Dallas International Film Festival 2017: Recap part 2

Last week, I posted a few highlights from the first weekend of DIFF. Today, I’m continuing my recap of the 11-day festival.

As the first weekend of the event comes to a close, I move into the awards and jury process of my job. Coordinating multiple juries is no easy task. The invitation process takes months. I asked over 35 people to fill 12 spots during that time. There are different personalities to juggle and travel itineraries to communicate. In the end, we had one of our best group of jurors yet (you can read about them here).

Screenings continued as Monday kicked off the week. The jurors who were not local to North Texas began arriving on Tuesday night. Meanwhile, all screenings were being balloted and DIFF programming coordinator, Daniel Laabs, was leading a team of volunteers to count ballots following each morning’s staff meeting.

@stradstylemovie director Stefon Avalos at the Q&A! #stradviolin #diff2017 #filmfestival

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We set up private screenings for the jury in the morning and they watch a few with the public. Every year is different based on what is allowed between schedules of both people and films, available screeners of the films (vs. encrypted DCPs) and the venues themselves.

After viewing all the films, the jury comes together to deliberate. It is during these two hours that my world begins to spin. I try to communicate next steps with several departments at once. Time is of the essence. This day is an adrenaline rush and always surprising. Then I am deep into spreadsheets for DFS Honors, finalizing show flows and seating charts. You can read about all the DIFF 2017 winners here.

DFS Honors became our awards presentation a few years ago, the idea being a Golden Globes style dinner with awards that would act as a fundraiser for the non-profit. I think it’s a mix-bag event. Lots of moving parts with different egos involved, constant last-minute changes, expensive and typically more money spent than raised. It is another event where I’m also playing a kind of stage-manager role – this time without a headset – while a show host. Because it typically includes several different speakers both from sponsors, jurors and other special guests, there is only so much you can control once the show begins. The event usually runs long and by the end almost all the filmmakers, jurors, guests and sponsors are happily…drunk. Then the party moves to the festival lounge for late-night karaoke, where the staff tends to finally cuts loose after a long nine days/nights. Of course, you party hard only to get up and start screenings again at 11:45am with honorees, winners and late-to-the-program films.

On the last weekend, I snuck away from the theater after my final intro for a sunset walk around my old stomping grounds at SMU. Even though I lived near the campus for some six years after graduating, I never went back and never properly showed Eric where I spent those “formative” years. It was a quiet night on campus, barely any students walking around (they were all getting ready for their greek parties I told Eric, as we saw the buses lining up near sorority row later). Wandering the halls of my old class buildings felt like a relief, a strange feeling of nostalgia combined with closure. It seemed like a proper way to end my two weeks in Dallas and this particular film festival.

DIFF 2017 was a tipping point year. We succeeded in the usual places – a strong program of films and making filmmakers feel welcome – but the years of a struggling budget showed in a way that could not be avoided. Changes need to be made and I think there are opportunities to refocus the festival that will only improve it. It is something James and I discussed often during my time in Dallas and we’ll continue to chat about throughout the summer. Venues, length of festival, major fest events, marketing, and, at the core, fundraising – all key elements that must be addressed before the fall.

There are a lot of people who care about this event and I truly believe it is an important cultural part to the city of Dallas. It is a disservice to continue on the same path we’ve been on, thinking it will somehow improve without actually making the necessary changes needed. I realize this may sound vague, but the discussions are still in the early stages. (Happy to chat offline to anyone interested.) My hope is that some of these ideas get a chance. Time will tell.

Below are more of my favorite photos from this year’s Dallas International Film Festival. Back with our regularly scheduled program next week! Thanks for reading!

