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.

DIFF 2017 Magnolia
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!

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!