Notes on Process
Yesterday in Paris Coming to Terms screened in the Rencontres Internationales, to an apparently decent audience which was appreciative. So reports Mark Rappaport, who at my request introduced it for me. On the same day I had a screening of Over Here to 4 people in New York, at the venerable and now homeless and grantless Millennium Film Workshop, which was a mainstay of the NY indie/experimental scene for decades. I got a few beers, a hamburger, and some enjoyable talk out of it. The only people present for it, in an all white room with bouncing (if dim) light from a lousy LCD projector, were 4 people who work for the outfit. Earlier I’d had a few evenings at Spectacle, another micro-cinema with a micro-audience to fit – less than half the 28 seats occupied. Oh well.
At present several other festivals or such are looking at the film – BAM here in NYC (a mixed festival of the arts, including film); another in Curitiba Brazil. Whether they take or not, who knows at this point.
I leave New York tomorrow for Columbus Ohio, and then Cleveland where Last Chants for a Slow Dance and Coming to Terms will screen at the Cinematheque. And then to Florida for screenings in Gainesville and St Petersburg, and finally, after 3 plus months of travels, back to Stanberry Mo, to shoot a new very quickie film for Blake, a few scenes of not-quite-finished film for me, and grab my Subaru and head west, to put the brakes on sometime in April.
Just a little update on things since Rotterdam (for full thoughts on that, see this). Despite the lackluster audiences in Rotterdam, it appears a programmer was there from Argentina, and not long after leaving the festival Coming to Terms was invited to the Buenos Aires independent festival. I went there in 2007 I think it was, when they showed a handful of my films. Not sure if this invitation includes passage there, or, if so, whether I will decide that is a good use of my dwindling time and energies. Haven’t decided – likely to depend on whether I can arrange some other things in South America. Meantime the film will show in a handful of places in USA when I return in mid-February, and here in Madrid, from where I write, it shows in two nights, 8 pm on Feb 6. It will also show a week later at the Cinemateca Portuguese in Lisbon.
Here’s the schedule for screenings of Coming to Terms in Rotterdam, commencing this Wednesday:
28-jan-2014 19:30 20:59 Cinerama 2
29-jan-2014 22:15 23:44 LantarenVenster 2
31-jan-2014 11:30 12:59 LantarenVenster 6
Roxanne Rogers, who was kind enough along with husband Alp, had me as their guest in Istanbul in Dec-Jan. Great time for me. She will also be in Rotterdam for the first two of the screenings and will take part in Q&A, interviews, etc.
Meantime Coming to Terms is now subtitled in Turkish and Spanish, thanx to some really tedious hours on my part, and translations on others. It will show in Madrid and in Lisbon in February, at the cinematheque in each city. I am hoping I can round up some South American screenings thanks to the subtitles.
Anyone in Rotterdam – festival directors, filmmakers, or just plain old people, don’t hesitate to contact me at the festival. I’ll be in the new CitizenM hotel.
On the road now, I lost track how many weeks – drive from Portland to Stanberry, Missouri, where shot a new film, by title, Gentry County Stories (with Roxanne Rogers, Frank Mosley, Blake Eckard) and then went on to St. Louis Film Festival to show Coming to Terms (to about 30 people for glorious US Premiere) and receive pat on the back Lifetime Achievement Award (along with Oliver Stone). Was nice to see film on a big screen with good sound and with my final revisions of sound and pic. It was damned good. Promptly flew to Rome where I gave a talk at Roma Tre University, and screened a 2007 film, La Lunga Ombra, which was shot in Italy. Now wandering Europa, visiting friends here and there.
Following the “no” of the AFI festival and the modestly long list of other rejection slips which Coming to Terms gathered (Telluride, Toronto, NYC, Cannes, and I forget a few) I can’t say I’d begun to wonder about me or the film, but rather I’d started to think the film world was really, excuse my euphemism, fucked. I happily grant the film is not a happy-go-lucky audience-pleaser, but I’d hope festivals offered a different view about what film making can be about. But today, finally, in came invitation from Rotterdam Festival, which to my experience is one of the best ones of the last 10-20 years. They show a broad range of work, not much in the commercial realm, but interesting stuff from around the world, and they don’t consign little films to invisible little niches. They also have a real audience and almost every screening is well attended – by film people and most importantly, by locals. I recall being there a decade or so ago, plopping down on my hotel bed exhausted from travel, and perusing their catalog, looking for the place they’d stuck my film. I don’t recall which film, as I have had many in Rotterdam, but it was an under-$200 DV feature. Not finding it in one of the experimental or whatever sections, I flicked through the main program and there it was, opposite some multi-million dollar film, treated just the same. I can’t say I know any other festival that acts the same way. Anyway I’ll be off to Rotterdam end of January to present it.