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Q&A following Shorts 3 program
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James and I actually sat down together one night to eat dinner. This is incredibly rare. Not sure when the last time this happened in eleven years of the festival.
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One night in the DIFF 2017 Lounge.
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WHILE I WAS GONE filmmakers chat with coordinator Daniel Laabs at the SAG Indie Filmmaker Party.
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Director of Operations, Scott Rosza, and Operations Manger, David Jeter, take a break after building the DFS Honors red carpet.
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DIFF 2017 Shorts Jurors on the DFS Honors red carpet.
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DIFF 2017 Narrative Feature Jurors at the DFS Honors red carpet.
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DIFF 2017 Documentary Competition Jury at DFS Honors.
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Filmmaker Noel Wells accepts the Texas Grand Jury Prize from Panavision and the Texas jury for her film, MR. ROOSEVELT.
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Dallas Star Award Honoree, David Gordon Green, at DFS Honors.
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Beastie Boy karaoke after DFS Honors.
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Epic post-DFS Honors Karaoke: Power of Love with a dancing Lea Thompson!
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With Eric in town for the second weekend, we had to go back to Pecan Lodge to pick up BBQ with friends Claire (a former coordinator at the fest in town to visit) and Karen (DIFF marketing manager).
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Garland HS step team before screening of documentary STEP.

Sunday Mornings

It is Earth Day weekend and nothing like a heat wave in Los Angeles to remind you of climate change! E is away for a bachelor party and I’m enjoying some quality solo time. I decided to head west for the cool ocean air.

I found myself first near LAX, at a park watching planes take off and land. It is a weird quirk, but I am strangely fascinated by watching them. Then I explored Marina del Rey, finding a spot in a park to lay down under a tree and watch boats (err, yachts) come in and out of the harbor. After the past few months, I found a close kinship with a nearby sea lion (as shown above with a buddy), who only moved once… to sneeze.

Here’s a slice of internet fodder for you Sunday reading pleasure:

  • If you like analyzing photography, this is all kinds of intriguing: “Fairytale Prisoner by Choice: The Photographic Eye of Melania Trump
  • I need to get back to my Seinfeld evening routine.
  • I need suggestions for summer reading! I’m adding this one to my library list. What else should I add?
  • Did you listen to S-Town yet? I binged on the flight back to LA and then finished it off from the couch. What’d you think? (I loved it.) An interview with host/narrator/producer, Bryan Reed. (Also a nice reminder: make sure you have a will.)
  • I only got through about season 2 of Girls before moving on to other shows, so I have not watched the last episode or season obviously and read this article prepared for the spoilers. Valid points made and hitting home to me. I wonder how much of the ending was influenced by Apatow. Your thoughts?
  • I’ve been drinking a lot of lemonade lately as spring has sprung. This cucumber lemonade will be next.
  • Anything Men Can Do I Can Do Bleeding
  • Anna Faris live-tweeted Chris Pratt’s Hollywood Walk of Fame morning. I’m not one for celebrity following, but this was cute.
  • A little Earth Day weekend reading. Louisiana, my home away from home. This is nothing surprising to me, just a sad reminder that where I use to live will likely not exist for my grandkids to see.
  • Space Mountain is my favorite ride at Disneyland. They are dropping the Star Wars decor and going back to being just a ride in space… As long as they keep the song, I’m good.

I hope your day has a little sunshine and wildflowers in it today. Enjoy a little mother nature if you can!

Dallas International Film Festival 2017: Recap part 1

Hi there. I took a week off. It had to happen. Between flying back home and rushing back into a few personal hurdles, I needed to collect my thoughts and take some space.

Things are starting to settle into this new post-fest routine now and for that I am grateful.

For the next two weeks I’m sharing highlights from the 2017 Dallas International Film Festival. It was my eleventh year and I could feel a shift, not always in a good way. (But more on that later).

My trip began with an airport pick up from two of my friends from college, Maya and Katie. They were heading down to Waco for Katie’s birthday getaway, but first we had a quick snack and caught up on life’s adventures. That night, the Texas sky welcomed me back with epic storm clouds which I adored from the patio of Central Market (oh, Central Market, how I love thee.)

