act. Rather than succumb to traditional film festival fare of a celebrity-oriented gathering, the festival, produced by Delaware Valley Arts Alliance (DVAA) embraced its community with films that were inclusive– from the families who have been here for decades to the newly arrived who feel like they’ve come home– resulting in a thought provoking transport to unexpected places followed by conversations with fellow cinephiles listening to their persuasive rationalizations.

Opening night film “Narrowsburg” was the hit for that very reason, with 250 people coming out in support making it a sold out event. Trite descriptives (sleepy and bucolic) for Narrowsburg, none of which I ever thought to use in the almost fifty years since my parents bought a five acre property across the bridge on top of Peggy Runway. It was a place nearest to their own beloved homeland they had to leave after the second world war. I, in turn, fell in love with the river, the forests, roads that lead to adventures in and around town, the farmers and shopkeepers, the National Park Service that protected this essential to human existence part of the world. It was a place where people worked hard for what they had, honest, decent, respectable and loyal to their community.

Vintage photos and archival film footage were skillfully introduced especially the home movies of high school basketball taken in the very gym turned auditorium of the Narrowsburg Union, a repurposed landmark, the Narrowsburg High School. It wasn’t until halfway through the film that I came to believe it should be retitled– “How The Con Artists Castellanos Scammed Hard Working American Farmers in Narrowsburg.” Too much wise guy, Richie and an unethical Jocelyn (who went on to scam the Queens International Film Festival and was eventually deported back to France or wherever she came from) and not enough Narrowsburg.

Nevertheless, it became an ecumenical experience as I mingled with people who appeared in the film, curiosity seekers who have heard the stories over the years, and the filmmakers who worked on this film for a decade and found the story coming out of a story they first thought they had. That’s often how it works in documentaries as noted by Jan Jensen and Mark Allen, a husband and wife documentary filmmaking team on the Sunday morning panel “Married to the Work: Partners in Filmmaking and Life.” There are times you go with the flow and sometimes an abrupt turn needs to be made as the story unfolds over research and interviews often leading to other witnesses. It felt like a caper and that can become an all together different crime story.

Excellent screen projection and audio at the Tusten Theater enjoying the intimate setting encompassed by original Art Deco decorative style from the 1920s and 30s with its precise and bold geometric shapes. Too often a finely tuned viewing experience may go uncelebrated, so kudos to the supplier of the technical and projectionists. It reminds me of my favorite Sundance venue, the Egyptian Theater, along with other historic theaters that have been saved from demolition and renovated back for film screenings and performance art. The films that came from the Tribeca Film Festival included several that I had seen and recommended as programming consultant to another upcoming film festival. “Gay Chorus Deep South” brought together diverse members of our community, whether life style, religion, philosophy or the origins of whence they came. Ultimately, after the screening as the theater emptied, people waiting in the foyer for the next film were astonished to see so many tear stained faces shining with joie de vivre.

Following several patients in “The Dog Doc,” director Cindy Meehl, whose film “Buck” warmed film audiences’ hearts towards a horse whisperer’s humanistic approach, brought Dr. Marty, his family members and clinic family to the same dynamic and humanistic approach in veterinary care. It’s a look into a world where consumer transparency and regulatory protections are increasingly rolled back or dismissed becoming a foregone conclusion for increased corporate profits in the pet food as well as pharmaceutical industries. An advocate for a balance between conventional and integrative medicine, Dr. Marty and Cindy, along with their filmmaking team are on a mission of providing the starting point for recognizing increased problematic pet health issues and how it can be dealt with. We are witness to how integrative veterinary medicine is taking root; in the way we love our pets who cannot tell us what’s wrong; and where sometimes, conventional medicine is not possible to be a one-size-fits-all treatment. Their team approach, dedicated outreach to film festival audiences, and genuine concern for future veterinarians is remarkable, gaining traction with more screenings on the horizon. Stay tuned.

