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.
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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!

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:

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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.

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    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!