Back at home briefly and catching up on life. Laundry (so much of it), pre-Thanksgiving errands, chores.
Part of my week’s to do list: seeing Arrival.
I’m not here to write a review per say. Part of my desire for this blog is to share the experience of screening films. So with that in mind….
Watching this film was one of the most enjoyable and thrilling experiences I’ve had in a theater in a while. The last time I felt this way was after seeing Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) or the TIFF premiere of Gravity (2013). Arrival was a film I became totally enveloped in.
The first frames instantly reminded me of something Malick-esque. Throughout the film I felt the same chills I had when watching Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or Inception (2010) for the first time. While there are influences from other films on Arrival, this screening experience felt fresh and alive (perhaps, one part, because it is not another remake). This script is smart and thoughtful. A film about language: the depth of communicating and the true meaning of our words. With the wonderful cinematography and score, this film creates a world all its own. One you can sink into. (And oh, how I wish I could live in Dr. Banks’ house!)
And now here is your spoilers warning. If you have not seen Arrival yet, you may want to come back later.
The way this film plays with time is masterful and fun. The big moment when the story “clicks” and proves why scenes are placed where they are is a thrill. I’m ready for a second viewing to catch some of the links I missed the first time (and those I’m still thinking about today: the knocking on the window, the double meaning of the title with the telling of a birth story).
There are many things that make this film one of my favorites of the year, but one of the strongest reasons is this: it is a story from a woman’s perspective and ultimately the “weapon” could only be given to a woman. The aliens’ language is emotional. That is why it is given to Dr. Louise Banks and not Ian Donnelly (or another man). She will understand it and she will feel it. She will ensure peace. Yes, it is a generalization or stereotype on gender, but tell me how that is not a powerful statement? She’s not just “emotional”. She’s bold and clearly an intelligent leader given her career and status (for the government to come a’knockin’ in the first place). Arrival reminds us to trust and empower our female leaders. What better time to have that reminder than now.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around this film and I’m eager to see it again. At the moment the only thing I can think to pair this with is a glass of red wine. Not only does Amy Adams’ character drink wine in the film, but I felt like having a glass myself after seeing Arrival. As the credits rolled, I wanted for the film to linger – like how the taste of a good wine stays on your tongue. The conversation this film created between E and I afterwards seemed to warrant a glass of something to sip, talk, and listen. If you do see it in a theater soon, I encourage you to plan a little time to think or discuss afterwards with whatever beverage you enjoy best.
Have you seen Arrival yet? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!
The Denver Film Festival ended yesterday. After living in a hotel for 14 days, I’m ready to sleep in my own bed again. I’m also excited to catch one or two nights of AFI FEST, a festival I worked three years for and have been a fan of for longer.
Here’s how the last weekend of Denver went down.
Friday, Nov. 11 – Day 10 My day started earlier than usual with a private screening of a special selection of short films for a large group of students from the Denver School of the Arts. At 11:45am, the school bus arrives and the SIE FilmCenter is suddenly flooded with teenagers. They head straight to concessions for popcorn and sodas. The teachers and I try to hustle them quickly into the theater. After watching an hour-long program, I host a Q&A with two of the filmmakers present, Williams Naranjo, director of A NewCivilization,and Bryan Petsos, director of LIGHTNINGFACE. We discuss the shorts influences and the different paths to making films (including the pros and cons of film school). Each person gets to filmmaking differently and I feel it’s important to tell students the realities of their choices before they take out massive student loans.
I leave the SIE and head back to the UA Pavilions, where I spend the next several hours hosting intros. Food choices are not as exciting between these intros as time is limited. A salad at Corner Bakery disappoints and I go back to 5280 Burger Bar again for dinner since it’s one of the only decent options that is also open late. My final intro is the Late Night Shorts Program. My day wraps around 11:30pm after a fun Q&A with Petsos and The Itching animator Adam Davies.
Saturday, Nov 12 – Day 11 The final weekend is here and I sleep in a little later and catch a few minutes of college football in my hotel room. After stopping to eat a large salad at Modern Market, I find my way back to the Pavilions theater. The Documentary Shorts program is screening for the first time of the fest and after introducing them to a packed audience, I stay to watch the films again in the theater’s wing. Sometimes, when the films are screening for the first time, I like to stay and feel the reactions or energy of the audience. This particular block was very powerful to watch given the past week and I sensed the audience felt it too. After, Soy Cubana producer Robin Ungar joined me for a Q&A. She shared stories of how they filmed in Cuba and the struggles of being a first time filmmaker. Afterward, I meet Hunter Gatherer director Josh Locy. I had introduced his film the day before, but he had several flight issues that kept him from arriving in time to attend our Q&A. Once his film begins, Josh, programmer Matthew Campbell and I head downstairs to grab a quick bite to eat and catch the remaining half of the LSU vs. Arkansas football game. (Geaux Tigers!) Josh tells us about his travels on the festival circuit and we discuss Fraud and other films traveling around.