Of other things, the other day Steve Taylor, who’s now been in 5 of my films (Homecoming, Over Here, Parable, Coming to Terms, and new one not yet finished, Strait Blue) wrote to let me know that as a bit of fall-out from being in them, and going to St Louis for the screening there, he landed a major role in an indie film where they’ll actually pay his travel, hotel, and a bit for him – which is a lot better than he can say I was able to do. Very happy for Steve there’s been some pay-off for being in my humble little exotic home-movies.
From here in Bologna off to Milano, where the fates have been so kind as to let me reconnect (thanks to the net) with the little girl, Tilde, who was the subject of my first film, aged 12, back in 1963, in Casina Amata di Paderno Dugnano, Milano. Tomorrow I take the train and she and her husband Lucio will pick me up and we’ll have a 50th year re-union – me an old man and Tilde 62! I kinda expect some tears. It is a beautiful story of hitchhiking and being taken into a family like a long-lost son. At the time it was a balm for a wounded soul. And at this juncture in the arc of life, it is once again. As has been seeing the string of old friends along this current journey – and more to come!
Note: I will return to the USA, Feb 16, New York City; will be in/around NY for two weeks, then probably headed down East Coast. I am looking for screenings, workshops, what ever suits your interests or needs. Can show new films or old, including Coming to Terms. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
While waiting to hear from the American Film Institute festival whether they will or won’t be interested in screening Coming to Terms (and The Narcissus Flowers of Katsura-shima), I gave the nod to the St. Louis festival to show the film. It will screen there on Nov. 24, at 3:45 in the afternoon. Sharing the same program will be a screening of my first film, Portrait, 13 minutes long, shot in Cassina Amata, Paderno Dugnano, Monza (Milano), Italy, way back in Jan-Feb 1963. I haven’t seen it for 3 decades I think. If the AFI fest passes, this will be the grand and glorious (and totally meaningless) American premiere of the film. Whoop dee doo.
[Update: the AFI fest did indeed decline the film, so St Louis will be the American Premiere. Awaiting word now from Rotterdam, and another exhibition - a broader arts one - in Paris. Apropo of the matter of festivals, etc., see this. ]
And while there, the festival will anoint me with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for my fifty years of fiscal folly and filmic fun. Also being so awarded will be Oliver Stone, who seems to have fared far better on the fiscal side of things, not to mention his 3 Oscars. I hope to hand him a DVD of Frameup for his amusement.
As anyone who really knows me knows, I take such “honors” with a large boulder of salt. In America (and many other places) the only thing the culture really honors and respects is money, and lots of it. It doesn’t “honor” the kind of work I do with even a modest “living” wage. In tangible terms, measured in the only “value” which really animates our society, I am, along with my work, deemed “worthless” – not worth paying a modest income. I pay to do my work; in general I pay to get it seen, and in general, especially in the last 2 decades, it is virtually unseen. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.
And, on the same program, at 1:45 will be Blake Eckard’s Ghosts of Empire Prairie, which I shot for him, and played a major role, back in May 2012.
Taking a little break from film at the moment, having shot new I think strange, perhaps good, feature in Port Angeles, WA. Currently wallowing in (unpaid, of course) photography things…
Hot on the heels of Telluride, that insider’s inside festival tucked into the flanks of the Colorado Rockies, came Venice, which just closed last night, and now all the film-buzz, of which there seems an endless (if in my mind vapid) supply, focuses on the ever-more-important and massive Toronto festival. Yesterday and today a few friends had screenings there – Nathaniel Dorsky ad Peter Hutton. Slipped duly into morning slots, their silent 16mm endeavors not exactly fitting into the heated atmosphere of stars and big budgets and all the hype which seems to accompany the glitzy world of cinema.