The week started out the new DFS office at Commerce House, an advertising agency. The new office was filled with cubicles and shared work space, far different that the film society’s previous home which was more private and had a little space for seasonal staff to work as well. While not ideal, the fest staff has made this work, but much of the season staff end up working remotely (which is fine as long as the communication is kept up appropriately…). Also one of the final tasks to prep: ballots.

The ballots are in @dallasfilmsociety HQ! Get ready to vote for your favorite docs, narratives & shorts during #DIFF2017!

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Opening Night was held at the Dallas City Performance Hall with a screening of Bonnie & Clyde (1967) with actress Faye Dunaway and screenwriter Robert Benton in attendance. Earlier I met with James at the venue to do a quick tech check and discuss show flow one final time. The night, of course, started late. It doesn’t matter how many times you say you are going to start on time for these things, when an actor arrives late and then slowly takes time to walk the red carpet (which can’t exactly be rushed since that’s what part of the job is) everything else falls behind. The other crux: the sound team who was part of the presentation in back of house had to mic Dunaway and Benson in the green room and then come back to the booth before we could start. I sat in the booth with the presentation team counting the minutes and then rushing out to the red carpet to put pressure on the timeline. It was at this moment I met Robert Benton, a lovely gentlemen, and escorted him off the carpet and backstage.  Eventually Dunaway walked off carpet and now it was a timer to get her mic’ed and get the show started. The second crux: speeches. I’m never a fan of long speeches on Opening Night, but it never fails to happen. Everyone wants to be heard. Because Dunaway was in attendance, a fifteen minute conversation was also added to the beginning of the show. While part of the great experience of a film festival, you can see how this all adds up. One of the best parts of the night though, was sharing it with my Mom who flew in for the festivities.

With Opening Night officially under our belt, the first full weekend hit. Each first Friday, DIFF holds the Filmmaker Luncheon sponsored by the Texas Association of Film Commissions. It’s a great time for the filmmakers to meet each other after arriving to town, get to know the programmers and meet with the various film commissioners from the state to talk about any future projects. After several years in one location, this year we changed it up. The gracious folks of Pecan Lodge hosted us. It was a dream come true. We feasted on delicious brisket, ribs, pulled pork, sausage and trimmings. I happily smelled of BBQ for the rest of the day. Thank you, Diane and Justin!

The first weekend also offered amazing Q&As with filmmakers and special guests. Dealt received a standing ovation at its first screening and I was thrilled to have director Luke Korem and subjects Richard and Kim Turner in attendance. City of Joy was powerful and the audiences were engaged with every word. I also had the pleasure of meeting show-runner Kurt Sayenga, an incredibly smart man with a good sense of humor. My Q&A with labor activist Dolores Huerta was a surreal moment. Towards the end of the Q&A she lead a “Si Se Puede” chant and took the time to chat with everyone individually outside the auditorium. My weekend ended with one of the more insightful post-screening discussions with filmmaker Christine Clusiau. She was incredibly kind and gracious. I loved hearing about her travels.

Standing ovation for film subject, magician Richard Turner & Luke Korem's #DEALT! #DIFF2017 #DIFFDocs #Magic 🎲🎬

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Very cool to have KURT SAYENGA EP/Showrunner @natgeo "Breakthrough: Predicting the Future" at #diff2017 #redcarpet #docuseries #natgeo

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This was just a sliver of the happenings from that first weekend. It’s hard to be in so many places at once. I never even made it to the Magnolia Theater since most of my work was at the Angelika Film Center that weekend. Between High School Day, an outdoor screening, special receptions for films and more, there was a lot to do. Stay tuned next week with more highlights from the second half of DIFF 2017.

More of my favorite photos from the first weekend festivities below (as taken by me and the DIFF photography team.) Do these photos make you want to attend a festival?