The night continues on and my feet begin to hurt. Two more late intro’s completed and it’s finally time to head over to the Closing Night Party following the festival screening of Jackie. I arrive to the venue – the Children’s Museum – slightly before the Closing Night crowd and chat with some of the jurors in town. As everyone arrives, they discover the various exhibits of the museum: a bubble room, kinetic energy display and more. Patrons play with festival cocktails in hand. After catching up with a few staffers, I call it a night (early – at midnight!) and sadly miss the epic dance party that started sometime later.
Saturday, Nov. 13 – Day 12 Here we are. The last day of the festival. Always bittersweet.
It begins with the Festival Awards Brunch at The Curtis Hotel. Filmmakers, guests and blurry-eyed staff grab Mimosas and Bloody Marys from the hotel’s terrace bar. It’s another beautiful day in Denver and the sun is out. (The city has still have not had their first snow of the season, but global warming does not exist…) After mixing and mingling, the awards show begins. Festival leaders, Britta and Brit, take the stage while brunch is served. I grab a seat with Josh Locy, Matthew Campbell and guest services manager Caleb Ward. Just as the American Independent Narrative Feature Jury takes the stage, Josh has left the table for a moment. Matt, Caleb and I know he is the winner and quickly look around the room trying to find where he’s gone to. Matt jumps up to run out to the lobby and tries signaling to the jurors to “stretch it out”. They fail to notice his signals. As Matt walks out one door to the lobby, Josh walks back into the ballroom through another door. I jump up and now chase down Matt. We all are seated again as the jury announces Hunter Gatherer as the jury winner. I watch Josh’s face as he hears his film’s name. (Always fun to do.) After Josh gives an acceptance speech and returns to the table, we laugh over the almost-missed moment and awkwardness that would have ensued had he been out of the room.
After all the awardshave been announced (except the Audience Awards – those ballots are counted through Sunday night), I head back to my “home” at the Pavilions. As I wait in the lobby for my next intro, I see Jim O’Heir. He’s in town supporting his film Middle Man. I introduce myself, tell him I’m a fan of his work and thank him for attending the festival. We chat about his visit, living in Los Angeles and how people have begun to recognize him more often now that Parks & Recreation is on Netflix compared to when it was being broadcast. He’s a lovely guy and at one point stops to take a photo with some fans that recognize him while buying tickets to the film.
The night ends with the annual staff party at the SIE after all the films have ended and the production team has loaded out some of the non-screening venues. It has been twelve days in the trenches during one of the more emotional weeks of the year. There are drinks, dancing and hugs. And more drinks.
That’s a wrap on another festival. The crew will soon be at work preparing for their 40th year. Excited to see what’s in store.
I don’t know about you, but the past week has been rough.
I spent the 2008 and 2012 Election Nights in Los Angeles at AFI FEST (which is happening now by the way). In 2008 I was still living in Texas and was away from home for the evening. In 2012, I had moved to California four months earlier. Each night was different, but they were memorable. Los Angeles felt alive. Watching the results with fellow art and film lovers was the best place for me to be.
Watching Tuesday’s results surrounded by Denver staff and patrons started with the same mood, but as the night wore on the room became somber and quiet. I texted friends and family as each state’s prediction rolled in. At some point I couldn’t hold back my tears any more. A feeling of deep dread and loneliness sunk in. I found Britta and we hugged and cried.
The next morning, I wondered if audiences would show up. Thankfully they did. My eyes puffy and red from hours of crying, I stood in front of a room full of Denver locals who bought a ticket to see short films. It was a sliver of restored hope. I wanted to be in a movie theater that day to see stories about diversity and overcoming struggles. They did too.
Being in a theater that day wasn’t about avoiding an issue or the situation. It was about remembering who we are; remembering humanity, respect and love. I love curating films because it sparks conversation. And now more than ever we need to communicate with each other, to listen. Not point figures or walk away. Cinema and art are a tool for respectful dialogue. The films created out of this dark moment in our culture will be powerful and that brings me hope.
