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.

 

Highlights from the Denver Film Festival

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.

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Emma Stone on the DFF39 Opening Night red carpet for LA LA LAND

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.

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DFF39 Reel Social Club Party at Great Divide Brewery

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.

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Brisket and pulled pork sandwich from Owlbear BBQ 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!

Film & Food: Denver Film Festival

Y’all, tomorrow is November.
That’s crazy right? I don’t know where October went, but here we are.

Tomorrow I am off to spend two weeks in the Rockies with my lovely colleagues at the Denver Film Society. The 39th Denver Film Festival opens Wednesday night, November 2, with a highly anticipated screening of La La Land. Lead actress Emma Stone and director Damien Chazelle will be hanging out with Denver audiences at the beautiful Ellie Caulkins Opera House in downtown Denver.

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La La Land (2016)

As Shorts Curator of the Denver Film Festival, I spent most of my summer watching over 500 short film submissions for this festival. I narrowed it down to a group of 44 shorts from 16 countries, screening in blocks and in front of features. I’m so excited for the Denver audiences to discover these shorts. Watching audiences watch the films I’ve curated is one of the most satisfying parts of the job. It’s always fun to meet the filmmakers you’ve been emailing with for weeks and reuniting with those you’ve worked with before too. If you’re curious what shorts made the cut, take a look at the Shorts program here.

Once again, Denver’s program lineup is eclectic and unique. There are several films I want to see while I’m not on call with programmer duties (like the Closing Night film Jackie). Of the films I have seen though, this festival pair showcases a couple of peculiar occupations:

  • Obit – This doc focuses on the small group of The New York Times obituary writers.  Imagine trying to research and summarize, under a tight deadline and with great tact, a life lived so fully that it is chosen to have space in The New York Times. One of my favorite scenes reveals the clippings room. Rows and rows and towers of file cabinets all full of news clippings and photos of people. The talented writers share their knowledge and experience and the beauty in writing about death.
  • Actors of Sound – Another charming documentary that shows a behind-the-scenes look at foley artists. All those little sound effects in films are typically created in a post-production studio by talented experts. After seeing this film, I now know what makes up the noise for E.T.’s “voice” and I’ll never watch the film in the same way! I’m looking forward to hosting one of the Q&A sessions with director Lalo Molina and a foley artist from the film! I’m sure it will be a fun and memorable time.

This will be my third time in Denver and I’m still exploring the city with each visit. The trick with working festivals is knowing when you have a window to escape for meals. Often those breaks end up being short, so food is limited to what is nearby. I enjoy escaping into the Tattered Cover Book Store next door to the SIE FilmCenter. It’s my go-to for a warm chai latte and quiet moments spent walking the aisles of books. The Three Lions is a cozy nearby pub with tasty curry. One of my favorite meals in Denver last year was a solo brunch at Snooze an A.M. Eatery. I’m looking forward to another brisk walk downtown followed by a filling and flavorful benedict.

I’ll post again with a festival update soon. If you have any suggestions on restaurants, bakeries or bars to check out in Denver, let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear your recommendations!

Happy Halloween!

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.

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    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.