Nonwithstanding, I believe “Recorder:The Marion Stokes Project” was the most important film coming out of the very astute, invitational programming by festival director, Tina Spangler. There are times when the promotional film descriptions, the movie poster and program details miss the essential point of the story, as I found after I saw the film at Tribeca Film Festival. While it is a documentary of a profound thinker, civil rights and media rights activist, Marion Stokes, but by the end of the film I felt I could equate this recluse with the visionary Yoda, making for a cautionary tale of our times. She intuitively spotted future trends such as computer operating systems; was an early investor of Apple products; followed the Star Trek philosophy of diversity, gender equality and joining forces uniting Earth to explore, not conquer the universe. She feared the government portrayed in the Big Brother is watching, screen shattering ad for Apple during the 1984 Super Bowl halftime commercials. I remember watching that ad and I became an Mac advocate since that time.

Mostly, Marion Stokes feared the way the media has the power to shape our perceptions often without consequence or our understanding. That’s why she felt it was her mission to save future generations by recording and preserving on outdated technology (VHS tapes), what was documented, presented as news, information changed and edited because of policy of the corporate owners or the government in power at the time. I wish there could have been a discussion with the other people in the audience. One woman shrewdly noted how easily the documentarian, Matt Wolf, presented the family and few closely chosen personnel surrounding her, yet how he was making the viewer work harder to get to know who Marion was and her mission, her reason for being. I would love to see a change in the movie poster and show her image on the deck of the starship USS Enterprise surrounded by technology of the future with a gin martini in her hand, and a sly smile.

Overall, the Big Eddy Film Festival is one to keep an eye out for in the future. It’s an out of this world destination; a culminating vortex for the arts and artists; a community with a diverse collective of human beings, traditions and spirit; where past, present and future storytellers are welcomed. It’s in there, Narrowsburg, New York, on the Delaware.  http://www.bigeddyfilmfest.com/

Cannes Short Film Market

Getting a film into Cannes is an accomplishment no doubt worth crowing about, however, most filmmakers squander their golden opportunity without a plan. Instead, images of all night parties on yachts and exclusive parties are the sugar plums dancing in their heads instead of finding a way to give your film status at a market like Cannes.

This is especially and vividly true when I visited the the Short Film corner that was unbelievably crowded with very little opportunity for anyone to take any time in this underbelly of film market universe. I had been there two times in a row with the first being a way to learn the ropes just as I learned from a Cape May film festival friend and filmmaker, Jill Wisoff, who sent me some interesting notes that I keep on file–

I suggest joining the Cannes network if you aren’t on at cinando.com which gives you the access to everything and you can register early for Cannes and you have access to every buyer, seller, distributor, participant in the market and as well through Berlin and AFM markets including lists of the companies, the films they rep, etc. This list also prints out in the yearly Cannes market book people use all year. I don’t know at what point they post prices for rental but for the cheapest way to give status to your film. You can rent a screening for the Cannes market in advance. They rent in the Gray d’Albion, a luxury boutique hotel, the Palais screening rooms and the Riviera I think… The Palais is a good place because people can find it easily compared to the Gray d’Albion screening rooms. Screening rentals ran from about 300 or so to 900 maybe more US; but, the point is if you rent for ONE screening, your film gets listed in the Cannes guides and in a number of the trade papers that list all market screenings plus the daily Cannes screening guides passed out to the 80,000 or so in hotels and throughout the region that attend the market. That’s a lot of eyeballs. I learned what to do by going a year earlier to Cannes (on the advice of a major producer rep I talked to) and scoped it all out…I also have a good friend who’s a boutique indie distributor so I sort of got the lay of the land and advice to screen there. Believe me, before I even decided to make my film I was already well on my way to learning what I could about distributing at least on the small scale by accompanying one distributor’s company to Sundance and helping just to learn. Get all the listings that go with it it’s easiest to arrange the screening a small indie ad in the trades will cost more in any case and this way you cover all your trades AND have a screening…again I suggest rent a small screening room in the Palais which really has people showing up to get into screenings all the time…you can give your choice of day and time (most market people leave by the 7th day of the festival though the festival goes to the Sunday so be aware you want to book maybe through the first Saturday through the following Tuesday when industry is still around). An article called “You Cannes Do It” about indie filmmakers and how to promote at Cannes and why we decided to do it etc…none of it is hard, difficult or a mystery. Filmmakers continually have to sell and distribute their own films and have to become our own promo/distribution machines and that includes doing what all big and small distributors have done at Cannes and other markets for decades. While many filmmakers opt to do the festival circuit more so for their Facebook page, what some have discovered in the long run is it’s so much more costly and maybe not as effective going the festival route when you can reach the entire industry and name recognition with one little screening at Cannes. Those five or so, smaller regional film festivals that are hard to come by these days for a feature usually aren’t going to get you a distributor deal anyway unless you win at Sundance and even then…well you know the story these days. The festival people at Cannes can be contacted any time and they’ll advise. They make it very easy to arrange your screening. You can do it all online, but as I said, I don’t know at what point you reserve a screening. I might have done so around February or March, but don’t wait if you don’t have to.
Let me know if I can help in any other way… Very nice to meet you as well there! 
Best, Jill Wisoff

