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!

 

The Rollercoaster of Film Programming

First week back after a long holiday break is hard, amiright? Even if only a four-day “work” week. These are some looong work days.

I’m in the stage of my job where most of my waking hours are spent watching films, back to back to back. Documentary after documentary. All day and into the night. It is binging on a different level.

It is an emotional rollercoaster.

photo by Ilnur Kalimullin

In the past 48 hours I have watched documentaries spanning the following topics:

  • severe illness and the health care system
  • a biography of an author
  • the historical oppression of the LGBTQ community
  • the profile of an artist with cancer
  • the serial murder of prostitutes
  • a homeless artist
  • an exposé on bad police officers
  • racism in America
  • opiate addiction

The subjects above are vague to respect the filmmakers, but you get the idea. Telling a good story means showing the darker sides of humanity. And there are so many shades of darkness in this world. By the end of the day, I’m emotionally exhausted from the empathy and intellect that’s involved in watching each story. Even if the film is really, really bad – and believe me they can be – emotional effort is involved.

Tomorrow will be very similar to today. More stories of tragedy and hope. More stories of the world going to hell, slivers of hope and how we can try to make it better. I feel like I’m in a daze. The days blur into one and I loose track of time. This rollercoaster is going full speed and I can see the ups and downs ahead. My head hurts and my eyes burn.

All this watching means I am not leaving the house much. Other than emailing, socializing is minimal. The grocery store clerk probably wonders why I’m so chatty at the check out. “I really like your nail polish” counts as human interaction in my book.

This is the tough part of the job. The non-glamourous part. Some days are more rewarding than others. Yesterday I was fortunate. I saw a beautiful film. One that connected to a personal part of my own experience. I understood the character’s pain. My heart ached for her and the others in her world. I went through a journey of anger, sadness, and hope. It was magic. My heart was racing. I am excited that others will discover it soon as well.

Then, just like that, the moment was over and I was in the midst of a bad film again, dissecting the elements and issues. Seeing the world at its worst, holding out hope for a glimpse of magic again.

This emotional rollercoaster is at the core of festival programming. Watching and filtering and analyzing. Repeat. It is not for everyone and there are days when I struggle with it. I want to change the world, but get frustrated when I think I’m only “watching films”. I have to believe that curating can better the world, if only in a small way. It may be too difficult to measure, but this rollercoaster will lead me to sharing a moment that may change a life or inspire action. Remembering my place in this magic keeps me going.

Have you ever been in the deep end of your work or life and yet felt like you were right where you’re suppose to be? How do you describe your role to yourself when things are rough?

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.

Shorts & Snacks: The Black Belt (2016)

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!

The Black Belt
Directed by Margaret Brown
2016 / 11 minutes / USA
Watch The Black Belt here.

theblackbelt
The Black Belt (2016)


Panko Fried Pickles

Recipe from Spoon Fork Bacon

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:
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

Directions:
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.

Films & Food: New Orleans Film Festival

The New Orleans Film Festival kicks off its 27th annual event this week, running from October 12 to 20, 2016. I was privileged to attend this festival three years ago as a Juror and had a blast. The NOFS team, led by Executive Director Jolene Pinder, knows how to put on a show and treat filmmakers well. Between the creative and very New Orleans-based parties, the community of filmmakers and the many local film fans this is a wonderful, festive atmosphere to eat, drink and happily sink into film screenings for a week.

If you are lucky enough to attend NOFF this year, here’s a few of the programs I recommend checking out:

  • Opening Night & LBJ: Coming off its premiere at TIFF, Rob Reiner’s latest film about President Lyndon Johnson (played by Woody Harrelson) will kick off the festival. NOFF had by far one of the best Opening Night events I have attended. They fully embraced and celebrated the local scene, having a second line parade from the film to the party, where live jazz and brass band continue to play throughout the evening.
  • FARMER/VETERAN: I was honored to host the world premiere of this intimate documentary at DIFF earlier this year. It follows Alex Sutton, an Iraq vet with PTSD, as he attempts to rebuild a life and family by creating a farm at home. It’s a haunting and honest portrait of a soldier.
  • WHITE GIRL: Filmmaker Elizabeth Wood is a force. She’s definitely one to watch and this feature is proof.

    contemporarycolor-1-1474344272
    Contemporary Color
  • CONTEMPORARY COLOR: The Ross brothers’ latest captures a rare and unique live event with performances by David Byrne, Nelly Furtado, St. Vincent, Ira Glass, tUne-yArds and others.
  • Short films: Short films are always a treat and important as I’ve mentioned before. NOFF has a great lineup of shorts this year. While I haven’t seen it yet, I must highlight THE NEW ORLEANS SAZERAC in the “Louisiana Stories: Act Three” block. I am so intrigued and love the synopsis (and the cocktail)!

In between films and festival parties, be sure to check out a few of my favorite spots for a taste of New Orleans. (Plus, there are things to do beyond Bourbon Street y’all.)

  • Treat yo’self to an amazing meal at Cochon or Herbsaint. You won’t regret it. I’m drooling just thinking about it. (Reservations encouraged.)
  • Speaking of Sazeracs, sip one at the beautiful Sazerac Bar inside The Roosevelt. #NewOrleansClassyDrinking #Adulting
  • If you can manage to get a seat, take a spin on the Carousel Bar & Lounge at Hotel Monteleone and order a Vieux Carre.
  • Don’t miss the amazing fried chicken at Willie Mae’s.
  • If near the French Quarter or Central Business District, you can’t go wrong with brunch at Palace Cafe or Mother’s.
  • Looking for a dive? Try a frozen irish coffee at Molly’s at the Market.
  • Po’boys and beignets (and cash). That’s really all you need in life.

Congratulations to Clint Bowie and the programming team on a great lineup! And best wishes to Jolene as she moves on to new and exciting work after this year’s festival. It will be strange not to see her at the helm of NOFS, but I’m looking forward to what the future holds for her and the film society.

Have you attended NOFF before? Are you excited to see any films in their lineup? What’s your favorite restaurant in New Orleans? Tell me in the comments below.