Wednesday night I stood in the wings of the theater for all 90 minutes to watch the short films again with the audience. This was a place of community and inspiration. It was where I needed to be. I grieved for the dreams I had before Tuesday night as each short played. I remembered how important my part is in a larger movement. I’m so thankful to have been working at a film festival this week. We may not be curing cancer (which is what us veterans say when problems occur during the event), but we are making a difference in promoting and showcasing art.
To any filmmakers reading this, I am so excited for how this week will inspire you. Use this energy to make something special. Use your unique voice is important. And if you’re from the city, explore the stories of rural areas. (Lord knows there are plenty of LA-based stories out there already.) If you’re from the country, visit the city and see the diversity. Our country is desperate for change and we all feel abandoned in some sort of way. Now is the time for film to create community and conversation, so let’s get to work.
I’ve been in Denver for over a week now and it’s been a great trip. As a curator consultant for Denver, part of my responsibilities are to host filmmakers and audiences. I float between screenings and help fill in when needed. There are always small fires to put out and tricks happening behind-the-curtain. I can’t give alway all the secrets to what’s happened so far in Denver, but in today’s post I’m sharing highlights of my festival so far.
Tuesday, Nov. 1 – Day before Fest
Upon landing in Denver, a volunteer driver takes me to the SIE FilmCenter where the staff is having their traditional kickoff cocktails. I walk in with big luggage in tow to see friends. Hugs abound. Toasts from the veteran leaders, Britta Erickson (Festival Director), Brit Withey (Artistic Director) and Ron Henderson (Fest Co-Founder) remind the staff how far we’ve come and what great moments lie ahead. 39 years in the festival world is no small feat. This team has something to be proud of. The evening winds down quickly as we all have days of work and parties ahead. As any veteran staff will tell you, it’s a marathon and not a sprint.
Wednesday, Nov. 2 – Opening Night/Day 1
I spend a long lunch with programmer Matthew Campbell to catch up on life and work. I met Matt almost six years ago at Sundance and he has become one of my closest friends and confidants on the circuit. After splitting to get “fancified” (Opening Night is the only night I wear heels to a festival if I can help it), we meet up with Britta Erickson for the calm before the storm as she slips into her velvet, burgundy Jimmy Choos. A volunteer festival driver takes us and PR guru Katie Shapiro to the pre-film VIP party at The Crimson Room. Denver Board members and donors schmooze with champagne in hand and I meet a fellow SMU alum. We check the clock and Matt and I walk over to the Ellie Opera house to check on the red carpet. Film fans stream in pass the carpet dressed in their Denver chic attire. Local filmmakers are walking the red carpet, while others wait phones in hand to get a glimpse of Emma Stone who is due to arrive in a few minutes.
People watching at a red carpet is always fun. I enjoy watching the faces of people as they walk up, registering what is happening around them, feeling the energy in the air. Loyal patrons of the festival stop and say hello to the programming staff while other staff (like development, box office and operations) work furiously to get everyone seated and the show started on time. Emma arrives and as she approaches the red carpet flashes go off everywhere. The crowd moves in closer to the carpet and flashes continue. I’m always amazed to watch a celebrity at that level work. Because that’s exactly what she is doing. She stays focused on whoever is interviewing her while people scream her name and phones and cameras six-people deep go off all around her. The press team help direct her to the next interview. More flashes and screams. She’s posed throughout, never breaking focus on what she is doing. I always find watching a well-ran red carpet to be fascinating. The entire movement is controlled and organized. An image and brand is being showcased and captured. Don’t be fooled by what you see in magazines or online. PR is serious business.
While La La Land gets underway, some of the staff walk across the street to a bar for dinner. It is another moment to spend time with your festival family. You’ll be in the trenches for the next few days. Game 7 of the World Series plays nearby and the staff ends up watching it before hurrying off to the Q&A and Opening Night Party.
Friday, Nov. 4 – Day 3 E has arrived in Denver today to spend the weekend at the festival with me. After working a few hours at a nearby Starbucks I meet him and we hit up Bubu for lunch. This place hits the spot – we order the OG Colorado bowls, mine with rice and salmon and E’s with noodles and steak. I’m sure I’ll be back at this place again before leaving town.
We swing by the Lyft Lounge and the Festival Annex next. E tries out some of the VR setups while I speak to the festival alcohol sponsor from Argonaut’s. Later, E convinces him to try out the VR too.
