The film festival circuit is a trip, literally and figuratively. I would like to relate some my thoughts on the subject.
I am beginning to see that the film festivals are all about connecting and pleasing the community in which they are presented, and about selling tickets. We filmmakers are just a part of the whole, albeit an important part in that we provide the essence of the event. As such, we are not the ones that the organizers are focused on, rather the audience. Some festivals seem to be better prepared to incorporate the filmmakers needs, others less so. Also, it seems getting a good time spot on the program has a lot of politics involved....something I never knew and am not too good at negotiating. The "prime time" spots are given to the sexy big ticket sellers....
The Miami women’s International film festival was a bit unorganized with regards to the filmmakers. There was no central location for the filmmakers to meet other than at the theater. The films were all over the vast, hard to get around city and thus those of us without cars, which was all of us filmmakers, could not travel to other locations for the major speaking events given by film stars( Rudy Dee) or to attend our own film screenings at the alternate locations. The larger events were very well publicized and well attended, our film screenings at the Coconut Grove theater had very little attendance, in fact my film was seen only by a handful of other filmmakers and festival volunteers and had no local audience to speak of. In addition, I was not given the opportunity to speak to the audience right after my film as they wanted to keep a schedule that had another electronic music film on immediately after mine. By the time the next film was shown, anyone interested in indigenous grass roots music from the islands was long gone.
All was not lost though, I did rent a car and drive to Rascal House for a corned beef sandwich, a bowl of borscht and a knish. That was worth the trip.
The next festival was the Santa Cruz Film Festival in sunny (but mostly rainy when I was there) California. At this festival, the organizer, Jane Sullivan, really went out of her way to greet me, the filmmaker, and make me feel welcomed and appreciative of my attending the festival. .She was enthusiastic and commented on how much she liked my film. In fact she had the focus of the festival on music from different parts of the world in addition to including a number of films made in and around the Santa Cruz / northern California area. There was a film about music in Morocco…a spiritual music festival in Fez. Another about African drumming, Cuban hip-hop from a Cuban director etc.
Unfortunately for the filmmakers, there was not a good opportunity to meet and talk with other filmmakers. The late night parties after the screenings were more for local folks with more very loud music. The festival is spread out over 2 weeks, so the filmmakers come and go after their screenings. There was no dinner for us to schmooze over. So, I took the opportunity to meet and greet and hang with my kids in San Francisco so I was not around the festival all that much.
My film was the very first screened at the festival, at 5pm on a Thursday night. Not a great time, but hey, who is complaining. I had about two dozen + audience members who watched the film and stayed to give me comments afterwards. Those who made comments complimented me on the subject, the music and taking the time to make a film which will preserve the culture in the long run. I appreciated the comments, and took in the enthusiasm the festival volunteers and personnel expressed towards having me attend and for the film itself.
Nevertheless, I could not help feeling out of place.
I think I experienced some kind of culture shock. California is full of people and cars, and great variety of music I love on the radio, and an abundance of cheap, healthy organic foods. Also, so many cars and so much traffic and the housing is terribly expensive, sort of like St. John prices. The streets of Santa Cruz have hippie folks singing in the streets for change, and lots of young folks in very creative clothing…fashionable rags held together with strings and buttons and pins. Hobo Chic. It is very hard to tell if they are penniless or filthy rich, but I suspect there may are the latter.
So, my ethnographic, ethnomusicology film about scratch band music comes plopping into this California scene and somehow I felt out of place, like I am living in another world, making movies on subjects only of interest to academics and those with a fond feeling of nostalgia for what was in a far away place. I probably had this feeling because right after my film, the 500 seat theater was filled to capacity with a rip roaring crowd from Santa Cruz to watch the premiere of a horror film that was locally produced and filmed. Most of the audience was in the film and they came dressed as their characters. Wow, that was true culture shock. I opted out and went to stay with some friends who lived on St. John and recently moved to Santa Cruz. Through conversation and with a glass of wine, I came to put the evening in perspective.
I had my second screening on a Sunday morning at 11:30 am. Not too many people in the audience, but certainly some, maybe two dozen + or so. At one point I wanted to go out and pull people off the street, but the streets were empty at this time of the morning. Those who saw the Jamesie film did like it. They were moving to the music and laughing in all the right places. The comments included: I do very good work, very in depth and anthropological, important and a good body of work. I sold all the CD’s of Jamesie’s music that I brought.
I felt much better after this screening than I did after the first one. Perhaps because I saw some other films. One that I saw was a very one-sided film about the small independent bookstores that are closing, making Borders and Barnes and Noble seem like the big bad wolf. Ethan (my son) pointed out that these big stores are convenient, and the bookstores need to adjust to that, maybe change their focus for something. He pointed out that it is not quite the one sided picture that is being painted, and that his point of view was not represented. I agreed. Saw another music film that captured the music of Morocco, but did not put it into context….still a beautiful film to watch. I bought it for a screening on St. John.
I missed a lot of the film screenings cuz I was on the radio / internet. KZSC, check it out, a world music program that will now be playing Jamesie’s music. Another audience member came up to me and took a CD and will play it on his radio program, and will begin to promote the film and music to world music festivals as he can. We exchanged contact info and will keep in touch. At the Park City Music Film Festival, which the Jamesie film was in and received a GOLD MEDAL, an audience member contacted me and invited the film to be in a music film festival in Skopje, Macedonia.
I just find it interesting that most people who see the film know nothing about the music or the Virgin Islands and yet they like what they see. I am now feeling much better about my “body of work” and my ability to present and contextualize the music and culture of the Virgin Islands, and Jamesie in an engaging way. Of course I give a huge amount of credit to my editor, Jude Leak, and to the musicians who make the music come alive.
OK, I am ready for Denmark. And after that, the North by Northeast music and film festival in Toronto in June. Stay tuned.