Thursday, September 27, 2012

Raindance: Pre-Opening Night

I arrive in London sleepy and disoriented and a night of sleep doesn’t really help. I wake up on Wednesday, which is opening night of the festival, and walk down to Raindance’s new offices. The old offices were in the heart of Soho, in a basement which had film production companies on the floors above. One day on the way to the old office I passed Hugh Grant - it reminded me of the time Gene Hackman and I were waiting to cross a street together in Beverly Hills. The old Raindance office was cramped. The new offices are near Charing Cross Railway Station in the old rehearsal place for The Players Theatre Company - there’s a theatre named after them a few blocks away. It’s still a basement - but a very large area with offices, two rehearsal spaces, and enough room for a jet lagged writer to have a seat and chat while the insanity of festival organization goes on around him.

One of the odd things about a commercial Hollywood writer at a film festival is that festivals often cater to odd tastes that mainstream cinema - and even arthouse cinema - tends to ignore. So there are always a handful of films that you can’t see anywhere else - and maybe for good reason. I had a conversation later that night with a couple of Facebook Friend filmmakers I had never met F2F before about the problems of a US film industry that is *too focused* on the bottom line - and allows great films with a limited audience to go unseen. But there are also films with audiences so slight that one cinema showing at a film festival attracts every single person in the world who would ever want to see this film - and half of the people in the cinema might be people like me who want those two hours of my life back after the house lights go on.

In the Raindance Office they see me as a new volunteer to do Q&A after some film screenings. But here’s the problem: the Raindance staff has already requested to do the Q&As for films that interest them - some films many staff members *fight* over to do the Q&A - and what is left are the films that no staff member wants to do the Q&A for (and a few that no staff member has selected). As they pitch me these films to do Q&A for, I look them up in the festivals program and read the descriptions... and I don’t want to do most of them. There are a couple that I say yes to - a thriller and a couple of indie films where the “making of” story sounds like it would be interesting - but when I look up many of the others my answer is that I am not interested at all...

Most of these films actually have the word “depressing” in the description that was designed to make you want to see the film!  The descriptions for these films all sound the same - two people in a room struggle with depression. They all took place in the winter. So here’s what I would have asked the filmmakers if I had done the Q&A....

Depression is a serious illness. Why would you want to make a film with the intention of *infecting* other people with this illness? Why would you want to be the Typhoid Mary of depression? Infecting total strangers around with world with this illness? How can you *morally* allow your film to be shown to an unsuspecting audience? I suspect none of the filmmakers have considered the moral implications of making a depressing film. I’m sure they were all thinking that this is self expression or showing reality as they see it - but are either of those a good reason to infect strangers with your illness?

Of course, they have the right to make their movies... but while people jump on violence in cinema and sex in cinema, why does no one jump on depression in cinema? When I see violence in a film, I do not wish to go out and perform violence. But when I see a depressing movie, I do become depressed. So when I return from the festival I’m going to make up some picket signs and pamphlets and begin my crusade to put an end to depressing films.  The world is an unhappy place and you are going to die - do we really need movies that rub our noses in it? Hate me if you want - I *am* a crazy crackpot.

Speaking of crazy crackpots - that’s one of the other kinds of extreme narrowcast films you will find at festivals. Folks who have a “unique vision”, as in: no one else understands their films. You can watch them as some sort of art curio - but that doesn’t make them any more accessible. There’s a survival of the fittest in all things - including cinema. Some films go largely unseen for good reason. There are films which are the arthouse version of BIRDEMIC - so bad or odd that they become an “I dare you to see it” sort of thing. Of course, when we’re dealing with an arthouse movie, sometimes the oddity of the film is mistaken for art... often on purpose. Any film which rebels against the conventions of cinema is automatically “great art”. Focus? Sound? Lighting? Good acting? Making sense? Our film rebels against those concepts and is a blurry mess of images too dark to fully make out with mumbling non-actors who all dress exactly the same! Critics hate my movie - and I wear that as a badge of honor! Audiences hate my movie - and that proves that it’s great! Everything anyone says is “wrong” with my film is proof that it is genius! Yes, I accidentally shot an entire reel without removing the lens cap - but that reel defies the conventions of cinema!  Here’s my question about films like this: If the filmmaker doesn’t make the film for the critics or audience - only for themselves - why do they show it to anybody? Why not simply make the film and shelve it? If it is *really* made only for themselves, why would they even want others to see it?

Well, I declined to do Q&A on any of those films.

Before leaving the office, Julian (Festival Director this year) mentions that there’s a cocktail party for the jury members and some select guests at 4:30... right before the opening night film. I look at the time - it is 3:00. I have my backpack and laptop - which means I have to walk back to my hotel and drop them off. By the time I make the round trip, it’s almost 4:30 and I have yet to have a meal. I am jet lagged and exhausted and... there are free beers!

I meet a couple of the other jurors, and some of the special guests (mostly sponsors of the festival) and have some free beer (mistake) and chat up the pretty bartender. I talk to one of the special guests who has a filmmaking program in Ireland and wonders if I teach screenwriting as well as write screenplays - yes, I do. So I may be headed to Ireland next year. I talk to some other folks - but the beers have hit me hard and I just want to go to sleep. But, I won’t be able to sleep, because the opening night film will begin soon, so our group walks from the bar to the cinema... where the jury members have roped off seats in the back of the cinema. I've never sat in the roped off seats before! Even at the premieres of my films, as screenwriter you don’t get a special roped off seat. The stars do, I don’t. I grab the seat on the aisle so that my knees won’t be under my chin for the whole film, and...

I wish I had eaten something.

- Bill

PS: Let the hate mail begin: Should depressing films be banned? Let's discuss it!

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