In any event, sitting in the Short Film corner will not get you very far. Just as a filmmaker mentioned that he doesn’t go to Sundance because if he doesn’t get into the parties, it’s not worth going at all. I couldn’t help it, but I totally disagreed. There’s more to it that meets the eye and worth every moment of the film festival experience. I’ll have to dig up more on this topic as I keep hearing similar stories from filmmakers who have gone to Cannes with their short film and came back a bit shortsighted. Lessons learned.

Art of the Film Festival Experience Part II

What happens during film festivals when a perfect alignment of writers, directors, actors, key industry players turn out for a networking social event? Powerful connections born under the stars. It happens more than inexperienced film festival organizers realize.

Navigating through Netflix last week, I came across Frozen River, its opening scene to this day, remains one of the most riveting. A closeup of a visibly distraught character Ray Eddy’s face (Melissa Leo) tells the whole story – desperation after a husband abandons his family taking all the money saved for their home, a double-wide trailer. What she and another down-on- her-luck woman, Lila Littlewolf, (Misty Upham), a Mohawk bingo-parlor employee, do to make money (smuggling across the northern international border) to keep their families together is strikingly similar to the hazardous decisions people make today in their attempts for a better life.

I first saw Frozen River at Sundance 2008 and then at the Lake Placid Film Forum. Writer-director Courtney Hunt was much praised and Melissa Leo won critical acclaim including the Best Actress award from the Independent Spirit Awards, New York Film Critics Circle Award, Sundance Film Festival and many others during that year on the film festival circuit.

It was, however, the 2007 Woodstock Film Festival in October that I remember watching Melissa at a social networking event where I noticed her intensity, her serious face to face conversations with individuals, huddled over drinks, talking strategy for the making of a film that could have a major impact on audiences and critics alike.

FilmFestivViews@Lake Placid Melissa Leo on Frozen River Episode 054

It was impressive to see the team at Lake Placid for a Q&A after the screening. Later, I asked to do a podcast with Melissa and did so at her home in Stone Ridge, NY. I was already a Melissa Leo fan since the television series, Homicide: Life on the Street. It was during my years living in the Washington, DC area, the series was set in Baltimore, a tough area at the time. Her role as Detective Sergeant Kay Howard was my hero. She was a tough cookie, no make up, no nonsense, worked hard, knew her stuff, acted decisively and was respected by rank and file members of the police force.

We talked about her boldness in taking such character roles. Seemingly written exclusively for her or because she makes the character so much her own? I believe she draws upon hellish ordeals that reflect the character’s angst and recourse. Powerfully intuitive as an actor. It wasn’t long after her performance in Frozen River, there came focus of public and media attention earning her several nominations and awards, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Whew.

Following the Frozen River viewing on Netflix, I had to watch another one with Melissa in it. Lo and behold, Yuri Turchyn and I watched The Fighter, (2010) where she won several awards for her performance as Alice Eklund-Ward. Winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, The Fighter grossed $93 million in U.S. and Canada. In other territories, it collected $35 million, for a worldwide total of $129 million. Not bad.

In 2017, I wanted Yuri to have the best film festival experience ever, so it was off to the Sundance Film Festival. On January 20, we watched the premiere of Novitiate. Set in the early 1960s, it’s a story of the effect the Vatican II council had on the Catholic Church as seen through the eyes of a hard core, old-fashioned Mother Superior, Reverend Mother Marie Saint-Clair, played by non other, tough cookie with heart and soul, Melissa Leo. Just as the first time in 2008, I walked away from the screening talking for hours afterwards about the story, the writing, direction, its main characters, another superb performance. The rest of Sundance 2017 is part of another amazing story.