After hosting my first intro of the festival, E and I sneak out of the neighborhood for a proper dinner at Meadowlark Kitchen. The wait for a table was one of the stranger experiences we’ve had dining, but the hostess managed to seat us fairly quickly. For dinner: the Denver Nuggets (fried chicken thighs) and a BLT (with tasty candied bacon). We watched the couple at a nearby table who are clearly on a first date, but seem to be hitting it off well. We cheer them on from the sidelines. We pack up the leftovers and move on to the Reel Social Club party for Folk Hero & Funny Guy inside the bottling area of Great Divide Brewery. Matt Campbell happily eats the leftover chicken and BLT (there’s always a staff member who hasn’t eaten yet) and we chat about the day’s highlights. Later, I catch up with actor/filmmaker Chike Okonkwo and Kevin Polowy from Yahoo Movies. They are on the Maysles Brothers Documentary Jury this year (the same jury that brought me to Denver for the first time five years ago) and we chat about documentaries and cool things to do in San Francisco. Next thing I know it’s nearly 1:00am and time to catch a Lyft to my “home” at the hotel.
Saturday, Nov. 5 – Day 4 An “early” intro at the theater for me takes me to the UA Pavillions around 11:00am. Festivals shift your routine. Suddenly 11:00am is early and lunch is around 3:00pm. E and I sit in to watch Donald Cried, a film about a 30-something Wall Street banker that returns to his hometown and is forced to meet up with his childhood friend Donald. Getting to see a film (and a comedy at that) helps to perk up the day. Later, we grab a table at a nearby bar to watch part of the LSU v. Alabama game while I duck up to the theater to do my intro of another Shorts program. Filmmaker Isabella Wing-Davey has arrived for her short The Rain Collector. She shares some of the artistic influences of her short and a fun production story from the shoot with the sold-out audience.
I run over to the next auditorium to see filmmaker/programmer Mike Plante. His short The Polaroid Job screens before the feature Fraud. E and I stay to watch Fraud which I’ve been hearing about for months. After viewing, I admit I like the concept and thought-provoking conversation the film creates. But after a comment by the filmmaker in the Q&A, I feel there is a cheat that breaks the rules of the film/concept, my trust as a viewer and ruins the film for me. E and I discuss it at length as we walk to the Annex. The more we think about it the film feels like an experimental narrative and not a documentary (though it seems the filmmakers want the film to be thought-of as a doc), but the film makes us think and that is good with me.
At the Annex, we watch SAGindie Director Darrien Michele Gipson school programmer Matthew Campbell in beer pong and chat with filmmakers Isabella Wing-Davey and Brianne Nord-Stewart from Beat Around the Bush. Thank goodness we get an extra hour of sleep with the end of Daylight Savings. We all need it.
Sunday, Nov. 6 – Day 5 E and I call around town to find a good breakfast spot, but by 8:30am the four places we’ve called all have an hour wait at least. We decide to grab take out from Denver Biscuit Co. and walk our meal to the City Park to enjoy before watching the 50th anniversary screening of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the SIE FilmCenter. It’s my first time to see this film in its entirety. It’s a doozy to watch before noon, but I am glad I finally got to see it in a theater. We catch a shuttle back to the Pavillions and I host the Shorts 1 program again with Isabella. A few patrons pull me aside in the Lyft Lounge later to discuss the program and share how much they enjoyed it. While on a spell of quiet downtime, E and I debate on what to do for dinner. We decide to try Finn’s Manor. The place had a Southern vibe: a large patio with different areas for sitting, the bar decorated with moss and beads with small food trucks in one section of the patio. Our mission: to try the BBQ at Owlbear food truck. We chat with the woman serving and discover that the owner of Owlbear is from Colorado and spent time previously working at Franklin’s in Austin. She knows how to answer the key questions about brisket and serves up the last of it for E. I order the pulled pork sandwich. We are in heaven. This BBQ is legit and outside of Texas. An amazing find. PLUS the bar serves Bayou Rum. I have yet to find anyone outside of Louisiana that serves it (Bayou is distilled just outside my hometown). Finn’s Manor is now my new favorite place in Denver.
All in all, the festival is going well and I’m finding a few food gems too.
Drop me a note in the comments if you’re curious to see any of the films I’ve mentioned above or have a recommendation for a restaurant in Denver.
I’ll catch up with the remaining highlights next week!
One more day. We just need to get through tomorrow. Then figure out the rest and how to move forward from there.
In honor of Election week, I’m highlighting one of my favorite shorts from the 2016 festival circuit: The Black Belt directed by Margaret Brown. In this short film, Brown travels to Alabama (her homeland) where the state closed 31 DMVs across the area for budget reasons. Many of these DMV closures were through the Black Belt, a predominantly African-American and poor region, impacting voter enfranchisement as the state requires photo ID to vote.