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Tech-ing Opening Night with Artistic Director James Faust
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Mom joins me on Opening Night of DIFF 2017
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View of the Opening Night conversation with Faye Dunaway from the booth
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DIFF 2017 Opening Night party
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Texas + BBQ
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Filmmakers grabbing BBQ at the Luncheon.
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DIFF 2017 Filmmaker Luncheon at Pecan Lodge
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With DIFF print traffic coordinator and friend, Keith Arnold
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With Kim Turner, Richard Turner and director Luke Korem after screening of DEALT.
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44 PAGES director Tony Shaff speaks with audience members after his screening.
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Artistic Director James Faust introduces GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER?
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The MUSTANG ISLAND crew
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Audience awaiting a screening of LIPSTICK UNDER MY BURKA
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At the Q&A with Dolores Huerta
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WIth DP Brett Curry and EP Kurt Sayenga
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TROPHY co-director Christine Clusiau
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A volunteer with DIFF Theater Manager, Dallas in between shows.

 

Shorts & Snacks: Fran’s Daughter (2011)

Today I’m posting about a very special short film. I discovered Fran’s Daughter in a pile of submissions back in the fall of 2010. I was immediately intrigued by this well-directed short about a woman who learns she may have been switched at birth.

The mood is set in the early frames – light creeping through a quiet house (the wallpaper a production design choice that has always stuck in my mind). The story, inspired by a This American Life episode, could easily go into soap-opera territory, but the film is excellently acted by these three women. These elements, and more, create a thoughtful drama.

Of course I had no idea at the time, but programming this short all those years ago would change my life forever. It was how I met my husband.

I am not a publicly sappy person, but as I am in Dallas on this anniversary of meeting Eric I thought it would be fun to share the film that brought us together. Just another example of how a great film changes your life course.

Grab a snack, take a break and enjoy Fran’s Daughter!

Fran’s Daughter
Directed by Eric F. Martin

2011 / 13 min / USA 

A short film about a woman who learns she may have been switched at birth.

Festival Travel: Dallas International Film Festival 2017 part 1

Less than 48 hours away from Opening Night of the 2017 Dallas International Film Festival. There’s a few new staff members on the team this year and my advice to them is simple: there’s no stopping this train, just try to keep up.

Travel for guests is still being booked as schedules change and last-minute plans are made. It’s always amazing to me how you can be talking with a film for over six weeks and the plans for travel don’t solidify sometimes until two or three days beforehand.

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The Magnolia Theater in West Village

One of those guests that is joining us we were excited to announce last week is legendary actress Faye Dunaway. She’ll be dropping in for a brief chat before the screening of Bonnie & Clyde on opening night. Besides Bonnie & Clyde, I’m a big fan of Three Days of the Condor, which E and I watched before my trip. (We’ll have to talk about that cheesy sex scene later…)

Bringing in a guest like Fay Dunaway is no easy task – there are LOTS of small details that are set up with her management before she gets on a plane. Keeping those details organized and communicated amongst all the other filmmakers, guests and events is the trick. Think lots of emails, phone calls and little spin-off meetings.

Sunday will be a big day for me: I’ll be hosting a panel about Docuseries with Nat Geo showrunner Kurt Sayenga and ESPN’s “30 for 30” series (and OJ: Made in America) producer Deirdre Fenton and a Q&A with the legendary activist Dolores Huerta.

Beyond the chaos and excitement, there are a few changes to adjust to as well. As I write, I’m sitting in the Dallas Film Society’s new office – a shared space at advertising agency, Commerce House. It has a very different feel than in year’s past. Today the last few departments are loading in to their festival hubs across the city. From today on, everyone will have their respective “homes” for the festival. As usual, you’ll find me at the theater.

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DIFF staff taking a chips & queso break: Jessica Tomberlin (Publications & Digital Media Editor), James Faust (Artistic Director) and Keith Arnold (Print Traffic)

What are your favorite Faye Dunaway films? What would you want to hear discussed at the Docuseries panel? Let me know in the comments!