In the case of these festivals I happen to know the directors of Telluride and Venice. With Telluride, I sent a DVD of Coming to Terms to them, and while Tom Luddy wrote back that he “liked” my film and would pass it along to his co-director, at the end they said they “liked other films better.” Usually Tom replies that “the narrative is weak” or something along that line. And so I was not invited to hob-nob with the art-house commercial elite of the country. I was there long ago, with All the Vermeers in New York, a film which at the time seemed mostly to puzzle the supposedly cinematically sophisticated audience there. Actually I understand well that Telluride is actually a rather hard-nosed art-house business confab, and a little $2000 film like mine is not going to muscle out the money. I accept that.
I wanted to send Coming to Terms to Venice, but was told rules are rules, and only glorious global premieres show there. Alas, I’d let little lowly Jeonju do so. No trip to Venice, though even if they’d invited it would have meant paying to get there, which, at this juncture, and given the reality that in regard to making a buck, with films like mine, in Gertrude’s famous statement – there’s no there there – I would have passed on going.
So on to the next festival of note, Toronto, where once very long ago – mid 70′s to late 80′s – I was rather a regular for a while. They now have a hefty submission fee, so I wrote to ask for a waiver. Attempt one begot a robo-response, which I resent, with a little reminder that I’d once been a Toronto hotty, and asking for a human reply. I got one, and the fee was waived. I sent the DVD, and waited. They never got back to me, though it was easy to figure out the story when they printed their program and my film wasn’t there. I am such a genius. I also sent, with waiver waving, the film to New York, and again with no reply it is clear they passed as well. Though I think my two friends, Peter and Nathaniel, are going there as well.
I sent the film to several other places and await the probable silent “no.” Previously, as I think I noted earlier, I’d sent it to Sundance, and tried to do so to Berlin, but the latter could not be bothered to reply to a waiver request – again, rather some time ago, I’d been a festival favorite, going there numerous times from 1977-1993. Now my stock has fallen so low they can’t be bothered to send a word of any kind. I don’t know whether to rack this up to the reality that with digital filmmaking now running rampant, they are so flooded with films they are in organizational disarray, or whether it is rudeness derived of arrogance. Or whether indeed my cinema world cache, little that it ever was, has been totally cashed out.
Stats: Coming to Terms, was sent, in this order, to Sundance, Berlin (attempted), Cannes, Jeonju, Edinburgh, Telluride, Toronto, New York. I didn’t bother sending to Venice owing to the world premiere requirement. Both Jeonju and Edinburgh invited it, though I declined the latter as with no premiere status they wouldn’t pay airfare. (Though as it turns out many bigger festivals – Berlin, Venice, and Cannes also do not pay to have you there – they put you up in hotel if you can swing the fee of getting there.) The rest said (or didn’t bother to say) “no.” It is now out to Roma, AFI, Rotterdam.
As it happens, I think (and some filmmaker acquaintances whose views I deeply respect seem to agree) this film is one of my best. And it seems I can hardly get a festival to screen it. Go figger. Well, actually I know it is pretty much totally out of tune with many aspects of the cultural zeitgeist, so I am not really so surprised.
Meantime as a little techie matter I finally sat down the other day and remixed some of the track which was dubious, and along the way since I had the time-line up did a very extremely discreet visual things that I think anyone who has seen it won’t know they noticed, but something I think will deepen the viewer’s attention. Not saying here just what, but it’s there….
Once I hear back from those festivals it is out to, I’ll report in again.
Back in the US now one full week, and finally almost back into local hours after two weeks in Korea flipped my ever more inelastic internal clock. Jet-lag seems to worsen as I get older. In Seoul managed to see a handful of friends a few nights after arrival, staying up deep into the morning – 5 am – in the Kondae area. Not exactly the cure I needed for the jet-lag, rather its opposite – kept me firmly planted in West Coast time.
And then it was on to Jeonju, where thanks to the festival scheduling I wasn’t present at the first official formal public screening of Coming to Terms, its damn “World Premiere,” which I stupidly let happen, since it was also the premiere of The Narcissus Flowers of Katsura-shima, and Jeonju got them both. Had I withheld one I could have wangled another airline ticket to Edinburgh or Locarno or Venice. Though perhaps given the jet-lag mangling it is a modest silver lining that I messed up and spared myself another transcontinental time warp. So the day after arrival I attended the Narcissus screening – a reasonably full house, and a good Q&A, though hardly enough to warrant the trip. And the following day a screening of Coming to Terms with a genuinely full house, and long and good Q&A. Narcissus showed again, ditto to decent house and Q&A.
