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.

Oscar predictions, 2017

Hello! As you may have noticed, this blog is in a bit of a transition. This spring has been an exciting one. Between a new client and a few personal huddles, life has been a little chaotic and it has kept me away from writing as much as I would like. In an attempt not to burn out on this project, I’m moving to one post a week (Tuesdays), plus the usual every-other-week Sunday. Thanks for sticking with me through this.

 

Awards weekend is this weekend and Los Angeles is abuzz with parties and street-closure traffic (aka avoid Hollywood at all costs). Since I’ve been in screening mode for a couple of clients, I haven’t seen all the award contenders. This is normal and I may or may not get to them over the summer. I still have a few predictions though.

Some will not be surprising if you’ve been reading this blog the last few months, others though are based on the industry-inside thoughts. Most years I am frustrated by the Oscars. Remember, it is big business and often you can see right through the politics and money of ad campaigns to the winners. Then there are those films or performances you think are deserving of the honors, which makes a win money well-spent. Hopefully we’ll see a few surprises and members who are in touch with today’s culture (no guarantee though).

Below are a few of my thoughts and predictions on the Oscars. You can find the full list of nominees here.

Best Picture
My vote: Moonlight
What will probably win: La La Land
Hollywood loves honoring itself. La La Land is also the escapism story that Hollywood always promotes. So don’t be surprised if La La Land wins. Moonlight will win if enough of the new Academy voters (who were added in an attempt for diversity and cultural relevancy after last year’s #OscarsSoWhite) really do make a difference and/or if Hollywood decides to make a statement to the current political climate. I also think Moonlight is a better film. So you know, there’s that.

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Moonlight (2016)

Best Director
My vote: Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
Who will win: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Both men came from a festival upbringing. If you’ve made three films about white dudes playing jazz, of course you’re going to get better at directing them. I think Jenkins made the more interesting film this year and it would be wonderful to see him win. Lonergan is also in the mix though.

Actor, Leading Role
Who will win: Denzel Washington (Fences)
Most industry press talk about how this is up between Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington. The only film I’ve seen in this category is La La Land. I’m going with Denzel, because I think the Academy will think this is a safe choice.

Actress, Leading Role
Who will win: Emma Stone (La La Land)
Lionsgate and Stone’s publicity team have been working this for months. She’s the front-runner. If there’s an upset here, that would be fun.

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La La Land (2016)

Actor, Supporting
My vote/Who will win: Mahershala Ali  (Moonlight)
Again, I haven’t seen all the films in this category, but his performance was amazing. And he’s picking up many of the awards that lead to the big night. Another front-runner.

Actress, Supporting
Who will win: Viola Davis (Fences)
Another category where I haven’t seen all the films, but Davis seems to have the publicity train in her favor. Spencer has previously won, but could do a repeat. Williams is competition too.

Best Animated Feature
Who will win: Zootopia
Going with a blockbuster for this pick. Have you seen the DMV scene?

Best Documentary Feature
My vote/who will win: OJ: Made in America
Still my favorite doc of last year, but if you haven’t seen I Am Not Your Negro yet, get thee to a theater!

Best Cinematography
My vote: Bradford Young (Arrival)
Who will win: Linus Sandgren (La La Land)

Best Editing
Who will win: Tom Cross (La La Land)
This is how the Titantic-like sweep happens, but I’d love for an upset in one or two of these categories.

There are many more categories of course (original/adapted screenplay, score, makeup, costume!), but these are my highlights. If you’re interested in reading more predictions, both Indiewire and the Hollywood Reporter have their own lists to help with your party ballot.

What are your picks for the Oscars this year? Will you be throwing an Oscar party? I’m curious to hear your thoughts!

Sunday Mornings

Our small Christmas tree is up and decorated. We went with white lights this year, though I’m typically a colored-lights-on-the-tree fan. Most of our ornaments are from childhood, including E’s Star Wars Death Star which plays the Emperor’s speech each time the lights click on. So while working in the late afternoon, I’ll suddenly hear this speech coming from our Christmas tree:

“As you can see, my young apprentice, your friends have failed. Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battle station! Fire at will Commander! (explosions)”

It takes a few days to get use to.

I hope your Sunday is filled with something calm and festive. Here’s a few highlights from the internet this week to read while nibbling a baked holiday treat or sipping a hot cup of cocoa (with extra whip cream, because #Sunday).

20 days until Christmas. We got this.

It’s a Wrap: Denver Film Festival

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 New Civilization, 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.

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DFF39 Closing Night Party at the Children’s Museum.

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.

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Josh Locy accepts the jury award for HUNTER GATHERER at 39th Denver Film Festival Awards Brunch.

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.

Thanks Denver for a memorable two weeks!