Sunday Mornings

Texas, here I come!

My suitcase weighs 49.5 pounds. It is packed to capacity. The other bag is full of shoes. Why a bag just for shoes? Because when you stand on your feet for 12+ hours a day (sometimes running into a theater) one or two pairs of shoes for two weeks is not going to work.

I’m ready for more BBQ and breakfast tacos, familiar faces and a big Texas sky. Plus Whataburger. I’ve been craving it all week.

Keeping it short and sweet on this travel day. Here’s a few odds and ends that have been on my mind lately:

  • A new podcast from the crew of This American Life and Serial! S-Town is here on March 28. I’ll be binging on my flight post-festival, until then no spoilers please!
  • Face palm.
  • ICYMI, Cate Blanchett & Richard Linklater start shooting the adaptation of Where’d You Go, Bernadette this summer.
  • I was sad to hear of the passing of Amy Krouse Rosenthal earlier this month. In case you missed it, grab some kleenex and read one of the of her last (beautiful) essays.
  • One of the tricks about finding a place to live in LA is figuring out how far you are from the freeway or airport, both as a convenience and for all the noise/pollution. You can look up your neighborhood here: National Transportation Noise Map. #NoiseNerd
  • More science to geek out: Scientists Catch Star And Possible Black Hole In A Rapid, Dangerous Dance. Space. is. so. crazy.
  • Late March/early April is FULL of great film festivals. Kudos to all my friends out there making it happening with amazing lineups this year. Indiewire (which use to have larger coverage of film festivals in general) has a post that gives a run down of some announcements.
  • This Tropical Strawberry Hibiscus Rum Spitz cocktail looks so deliciously bright and colorful.
  • This: “At the root of this is the American obsession with self-reliance, which makes it more acceptable to applaud an individual for working himself to death than to argue that an individual working himself to death is evidence of a flawed economic system. The contrast between the gig economy’s rhetoric (everyone is always connecting, having fun, and killing it!) and the conditions that allow it to exist (a lack of dependable employment that pays a living wage) makes this kink in our thinking especially clear. “

Enjoy this lovely spring day! Thanks for reading!

Netflix v. Cinema

It is mere days away from DIFF 2017. I’m finalizing the little details of films and guests, completing various excel sheets and google docs (it is amazing how a film festival may have functioned before google docs), and trying to figure out my two-week wardrobe (packing for Dallas in spring is one of the greatest challenges of travel I believe).

The experience of showing a film in a theater with an audience has been on my mind. I’m looking forward to being with a community of film lovers and meeting filmmakers and artists; being in a room with people who are ready to discover something new or different, to experience an escape, to share a moment of fear, excitement or thrill.

That’s why this IndieWire editorial by Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas co-founder and CEO Tim League refuting Netflix CEO Reed Hasting’s recent remarks about cinema hit home for me this week. I’m posting Tim League’s full editorial below.

It’s a great reminder about why you go to the movie theater, why you see a film at a festival and why the cinema is an experience that my colleagues and I work so hard to create for both the audience and the filmmaker. Netflix is an impressive side of the film industry, but as League says, it is not cinema.

Tim League Refutes Netflix’s Reed Hastings On Movie Theater Innovation

The founder of the Alamo Drafthouse has some issues with Netflix’s Hastings saying that the movie business hasn’t innovated in the last 30 years.

Netflix. It seems like every other interview I give asks me about the “threat” of Netflix. I’ll be blunt. Netflix doesn’t concern me, and I think it is obvious after last week that the cinema industry is of no concern to Netflix either.

We are in very different businesses.

Let me define those businesses.

Netflix is in the business of growing a global customer base by being the best value proposition subscription content platform.

And they are doing a great job. Their portal is stable, intuitive, cheap and delivers plenty of great, new content every month. They also provide a fantastic financial opportunity for both emerging and veteran storytellers. I stand in awe of the audience they have built and the wealth they have amassed in such a short time.