As a requirement for screening these films were put into 24fps DCPs, which, as I’d forewarned the festival would happen, and asked that it not be done, made the films pretty bad to see. Shifting from 29.97 fps to 24 of course makes for horrible movement artifacts, and the shift in color forms also damaged the color and made all fades in and out have digital banding. It was literally painful to watch, especially when it was totally needless as they could have easily shown the h.264 files of the film. The few other films I saw also suffered from this conversion as most people, aside from Hollywood, don’t work at 24 fps, but either PAL 25 or NTSC 29.97 (or 23). I wrote the festival afterward to underline that they should junk this requirement.
Meantime the festival seemed less buoyant than in the past – perhaps soured by a little palace revolution in which the past director, and most his staff, were ousted and replaced by new people. Certainly the over-all organization seemed less tight, stingier, and less friendly than in my past visits. At the conclusion of the festival the head of the jury, filmmaker Darezhan Omirbayev, from Kazakhstan, apparently castigated the festival for the lackluster selection of films in competition (first and second films), saying no one on the jury had been passionate about any of them, and that they were all, well, too safe and conventional. He did manage to come to my films, both of them, and clearly liked them, telling me that if he can do so, he’ll try to arrange for me to visit and show my work there. Just when I could do this in the dwindling time at hand is another question. As is the question of just what purpose do festivals have anymore for those like me?
For the work I do, there is in the present world no “market” – to say someone or place which might buy it, in hopes of in turn making some money out of it. No distributor, no television, takes this kind of work anymore – 15 or 20 years ago I might have reasonably hoped to sell, if not for much, at least for a little, somewhere. But this is no longer a reasonable expectation. Instead the best one might hope for is - well, a ticket to place X and 3-5 days in a hotel there. And only once (or perhaps 2 or 3 times) for each film. And, in my case, maybe some DVD sales over a long period of time. Not exactly what one could call “making a living.” This is in part owing to the for-the-moment victory of hyper-capitalism which has commercialized everything and done a pretty good job of convincing a sizable chunk of humanity that the only important thing in life is money and the things it can buy. In my tiny little place in the world this translates into the kinds of pressures I get all the time about “telling a (more accessible) story” or something like that, and thinking about “the audience/consumer,” and making something “they” would like (and pay for.) And so on. It falls on my very deaf ears, I suppose because actually I totally differ with the great Market Economy religion of the times and think it is dead wrong, and will in due time render us all dead owing to its perverse “values.” So trying to convince me to accommodate its demands is rather misguided. The other reason the “market” for my work which once existed is gone is that the electronics revolution has rather sharply altered not only the physical landscape – but also, particularly in younger people, the psychological one. Time is more fragmented, in nearly all senses. Attention spans are shorter. Distractions abound, carefully constructed to grab the eye, ear and mind. And we are basically trained to avoid anything serious or demanding – so much better to pop a pill when we’re unhappy, or answer the text message our friend just sent us, or tweet our view in a handful of words. Actually sitting in one place for 90 minutes, or longer, paying attention to something making a demand on your mind and spirit is…. is so not now.
Before I departed for the festival, a few people asked if I was “excited” and I had to answer, no, I’ve been making films for 50 years, and going to festivals almost as long, and it is more or less a necessary chore, the only form of “marketing” to pretend to be doing. So I go. And so I left Jeonju not unexpectedly disheartened as it merely confirmed what I’d known before I departed: that what I do is rather meaningless in the present world, not that it hadn’t been meaningless in the previous one. I make an ethereal art, something requiring a complex apparatus to send photons bouncing on a screen to disappear as soon as it is visible. The sound waves go a bit slower, but decay just as fast. Inside the spectator synapses crackle, and one feels happy or sad, exhilarated or disappointed, and afterwards whatever one takes away shifts, and in due time you forget, or in all events, you lay down and die. In this case the whole impetus and seeming reason for making these things just happens to have died in advance of myself. And then, given the content of Coming to Terms, perhaps it is all duly appropriate.
So while I imagine I’ll go to some more festivals, if only to indulge the illusion that it has something to do with practical things like eating, and I’ll continue to make films despite the reality that all it does is eat up much of my time and energy, along with some of my dwindling savings, I can’t say I will do these things blindly or unaware: nope, I know full well it is, in the world I live in, considered a useless, worthless endeavor, unworthy of any payment at all. And a pat on the back with nice words is about all I can expect, though naturally that means almost nothing to me.
Buddy, can you spare me a dime?