What makes this assemblage so consequential is the knowledgeable and competent festival directors’ and film programmers’ understanding for bringing together the elements and people allowing such remarkable projects to take shape. It can become quite the springboard of success for actors and the filmmakers adding positive reputation to the film festival. When it does happen, the festival director may feel the satisfaction of a seasoned matchmaker in their after parties and/or award events. Ultimately, creating opportunity for filmmakers is more important than just selling tickets for the bottom line. It makes for another great film festival experience.

Art of the Film Festival Experience Part I

I live for the film festival experience.

My earliest recollections of a log-line was in the TV Guide planning my weekly program viewing. Soon, I began writing log lines for titles coming out of my imagination and continued throughout high school and college– reading, writing, and immersing in cinematic culture. Art and foreign films saved the vaudeville theater houses and going to the movie theater became an integral part of my visceral link for storytelling. As more theaters turned to porn films for their survival, the film festival became the place to see films that would never make the Hollywood extortionist distribution racket at the box office. Instead, a richness involving the back story replaced the concession stand, behind-the-scenes discussions supplanted the celebrity gossip columnist and the independent filmmaker broke out of the big name studio’s vise-like grip developing cult followings, eventually finding their way into general audiences.

I witnessed this happening in 1989 during the Sundance Film Festival three years after it was overhauled from being the U.S. Film Festival. Our ski trip members were able to buy tickets the same day at the Egyptian Theater in Park City. Thirty years later, Sundance brings in $60 million for Utah, with over fifty thousand film festival aficionados descending upon the super well coordinated ten day event. Having attended the festival for more than a decade, I can say I have had an incredible film festival experience on more than one occasion and was responsible for others having the best film festival experience imaginable.

Returning to school a decade later, American University, Washington DC, opened the film industry world to me with a real life education about budgets and pre production, scripts and schedules, marketing and distribution, theatrical exhibition as well as, and especially, film festival exposure. Subscribing to Hollywood Reporter and Variety for film industry news and reviews was mandatory. It was imperative to understand the industry from the big studio perspective because that’s where the money was.

Three months after completing a master’s degree in Producing for Film and Video, finishing a documentary, and being a TA during AU’s School of Communications summer course in filmmaking, 9/11 happened. Hard to recall those dark days, but any money for anything related to filmmaking, digital media or marketing dried up completely. Scraping by, good things did spring out of the devastation, like the Tribeca Film Festival– rebuilding the neighborhood and community, annually reshaping, reworking, reorganizing into a strong festival. While we still have not been able to calculate the total loss of life and loved ones throughout the years, new technology and cinematic voices arose from the ashes. I have attended almost every one of Tribeca’s Film Festivals learning from them, reviewing many fascinating diverse topics that would never reach theatrical exhibition. The big name studios took notice of the independent film movement gaining traction and opened a few studios as an independent arm under their studio system. It didn’t last very long.

The seismic shift began in the winter 2007 during my tenure as account executive for a digital cinema network, Emerging Pictures/Emerging Cinemas. Within six months, almost all of the independent “arms” shut down. The affiliates, mostly historic theaters saved and supported by film societies, suffered during the downturn in the 2008 Wall Street meltdown. Another setback, but ultimately, more opportunity for film festivals to turn to their communities for support and strengthening their local independent film productions with fundraising and collective solidarity.

Many film festivals started out in the Hollywood celebrity-centered, style with glitz and glamour, red carpet, Gala Opening Night, a weekend of box office-quality films, after-party receptions, awards ceremonies, etc. having the disadvantage of often becoming an insular Garden club variety event or a founding person’s vanity project– a same old, same old annual weekend that exhausts everyone– the festival organizers, their volunteers, filmmakers, donors/supporters/sponsors, and finally the audience.

Whereas the past several years has shown a transition and makeover of what a film festival grows into by embracing new technology, welcoming accomplished film festival organizers with the know-how and ability for recognizing valuable skills volunteers have to offer. Utilizing skills in the best possible way ensures that film festivals can evolve into a solid cultural and viable entity contributing to the economic development for its local businesses and arts community. Does the film festival of today support what the film festival philosophy purports– that the power of storytelling and film draws the community closer together? Can it demonstrate an ability to grow steadily and become highly desirable for the next generation of filmmakers, solidifying regional film industries thus continuing a positive economic impact? I believe it’s possible.

