Festival Travel: SIFF 2017

June brings a wave of summer movie watching on the festival circuit. A few festivals sneak on the calendar after Cannes in May (one of three seasonal “tent poles” of festivals, the others being Sundance in January and TIFF/Telluride in September) to grab audiences before the summer really hits.

As previously mentioned on this blog, this year I joined the programming team for the 43rd annual SIFF (Seattle International Film Festival). With newly appointed Executive Director Sarah Wilke, Interim Artistic Director Beth Barrett (a friend of several years) took the helm this year after veteran Carl Spence’s departure from the festival. After a few conversations last winter, Beth brought me on to the team to help cull through the thousands of film submissions they receive.

SIFF is the longest film festival in North America: 25 days! A whole ‘nother kind of marathon event. E and I had planned a trip to Seattle for mid-June for my sister-in-law’s graduation from Seattle University, which luckily coincided with the last week/weekend of the festival. Since this trip was a mix of business and family time, I didn’t get to experience SIFF in full. Our mornings were spent exploring the city and drinking a lot of coffee.

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Sunny days in Seattle. The weather is always like this right?

Much of that coffee was from La Marzocco, a cafe and showroom located with Seattle’s hip radio station KEXP. La Marzocco is known for their high-end espresso machines, but opened a speciality cafe in Seattle where each month a renowned coffee roaster takes over the space and implements their own special menu. It’s a remarkable feat to consider. Our close friend, Amy, manages La Marzocco and she filled us in on how she and her team curate a new, unique experience every four weeks (long story short: it’s a fast-moving environment and no easy task). We tasted many incredible drinks, but our favorites were the Cafe Miel and the affogoto. Amy was so kind to give us a “backstage” tour of the KEXP studio and office space, filling us in on the history of the station. (The music library was impressive and I loved seeing how they are slowly and methodically digitizing all their materials – an epic job on its own.) If you’re ever visiting Seattle, I highly recommend checking out La Marzocco for a truly unique coffee experience.

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The KEXP music library
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KEXP’s live studio space

Back to festing, we stopped by the festival lounge where E and his sister tasted tequila from a festival sponsor and I got to catch up with friend and SIFF’s Director of Philanthropy, Ben McCarthy. By the time the staff is on day 20+, many are running on a mix of autopilot and few hours of sleep. Seeing a fresh, friendly face is a delight and laughter helps a lot.

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The great team behind the movies…

Later in the week, E and I watched The Grifters (1990), one of several tribute films to SIFF honoree Anjelica Huston. Beth Barrett introduced the film and spotted me in the audience (we hadn’t seen each other yet), which created a hilarious improvised moment in her introduction of the film. It was the first time either E or I had seen this film and we were curious. Huston is great (as she is with pretty much every role) and the film’s ending is dark. So much so, I actually laughed out of uncomfortableness with the twisted, climatic moment. Annette Bening is also a standout (as usual). Both ladies made this noir story work for me. John Cusack, not so much.

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Showing off the bump with SIFF Interim Artist Director, Beth Barrett
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Lounge with SIFF’s Ben McCarthy

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After the screening we ate dinner at Momiji and sang karaoke at Rock Box (which I highly recommend) to celebrate E’s birthday. We then headed to a favorite college bar of my sis-in-laws, in which E, Amy, her husband and I were very much the oldest people in the room by ten years. (Being the sober, pregnant member of this party I was stuck out two-fold.)

Much of the remaining trip was with family and close friends as we celebrated the graduation. Since I only had a small slice of SIFF, I hope next year I’ll be able to spend a little more time with the event. With the long length of the festival, attending an earlier weekend would likely have a different feel since filmmakers or guests can’t stay for the entirety. From an industry perspective, the last weekend is a fun time to attend since the staff are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and the vibe is a little looser. I’m excited to see how the festival will grow and change under the leadership of Barrett and Wilke. The Seattle film community is in good hands.

In my next post, I’ll be sharing this past weekend’s travels to Palm Springs ShortsFest (spoiler, it was CRAZY hot) where I was one of the panelists for the festival’s forum. Stay tuned. In the meantime, have you seen The Grifters before? I need to talk to someone about the ending!

Sunday Mornings

Hi friends. I’m still here.

