Aug 28, 2008

Short Order

I'm just back from my very first film festival, the reputable Palm Springs Short Fest, where our short Close Relations premiered for the first time in America. I was happy to see my short perform very well, and I was ecstatic to show it in front of an audience comprised of filmgoers and filmmakers. The audience reacted the way they were meant to, laughing and cringing in all the right places, which means I did my job.
I had a great time at the festival, meeting wonderful, talented people and making new friends. And of course, watching a bunch of short films, some of them excellent.
I was lucky I attended Palm Springs, a very good festival, run super professionally, with a great breadth of shorts.
I learned many things that may be apparent to people with more experience than me in this circuit but to me they were kind of news.
The neglect of short films, the lack of interest and the lack of support of young filmmakers in this country is taking a noticeable toll. For the most part, it is not a coincidence that the best shorts, the awarded shorts, tend to come from countries that help their filmmakers: the U.K, Spain, France, Canada, Israel, etc.
Here, such a thing is considered communism, and therefore the American shorts (and for that matter many independent features) simply and for the most part do not have the level of their European counterparts. Not in production values, not in storytelling, not in originality, not in craftsmanship. It is interesting, right after the Olympics particularly, where Americans reigned supreme, to look at one niche in which we are losers; people mired in cinematic poverty. This is not to say that there were no good American films, but really, we can't compete.
It is ridiculous to expect our government to help. It doesn't do it with life and death issues like health care... But what appalls me is that we have the biggest film industry in the known universe, a place that generates thousands of millions of dollars in profits (by creating mostly appalling, immoral shit), and yet this industry gives almost nothing back.
I think that the only way Americans can understand how stupid and counterproductive this policy is, is to couch it in competitive terms. The Europeans are kicking our ass, big time. Now, they will tell me, who cares? Nobody cares for short films (unless you can put them in a cellphone screen). There is no market for them here, because it's not in the industry's interest. Instead of showing shorts before a feature, they show commercials. Would it be unthinkable to show 5 movie previews and one short?
But the problem is deeper. If young filmmakers had somewhere to go to for serious funding, and, having been given the responsibility, were encouraged to ply their craft with excellence, America could find its next wave of fantastic filmmakers and could compete and win in this arena, which in other places bears splendid fruit.
It really is not only about short film, which is as valid an entertainment and an art form as features, but it is about finding real talent for films. It is about the future of film. It's really just sad and ironic that American independent filmmakers have to go it alone.

The other thing I learned, or rather I confirmed, because I had heard it before, is that many festival programmers like to treat short filmmakers with condescension. Last year I was in a similar panel at the IFP Film Conference in NY, and in Palm Springs I attended a couple of panels in which these programmers are supposed to give us their pearls of wisdom about festival strategy. Some of these people have even written helpful advice books on submitting films to a festival (trying to make a buck by helping out, nothing wrong with that, right?).
To give you an idea, one of the books is called "How not to make a short film".
But that's all good. What is really offensive is the tone they use. They love recounting bad experiences with difficult filmmakers, and stupid things we all do. They forget that among us not everybody is a film student or a total amateur (and even if this was the case, this is not an excuse for the patronizing, disrespectful tone of the whole deal). Tough love is good. Contempt is not. I know the difference when I see it.
But does any filmmaker stand up and say, "don't you talk to me like that"? Did I? Nope. Why? Well, because these people wield the power to select your film or not. You don't want to antagonize them, and they know it. So they become this chummy, cliquish squad that supposedly talks about you and your film when you are not looking. So you better be on your best behavior.
I don't take these things personally. I believe they have every right to reject or accept my film under the set of criteria they see fit. But many filmmakers like me were very put off by their patronizing tone.
Still, you can always count on at least one asskisser in the audience, thanking them for all the hard work they do. He almost asked for forgiveness.
I would respectfully suggest to programmers they should stick to giving helpful, well-intentioned advice and zip the sob stories (my job is so hard, I have to watch 5000 films) and particularly the sarcasm, for their little clique. They talk about being tired of clichés, but if I ever hear a programmer again say that my film has to come from the heart, I will tear my heart out of my chest and eat it.
Filmmakers do not deserve to be treated like morons. We spend a lot of time, money and effort to try to make a film, pretty much on our own. Then we spend a lot of time, money and effort to try to make it into festivals. A little respect is in order.

Aug 22, 2008

In The Desert You Can't Remember Your Name...

Today, for instance, I was so happy to take a swim right outside my door early in the morning, that I locked myself out of my room. Apparently, it happens with some frequency in the rarefied desert air. However, since it is so darn hot, it was quite refreshing to wait for the maintenance guy in my dripping swimsuit, which pretty much dried out in seconds. While I waited, I even attempted some tai chi in the grass. Blame it on the heat, my darlings.