Another seismic shift is on the horizon as the independent film industry readies to completely break from the behemoth Hollywood studio system whose tent pole movies keep the concession stands buzzing on opening weekend soon fading into obscurity. That’s why I live for the film festival experience. It lasts much longer and with greater satisfaction. Stay tuned.

Tribeca Film Festival 2019 Get Back To It Episode 103

Christina@TribecaFF2019My Tribeca Film Festival Adventure Part One (probably 16th annual) started on Friday taking a two hour train from Port Jervis, New York to Hoboken. There, I was able to afford a place to stay hopping over to Manhattan via the PATH train. My goal, such as it is for any film festival outside of my daily driving ability, was to find the Registration room, pick up my badge and get the lay of the land, jumping right into the action as the first weekend is usually insanely fast paced.

According to the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival (April 24th to May 5th), info on their Squarespace redesigned website (for the second year as a sponsor), the 18th annual festival planned a showcase of works from emerging and new works from returning filmmakers. It was programmed from more than 9,295 submissions. “Our goal each year is to strike a balance between discovering new talent and showcasing new projects by notable filmmakers and storytellers.” I really don’t know how that would be possible. During the months before the festival, I had been inundated with press releases, updates, invites to the “red carpet only” (which I always mark down as “not interested”) special events and, what I had hoped for, more networking with the film industry, hence my upgrade to an Industry pass, this year.

The lineup included 81 World, three International, eight North American, one U.S., and ten New York premieres. Also 42 first-time filmmakers and 19 Tribeca alums returned to the Festival with their latest projects. Why does this matter? Most film festivals strive for being the first to show a film believing it draws people to purchase tickets, most likely online purchases. It becomes a game for their competition as other festivals plan and promote their line up and the timing of films finished and released is paramount for the next step. Timing is everything for when and where films screen often so they may be in a solid place for contention whether it is for an Oscar, a great international distribution deal, or streaming VOD deals.

This year’s features program included 103 films from 124 filmmakers. 50% of the films selected in the three competition sections were directed by women filmmakers. 40% of the feature films have one or more women directors, 29% of the feature films are directed by filmmakers of color, and 13% of the features are by individuals who identify as LGBTQIA. This too, matters, because the glass ceiling remains an elusive call for these filmmakers to come out and shatter it once and for all. While I was a bit surprised that there wasn’t a United Artists Centennial component to the schedule, it reminded me of the Universal debacle a couple years ago where the moderator of the Universal Centennial panel discussion was totally unprepared for any discussion of cinema history and Robert DeNiro looked so uncomfortable tolerating the awkward topics brought up by Judd Apetow. 

However, panels were extremely popular and quickly sold out. A bit pricey at $40 per ticket.

Keeping an eye out for the women directors in features, I found that documentaries ruled in this weekend and evening schedule. They opened the festival and maintained its hold over the course of the first seven days with Opening Night film The Apollo; Friday night Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice; Saturday and Critics Week choice, American Factory; Sunday afternoon, Dog Doc; and in the evening, Halston; Monday, Inndda Back Yard+Performance and Tuesday, Say Anything, retrospective with Cameron Crowe, James L. Brooks, Ione Skye and John Cusack on a Skype screen. Wasn’t sure if I would get to see the premiere of Framing John DeLorean taking it in during a morning Press & Industry screening. The formula works for getting people to come out and stand on line, despite the cold, raw rainy Friday night for the Ronstadt film. Many who tried to buy tickets online found it was Sold Out. As I note in many of my earlier blogs and podcasts, the Sold Out makes the screening more desirable. There isn’t any way out of that, but just as I say “there is always a parking spot,” there is always an extra ticket, somewhere, an empty seat, somewhere, at film festivals. Not everyone can make it and usually the people who have early access to tickets either don’t show up or hand them off to their publicists.

Fortunately for me, the publicist had a ticket for the World Premiere of Dog Doc on a Sunday afternoon, a packed house in Village East Cinemas. Check out the podcast with director Cindy Meehl and an incredibly hard working and funny person in real life as he is in the documentary, Dr. Marty, veterinarian extraordinaire. Coming soon, Tribeca Film Festival 2019 Part Deux.