This is what’s been going down over the last three weeks:

Last time I wrote a Sunday Mornings post, I mentioned we were in escrow on a house. The exciting update is that we closed on it and moved in. (Side story: In the eleventh hour, this blog somehow help make the closing happen. The lender needed “online proof” that I was real, as though ALL the financial statements from every client, tax, receipt, or bank statement we sent was not enough. That and E’s IMDb page. Thus the life of a 1099 worker trying to buy a house in the 21st century. Absurd.) Homeownership has already kicked us around a bit and there’s still plenty of projects ahead. (If you know a great Los Angeles-based contractor to recommend, we are in need and all-ears.)

Within 36 hours of moving, we flew to Seattle for a week of SIFF activities and my sister-in-law’s graduation from nursing school. Will be posting about the festival fun soon.

Also, during these last three weeks, E and I learned I’m pregnant with a baby girl. That’s the other major-life-event that’s been happening in our world. We told many of our loved ones in person or over-the-phone when possible the past two months and only recently put it on social media. Being pregnant has been a surreal experience. The news itself was somewhat a shock to us (another story for an offline convo if you’re interested). Between the house hunting and work-filled spring season, I haven’t spent a lot of time letting the news sink in. Not to say that the emotions haven’t been there, because good. lord. the hormonal shifts are real/awful. Now halfway through this pregnancy and living in a new home, this new chapter is starting to sink in …and whoa. If you asked me in January what my summer would look like, this is NOT what I would consider it to be. I am excited, but cautious. Unsettled, but hopeful. And most of the time, just trying to remember to breathe every few seconds.

I hope this Father’s Day is a good one for you and your families. If you can spend time with yours, that’s amazing. (Facetiming the Captain will have to do for me.) If not, then perhaps toast in his honor. (Cheers to you, Tim. You raised one helluva man, who I’m excited to watch become a great father himself.)

And now for a few Sunday posts:

  • ICYMI, Jessica Chastain was on the Cannes jury this year and had excellent feedback about the film selection. Get it girl.
  • Amazon buying Whole Foods is huge news. Here’s one breakdown on why it matters.
  • A powerful thought to repeat this summer.
  • Putting this recipe on the list to try, once our kitchen is completely unpacked.
  • A friend writes a great piece about post-partum body image. (For me, the whole body-changing aspects of pregnancy has been one of the most emotionally difficult parts of it all.)  Please Stop Telling Me I “Don’t Look Like I Had a Baby”
  • I caught up on This American Life during my recent flight. While we’re on the conversation of body image, an interesting listen: Tell Me I’m Fat.
  • A handful of yummy mocktails and punches to sip on your porch or balcony this summer.
  • As I consider our new house layout and what furniture works where, it means I am spending more time on interior design blogs. I feel like much of what I find is created for Pinterest and not actually liveable space. Also, it’s as though people forget how expensive all this decor can be. A very frustrating process. (Yes, #firstworldproblems.) I appreciated Emily Henderson’s honesty in this post on the “Effortless Expensive California Casual” look.
  • Have you been watching Twin Peaks? I’m loving how dark and FUNNY it is. Also, the plot is moving so incredibly slow, but I’m still fascinated. #CaseFiles Twin Peaks

More soon. Although “soon” is used loosely these days.
Hope your day is filled with good coffee, smiles and a little laziness.

Shorts & Snacks: Ten Meter Tower (2016)

The Tuesday after a long holiday weekend is always rough. Welcome back to work! Boo.

This week also has the potential to be crazy for me: major moments of “adulting” ahead. I’m not sure how prepared I am to face it, but I woke up this morning feeling rested and confident so that’s a start.

Considering this week, I remembered a documentary short film I saw earlier this year on the festival circuit, Ten Meter Tower. It’s an amazing examination of vulnerability and facing a fear. I’ve never jumped off a ten meter diving platform before (have you?), but there are other moments in life that create a similar sense of anxiety, doubt, courage or trust.

I think the film speaks for itself (and I have a LOT on my plate right now), so keeping this post short. I’ll be posting again soon about my SIFF travels, a festival I’m excited to experience for the first time.

For now take a break, grab a snack, take a deep breath and enjoy the insightful Ten Meter Tower. I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments!


Ten Meter Tower
Directed by Axel Danielson, Maximilien van Aertryck
2016 / 16 min / Sweden / Swedish with English subtitles
People who have never been up a 10-meter diving tower must choose whether to jump or climb down in this entertaining study of people in a vulnerable position.