Then I took a ride through town in my ovenmobile, found the little downtown nestled against the spectacular hills (see below) and went to see Rosemary's Baby, whose amazing DP, William A. Fraker was there to tell stories about this legendary movie. He said he loves, admires and respects Roman Polanski. So do we! He said Polanski is a visual storyteller and that's because he comes from the Lodz film school. Hear, hear. (Yet listen to the way he uses sound. It is unbelievable).
The film still holds up. Visually it is a marvel. It is entirely disturbing in ways that one can't really rationalize. It is also very funny and over the top and it still gives one the creeps. This amazing film is 40 years old, people. It is fresher, and more daring than most of the crap made today. I have written about it elsewhere in this blog. I am a die hard Polanski fan.

At sunset, these mountains look incredible.

It's a good thing it is barely bearable to be outside in the middle of the day, because otherwise I'd be at the pool or communing with rattlesnakes in the desert. As such, I'm happy to go to the events of the festival where I will learn how to market my film, be discovered like Lana Turner at Schwab's and my life will change forever. Seriously, I want to see some shorts as well. See how we fare among the competition.

Inland Empire.

In the Desert

Greetings from Palm Springs, California, where we are attending the Palm Springs International Short Film Festival with our film Close Relations. It's big, well organized and cool.
I love the desert. It is beautiful. My ugly ass rented car feels like a sauna only a Russian could love.
It seems that at 5-6 pm it's hotter than it was at 1 pm. It's so hot, the airport is outdoors. It's so hot, you can have a delicious swim at night. Which we didn't do because we were busy going to opening night and the opening night party.
Yours truly was all alone and dreading human interaction, but interact she did with some fellow filmmakers who all share the same insane obsession. Some were very nice, others not so much, but it is all very interesting. This field definitely attracts some artists with narcissistic tendencies (and that includes moi).
Everybody and their mother is making films. On the other hand, here are the few, the proud, the indebted or the rich or the well connected.
The attendees, a motley crew, are a mix of suntanned retirees, gays and filmmakers. And mysterious people with badges that say "industry". Those are the ones I'm supposed to talk to. For there is apparently a short film industry. It's like the munchkins in Oz.
It's all very glamorous.

Aug 11, 2008

Classics: Rififi!

Wow. They don't make them like they used to.
We caught the wonderful
Rififi (Jules Dassin, 1955) yesterday at the Film Forum. I think it's the best movie I've seen all year.
I cannot recall any recent movie that is more beautiful, more smart, more wise, more lovely, more fun and more heartbreaking than
Movies like this just make you think that cinema today is a heap of garbage.
Rififi is a French film noir and the mother of all heist films, about Tony le Stephanois, a sad, somber man who gets out of jail, having taken the rap for a younger protegé and because of pride and greed and plain flawed human nature, he decides to participate in the heist of a jewelry store off the Place Vendome. The actor Jean Servais has a face sculpted in grief and hard knocks. He is the epitome of the noir anti-hero. He is a tough, tough guy. But he is wounded by love and seeking redress. He is sick and old and broken by his stint in jail. So he is a real interesting character: loyal to his closest associates but bent on self-destruction; guilty of the sin of pride.
He has a "family" of hoodlums who are so endearing you want them to teach you how to rob jewelry stores so you can be just like them. Their lives seem like fun. You root for them from the start. I just learned that the guy who plays Cesare the Milanese, a suave, charming Italian with a weakness for women, is none other than Jules Dassin, who is not French, as his name sounds, but a Yiddish actor from Connecticut, who had to leave the US because of McCarthyism. He is delightful as Cesare, funny and heartbreaking. Please read about Jules Dassin's improbable, amazing life here.
Now, the preparations for the heist, and the heist itself, are a poem to professionalism and team work. The heist is a fabled long sequence without dialogue or music where you see the loving, tender concentration with which the robbers do their work, their patience, their talent, their artistry.
It works as a metaphor for filmmaking, where everybody collaborates their expertise to achieve a beautiful result.
But what makes it even more beautiful, this tough as nails yet tender caper, is that you know that it's going to end in tears. As does life.
Rififi there are good bad guys and bad bad guys. The good bad guys steal jewels. Their relationships are warm, loyal, decent. The bad bad guys deal drugs, pimp women and have no scruples. But since they all live in the underworld, that's where they settle their scores and doom themselves to grief. The well behaved world is irrelevant to them. It's as if it was another planet.
Throughout the movie, Dassin sustains increasing tension and excitement, with many inspired, delicious touches. And the end is a classic.
I will not tell you more except that many of us in the audience burst out in applause.
Rififi is a masterpiece. You have to see it.
(Be forewarned that a remake is apparently slated for 2009 with none other than Al Pacino in the title role, as per IMDb Pro.) All I can say (besides how dare they) is I wouldn't want to be in their shoes.

Du Rififi Chez les Hommes
cannot be topped.