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!

DIFF 2017: The lineup

Part of what has made the last few weeks so crazy has been locking down a program. For the last eleven years, I’ve been lucky to be part of the programming team at the Dallas Film Society. This week we’re announcing the 11th festival program and I couldn’t be more proud of this lineup accomplished with my colleagues, James Faust (Artistic Director) and Daniel Laabs (Programming Coordinator).

I often compare the Dallas International Film Festival as being like a child for me. I’ve seen it birthed from nothing to supporting it through growing pains and now entering a new decade. This festival and it’s programming has been a big part of my life – I have met incredible friends, amazing artists, even my husband, through my work with DIFF. My experiences working with DIFF have helped shape me into the person I am today.

A lot of emotion and thoughtfulness goes into each film selected and where/why it plays within the entire event. It is a GIANT puzzle piece. Is this group/community/audience/voice represented? Is this topic covered? Will this film stimulate a conversation that needs to happen? How does it work counter to this other film? Are we piecing together any themes? Then you have to actually schedule them.

One of the hardest parts is keeping it a secret and containing my excitement around what I am working on. The announcement is like a breath of fresh air. To be working for months and finally having something to share is a thrill. It feels like a huge weight has been lifted.

Two very cool highlights to mention include a spotlight on one of the best years in cinema history, 1967, and L.M. “Kit” Carson Maverick Honoree, David Gordon Green.

Bonnie & Clyde
Bonnie & Clyde (1967)

My programming with DIFF focuses mostly on documentary features and shorts. While I’m proud of the whole festival program, I am particularly excited about the Documentary Competition, Showcase, Deep Ellum Sounds and Shorts Competition sections. These are films you’ll hear about later. Filmmakers that should be on your radar. My goal is to bring the best of what I see to Dallas audiences and this program reaches that goal and then some. The 2017 lineup includes a total of 122 films. That’s at least 122 friends being added to my DIFF family. What a great feeling.

Quest
Quest (2017)

Take a look at the 2017 DIFF program here. I’ll be discussing more about DIFF in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

I’d love to hear what you find interesting in this lineup or if you have any particular questions about the process you’d like me to cover over the next few weeks. Let me know in the comments!

 

Sunday Mornings

Hello hello.

It has been a week. A being-hit-by-a-bus-multiple-times-and-from-different-directions kind of week. There was gelato. At least two pints of it. And Apollo 13. We watched both out of a remembrance of the late, great Bill Paxton (who I met briefly through my work in Dallas) and because when things are going crazy, it’s nice to watch something where literally everything went wrong – IN SPACE – and people survived. Yes, the movie still holds up. I still think it is one of Ron Howard’s best.

Short and sweet today. A few internet highlights to enjoy with a glass of ice tea:

Enjoy the day. Hope you get to take a nap. I will be!

SXSW 2017 preview

SXSW is one of the top tier festivals on the circuit. Based in Austin, Texas the festival has three major (of many) components: music (which was the origin of the event), film, and interactive.

It’s also a festival I’ve never attended.

Sadly, it is one of the largest festivals I do not get to attend based on my own work deadlines. I experience it through all of the other hundreds and thousands of people that attend.

I’ve heard of how the festival has grown to excess with many of those attending the Interactive conference making it difficult for folks to see movies. Some people have said it has gotten a little more under control in the last two years, but between tech’s influence on all things media you can not be surprised that parts of the festival (and films themselves) may get overlooked through all the hype. I can imagine this festival has unique challenges that others may not face. (One key difference: this event is a for-profit company unlike many other non-profit film festivals.) I hope to experience it myself one day.

So while I don’t have any first-hand advice on where to go or where to eat during this massive event (though tacos or BBQ are always a good bet – and SXSW programmer Jarod Neece is a connoisseur of tacos), here are a few highlights from their film lineup to try to catch:

Song to Song
Song to Song (2017)
  • Song to Song – Terrence Malick’s latest film will open the film festival on Friday before releasing later this March. I’m always curious to see what Malick is up to.
  • I Am Another You – Filmmaker Nanfu Wang stormed onto the circuit last year with her powerful documentary Hooligan Sparrow. One year later, she is back with a film she began making before Hooligan. It’s thoughtful and proves that Wang is a great storyteller.
  • Dealt –  Luke Korem returns to SXSW with this portrait of one of the nation’s finest card magicians. Richard Turner is quite the character.

    dealt-F71346
    Dealt (2017)
  • Muppet Guys Talking – I’m a big fan of the Muppets and this film directed by Frank Oz is one I’m most looking forward to seeing this spring.
  • Shorts – Programmer Claudette Godfrey always puts together an eclectic lineup of shorts, with a vibe that is oh-so Austin. A few to note: Perfectly Normal, The Mess He Made, Raised by Krump and Spring.