Sunday Mornings

A late start to the morning in Los Angeles. But it is still morning!

As you may have noticed, it’s been a bit quiet around here this month. Life has thrown a few curveballs and this blog has sadly taken a back burner in my brain. As I hinted at two weeks ago, E and I are in the midst of two major life events. The one I feel comfortable sharing at the moment is: we’re in escrow on a house. We were originally expecting to close this week, but between delays from the seller, broker and bank, things have been pushed more than once. Sadly, it is how this (absurd) process works, but when you’re mentally prepared to leave a place (and pack half your household in boxes) only to be delayed two more weeks… By Friday we felt frustrated, defeated and majorly disappointed. There was ice cream eating.

We’ve spent the weekend refreshing our mindset, planning and organizing around a new timeline and spending it with friends and respected colleagues that we love. Last night on the much cooler west side of the city, we enjoyed a laid-back and intimate dinner with colleagues of Eric (all filmmakers, two of them writers on Homeland which created some interesting convo given the news this week – and last night’s latest.) Today, our neighbor, Brendan, breaks in his new smoker, Lil’ (shown above) and we’ll be enjoying the fruits (err…meats) of his labor. A few close friends will join us for this final BBQ in this home.

Given the situation, I’ve spent spent most of my online time shopping for appliances and researching city permits/contractors (and starting Denver submission screening and viewing Cinema Eye Honor broadcast screeners), so links are on the thinner side this morning. I’ll be sipping my coffee and reading a few myself before making cole slaw.

  • Speaking of BBQ, tomorrow Texas Monthly drops this year’s Top 50 best BBQ joints.
  • I spent much time considering a career change. Have you? It takes you on quite the emotional journey.
  • On my reading list this morning: My Family’s Slave. (With a follow-up here.)
  • Is the gig economy working? This article is one of the better reads on this topic because it actually discusses the economics around employee vs. contract benefits. The gig economy is not going away, so something has to change to serve the those in the 1099 paid world when it comes to benefits, PFL, vacation, healthcare etc. Plenty of corporations already take advantage of the labor system in that way (E and I can attest to that first hand). Something has to give.
  • Palm inspired decor from sfgirlbybay.
  • A tea towel we may need for our future kitchen.
  • Y’all. Twin Peaks tonight! E just downloaded the Showtime app for us. (And if you need inspiration for food while you watch.)

Thanks for sticking around while I figure out a new balance of blogging and life. Announcement #2 to come. Cheers to a good week!

Sunday Mornings

It’s a rainy-like, cool first weekend of May here (and apparently in Yosemite too), so I’ve only been half-productive with my time. I’m mostly dreaming of next weekend when I finally have a proper vacation in one of my favorite places in California, celebrating my one year wedding anniversary with E.

While work is in a bit of a lull, personal life has been crazy town the last few months (with various announcements to come over the next month). Unplugging – and no cell phone service – for a long weekend will help.

Before I do unplug, here are a few highlights that piqued my interested online since my last Sunday Morning post. Curious to hear your thoughts in the comments.

  • Saturn drive (err…fly) by! Anyone else look at this photos and think…what exactly am I looking at here?
  • These pretty, bright desktop wallpapers put me in a summer mood.
  • The media bubble is real. This interesting article speaks to why that is: where the journalism industry jobs are, the overall shift from print publishing to online publishing and the economics behind specialized industry clusters.
  • Currently reading: David Simon’s Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.
  • I have to admit, I am intrigued by the Fyre Festival epic meltdown. In event production world, it has been all anyone is posting about (besides health care, of course). My favorite piece is still Chloe Gordon’s account. Forgetting to make people sign NDAs: amateur and crazy dumb. So many awful bros making so many ignorant and ego-driven decisions.
  • Small self-promotion plug: I was honored to join the stellar programming team at the Seattle International Film Festival this year. You can check out the full lineup here, and read some of the programmer’s picks including mine, here. SIFF runs May 18 through June 11. More on SIFF to come!
  • Cup of Jo ran a great series in April with food industry experts. Here’s a summary of their favorite tips.
  • While we were multi-tasking on something random, I streamed Blank Check (1994) for Eric. I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid and man, oh man, it is super creepy. In regards to the FBI agent: what grown-ass woman would flirt with a child? And if the roles were reversed and it was a man with a 12-year-old girl – nope, the movie would not be made. Ick. Ick. Ick.
  • I missed the memo on the yellow crayon, but blue is my favorite color so I guess this trade-off is ok?
  • There are days when I’m moving through the city and think “damn, there are a lot of people here.” Like 4 million to be exact.