But here’s my business: Cinema. Cinemas are in the business of offering an incredible, immersive experience that you simply cannot duplicate at home. Our job is to put on a show and provide a great value proposition for getting out of the house, turning off your phone and enjoying great stories in the best possible environment. At our best, cinemas should also be local community centers with a real, tangible relationship to their surrounding neighborhood.

Last week, Reed Hastings once again dumped on my industry. He summarized the innovation of cinema in the past 30 years by saying, “Well, the popcorn tastes better, but that’s about it.” While our industry has not shown the vision and truly game-changing innovation of Netflix, Hastings’ antagonistic approach to cinema inadvertently exposes an underlying disrespect to the creators and auteurs that drive this entire machine.

Our best and most talented, passionate filmmakers vehemently do not want their films to be viewed first and foremost on a phone, on the train to work, while checking email, while chopping vegetables for the evening meal, on mute with subtitles while rocking a baby to sleep, or while dozing off before bed. The reality is, most Netflix content is being “consumed” in a less-than-ideal environment.

Great filmmakers create content to share their fully realized creations in a cinema with full, rich sound; bright, crisp picture and a respectful audience whose full attention is on the screen. And because of that, when courting filmmakers young and old to create content for their platform, I wish Netflix would consider the relationship with cinemas built by Amazon, Hulu, HBO, Showtime and Epix.

They all believe in cinemas as meaningful partners. They also respect those filmmakers who want meaningful theatrical engagements for their films. They believe in the promotional partnership that successful theatrical engagements can give to word of mouth, awards consideration, brand loyalty and ultimately maximized financial returns.

Amazon, for example, will be at CinemaCon next week building and strengthening their relationship with cinemas instead of tearing it down the week before.

I got into this business because I love movies. I hold the cinematic experience to be sacred, wonderful and these days even therapeutic.  I love the shared communal experience and the charged conversations I have after watching a movie in a cinema. I want to forge relationships with companies who truly love movies, too.

I do not believe that cinemas are owed or grandfathered into an exclusive window before movies are offered ostensibly for free on platforms such as Netflix. I contend that cinemas have earned, and must continue to earn, an exclusive window by providing the experience that directors desire as well as providing a significant financial benefit to producers and financiers.

To close, I’ll offer my flippant counter, as I was asked specifically to respond to Hastings’ remarks of last week. Until a meaningful relationship is forged with cinemas, Netflix is not making “movies.” They are instead funding exclusive-access commodities that help grow their subscriber base.

In “Lost in America,” Albert Brooks told his wife, after she lost their entire savings at the roulette wheel in Vegas, that she no longer had the right to use the term nest egg.

“Do me a favor,” he said. “Don’t use the word ‘nest egg’. You may not use that word. It’s off limits to you! Only those in this house who understand nest egg may use it! And don’t use any part of it, either. Don’t use ‘nest.’ Don’t use ‘egg.’ You’re out in the forest you can point, ‘The bird lives in a round stick.’ And you have ‘things’ over easy with toast!”

I, for one, would welcome the dialogue to forge a meaningful partnership for theatrical exhibition and promotion of select Netflix productions, but until we have that, I consider the term “movie” to be their “nest egg.”

But even as I pen this probably unjustifiably snarky retort, I will acknowledge some underlying truth to Reed Hastings’ words. We do, as an industry, need to invest in innovation. Cinema’s primary threat today is not Netflix; it is ourselves. We must continue to maintain high exhibition standards, invest in new sound and picture technology, improve the digital experience for our guests, develop innovative ways to delight our guests and ensure that we live up to our one job – make going to the cinema an amazing experience.

If we do that, we should be able to look back on another thirty years of limited innovation to our core product and say, “Job well done, we didn’t screw up what has always been and remains great about the cinema: the show itself.”

What do you think of his comments? Let me know in the comments!