Sending best wishes to my fellow Texan festival cohorts this week!

If you happen to be traveling to Austin, let me know what you’re excited to check out and how you’re experience goes!

Rejection

Rejection sucks. There’s no other way to describe the feeling. It sucks to be rejected and it sucks to do the rejecting.

The fun part of film programming is discovering the unique, the great, the special. Those are few and far between, which leaves a lot of rejection in its wake. That is one phase of my work this week.

There are typically two kinds of rejection within the film festival world: the “this movie is way to amateur/bad to program” usually from an unknown filmmaker and the “not quite” from someone you’re familiar with. The first kind is common enough and there is not much emotional attachment involved. But the second kind is more difficult. These are the people you respect, care about, have some kind of relationship with from the past. The ones you believe have talent and a spark inside, but the stars didn’t align this time.

There could be various reasons for why that is the case: the film’s topic was covered in another way (or stronger) by another film; the film has some structure, story, acting or production issue that the screening team couldn’t ignore; we can’t figure out a way to sell this film to an audience (because in the end…it has to sell tickets); or just flat out the festival runs out of money (so many screening fees, so little budget) or room (the slots left are not the best times and work for a certain kind of film). Sometimes the reason a film doesn’t get in is because one reason is too big, but often it is because there’s a mixture of many of these reasons and the film.

It sucks to write that email or make that phone call to someone. You can’t explain all these reasons. Feedback about a film can (and sometimes should) be given, but the filmmaker should be in the right headspace for it, which is not always in the same moment of rejection. It doesn’t matter how many rejection letters I have sent, the week I have to send them, I’m always in a somber mode.

No matter how many rejections are sent, there are always a handful of responses from filmmakers acting out in emotion, typing up a snarky reply as quickly as they read the email. Of course, the key is never to respond to these anger-ridden replies. I gave in once, when a filmmaker wrote saying about us not knowing better and then ending with “I hate the Dallas Cowboys too.” I wrote back, “Me too. Geaux Saints.”

I’ve been rejected plenty of times before, both professionally and personally. It always hurts. I have a written rejection letter from Telluride Film Festival, back in the day when you got a letter in the mail. Upon reflection and experience, there is NO WAY my short film would have played there. I’ve learned a lot in the twelve years since that letter (and each time I get rejected from something else, which is still more frequent than I would like it to be these days). Rejection plays a role in your creative journey. It stings, but you move past it. Rip the bandaid off and press forward. Because if you get stuck in that rejection, your creativity gets stuck too.

How do you deal with rejection?

Sunday Mornings

Good Sunday to you!

First, I must report that the chocolate cake decision was the best decision of 2017 yet. This cake+frosting was easy to make and richly delicious. We ate cake for days (and it just so happened that when I went to the grocery store for a few ingredients, the girl scouts were out in full force. How could I not buy a couple of boxes of thin mints and samoas?) Our house has been fully stocked on the dessert front the last two weeks.

There have been a few extreme highs and lows since my last Sunday post. I’m grateful for supportive friends and family. They are spread far and wide across this world. Thank god for Facetime. And brisket tacos. We’ve been to Home State a few too many times in the last ten days… (photo credit Homestate’s instagram, because I inhale my tacos too quickly).

Here are a few things that have been on my mind lately:

  • Tater tots. Napoleon, give me some of your tots!
  • An intriguing read on Broad Green Pictures (a distributor) and clearly there’s more going on than reported here. Lucy’s latest film was one I had been pursuing for the last two months until a few weeks ago when I got a generic “we’re not playing festivals” reply. Films rarely pull themselves out of Sundance…Something is up for sure.
  • If You Care About Food, You Need to Care About Immigration Policy.
  • Revisiting an article from a few years ago about Norma McCovery, the “Roe” of Roe v. Wade upon her death this week. Pairs well with Radiolab’s More Perfect podcast episode: The Imperfect Plaintiffs.
  • Classic rom-coms rewritten for the Trump era.
  • Gross. Come on. Things are getting out of hand.
  • Oscar carpet is expensive and a particular shade of red. (And how American of them to throw it away after one use…) I’m so ready for awards season to be over.
  • All this rain has made for some beautiful views in Yosemite. Follow along here.
  • I have fond memories of Popeyes chicken: from picking it up with my grandparents in Louisiana as a kid to taste-testing our wedding wines with a to-go box last spring. Something about those biscuits too…
  • Tuesday is Mardi Gras! If you can’t go to a parade, then wear some beads around the house and cook up something yummy. I always miss Louisiana this time of year. Because I didn’t order a king cake in time, we’ll be having purple/green/yellow sprinkled cinnamon rolls for breakfast.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!