Cheers to the rest of your weekend… and here’s for a little more kindness in the world ahead.

Movie & Menu: Bad Boys II (2003)

The month of May is one of my favorite times of year. It is like an extended weekend: a month of rest and recovery. A small window of a break where I can enjoy a few lazy days and have time to do the things I enjoy without fitting them in between stressful deadlines. (Because, sadly, I’m not traveling to the French seaside for Cannes – unlike Will Smith.)

After completing a festival, I spend this month watching films or TV shows that I consider to be “guilty pleasures”. Movies I can watch and not think about. Sometimes it’s a film I’ve seen more than a dozen times, other times a big blockbuster. A film that isn’t necessarily a critical darling, but that washes over me and cleanses my palate. This month, I’m going to focus my blog on some of these favorite guilty pleasures.

Today, I’m starting this series with an all time favorite guilty pleasure: Bad Boys II (2003).

First, let me be clear: Michael Bay is an auteur. He is a one-of-a-kind filmmaker, that much is true. Whether or not you like his work is a different matter. Bay has had plenty of misses (Pearl Harbor) amongst the hits (Bad Boys, Pain & Gain). I’ve lost track of how many Transformer movies exist now and can not argue for more. I’m not a diehard Bay fan (like my colleague, James Faust, is), but I appreciate the work for what it is and for the most part enjoy the insanity he brings to the screen. If you haven’t yet seen Tony Zhou’s great video essay on Michael Bay’s style, Bayhem, take a few minutes to watch it below.

Ok, back to Bad Boys II. For those unfamiliar with the plot: Marcus (Martin Lawrence) and Mike (Will Smith) are a pair of Miami narcotic detectives investigating a Cuban drug kingpin’s connection to an influx of Ecstasy into Florida.

I’ve seen this sequel many times more than the first film. Both films are great, but the sheer epic-ness of this sequel is what brings me back. The opening sequence includes some of Bay’s most classic (and ridiculous) shots: the helicopter over the Miami sign, the lighting of a KKK cross against the final credit and of course, let’s not forget, the camera moving through the dance floor and under-a-woman’s-skirt in the club.

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s comedy chemistry makes this film pop. Also, Michael Shannon! I always forget he is in this movie until the credits begin.BadBoysII

What makes this a guilty pleasure for me is watching the car chases, of which there are several. Two are my all time favorite: the final climatic scene where Marcus and Mike drive a yellow Hummer through a slum, with debris and explosions everywhere. The number of shots and the setup involved in this one take is incredible (look to the special features for more). But even more than that climatic scene, I most enjoy Bad Boy II‘s first car chase: where Syd’s (Gabrielle Union) drug/money drop off goes array. Marcus and Mike follow in Mike’s Ferrari (not a plausible concept for a cop to own that car even if he has a trust fund, but again…not thinking when watching) as a group of Haitian drug thugs chase after Syd. As the chase progresses, the Haitians take over a big rig hauling cars, dropping one at a time in front of the Ferrari before ultimately dropping a speedboat into the detective’s path. A BOAT. While plenty of CGI was used, the absurdity and complexity of this chase makes me smile and drop by jaw every time I watch it. If your heart doesn’t start beating faster during this action, I’m not sure what will.

After watching months and months of documentaries about human rights and narratives with subtle drama, Bad Boys II is a long, funny and absurd reset button on my world. It is a film that feels both bad for my health and totally satisfying. I like to pair it with potato chips – barbecue flavored to be exact. I don’t allow myself to buy chips because they are another guilty pleasure. I’ll sit an eat a whole bag if it’s open in front of me, which makes it the perfect snack to eat with Bad Boys II.

What are some of your guilty pleasures? Are you a Michael Bay hater, fan or apologist? What’s your favorite scene in Bad Boys II? Let me know in the comments!

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

A post shared by Dallas International Film Fest (@dallasiff) on

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.