This short was commissioned through Field of Vision, a cool project of original short-form content from Laura Poitras, AJ Schnack and Charlotte Cook. I highly recommend checking out their site to watch other great shorts if you have some time to spare.
Brown is an incredibly smart filmmaker – one to keep your eye on for the future. The Black Belt sneaks up on you. It showcases keen insight of a social issue, created with great care and fortitude. Brown sets the mood, capturing beautiful and rare moments of rural Alabama life. The Mobile ID unit scene is proof. That scene has been burned in my brain for months. It is an example of humor in frustration; the absurdity of systems that should be efficient. The Black Belt empowers us to continue, to move forward when it’s hard to fight. And in what has been an ugly and fairly absurd election year, The Black Belt reminds us why your vote tomorrow, and in every election, matters.
Grab a snack (I’m in the mood for fried pickles, a yummy Southern treat. See below for a recipe), check out this short and let’s all take a deep breath. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. And please go vote!
2 cups ridge cut pickle chips, pressed between paper towels
1 cup all purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups seasoned panko breadcrumbs
salt and pepper to taste
2 quarts vegetable oil for frying
1. Preheat oil to 350°F.
2. Place flour, eggs and panko in three separate shallow dishes.
3. Dredge pickle chips in flour, shaking off any excess, followed by the egg and finally in the panko until fully coated. Set coated pickle chips onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and place in the freezer for about 20 minutes.
4. Remove pickle chips from freezer and fry in batches, for about 5 to 6 minutes.
5. Drain onto paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Repeat until all the pickle chips have been fried.
I’m at the Denver Film Festival this weekend, so today is a work day for me. I needed that extra hour of sleep too. There are 39 films screening today and I’ll be hanging out with my shorts filmmakers. Day 4, let’s do it!
Did you watch game 7? I snuck away to watch the final innings of the Cub’s win. Nothing like being in a bar with people cheering with every little moment of drama. Even though I’m not much of a baseball fan, it was fun. And this sums up my thoughts on that night too. I hope you felt like you were part of a special night in history. Hoping for that same feeling on Tuesday night. (There may be tears. #ImWithHer).
Here’s a corner of the internet to peruse during your morning coffee ritual.
I listened to This American Life’s recent episode “Seriously?” on my flight to Denver. Take a listen here.
Another place to stream movies, but this time for the diehard film fans. The Criterion Collection and Turner Classic Movies launch FilmStruck. Curious to see how this platform performs…Will you sign up?
I was honored to be on the nomination committee again this year for Cinema Eye Honors and the nominees have been announced! If you haven’t seen OJ: Made In America (all seven hours of it!) or I Am Not Your Negro yet… get on it.
Looking forward to checking out Anthony Bourdain’s new cookbook, Appetites.
Since I was a kid, I have often kept a list of movies I want to see. This started when I cut out the first American Film Institute’s “100 Years, 100 Movies” list in our local newspaper. I taped it to my bookcase and set a goal to watch all 100 films by the end of the summer. That was 1998. I was 15.
Being in a small town, I couldn’t get my hands on some of the older titles. The rental shop wasn’t a Blockbuster, it was a trailer with a drive-thru window. Yes, a trailer converted into a video rental store. I have vivid memories of the floor creaking as I walked up and down the “aisles”. Kat’s Video in small town Louisiana was never going to carry a copy of The Jazz Singer or Modern Times. I was SOL on that front.
The older titles can still be hard to find for most people. If you’re lucky to live near Los Angeles in New York (or another film-friendly city), then maybe you can catch something at your local arthouse theater. I encourage you to see them on a big screen. It is a truly magical experience. I finally saw Lawrence of Arabia two years ago on the big screen. Some things are worth the wait. Check!
For other nights, there is the internet. While finding films is often easier to view, many films are still not digitized. Popularity makes certain films a priority when it comes to updating and preserving.
AFI’s marketing leaders knew a good thing when they saw it. They spent the next ten years creating more lists (Stars!, Laughs!, Thrills!) and then reranking the top 100 again in 2007. Several titles fell off the list completely. It’s interesting to look at this list after some time away and think about what films would be on it now.
I still haven’t finished the original AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list. I enjoy coming back to it every few years to see my progress. I’m ok with knowing I may never mark all of them off. The list was merely a step in a process, an education and an inspiration that led me to where I am today. For that I’m grateful.
Do you have a “movies to watch” list? Do you track what films you’ve seen? What movies on this list have you not seen yet? What films are missing from this list (granted, you’ve traveled through time and it’s still 1998, so There Will Be Blood can’t be added!)