1.) One of the terrific things about the festival was running into several people I knew, including both rabbis and other members of my synagogue, and talking to them about the films they saw and what they thought of them. It was also great meeting up with one of my fellow writers and discussing what we liked and didn’t like, and how the films failed or met our expectations based on the research we had done previously.
And after running into all these people, it occurred to me that now that I have lived in Charlottesville for well over a year, I have made friends and, at least to some extent, have become a member of the community. I’m feeling more and more at home here.
2.) I believed I mentioned I was not paid cash for my writing, but instead was given free tickets to any movie I wanted to go to. And also free tickets for my sister Judi to accompany me. In the end, I got sixteen tickets which, altogether, were worth $117. So that was my pay. (That plus the opportunity to see some of the movies before they came out, and meet and work with some of the important people with the festival.)
For one of the screenings (Macky Alston’s “Family Name”) Judi called me at the last minute and said she couldn’t make it. So her ticket wouldn’t go to waste, just before the show I went up to the crowd buying tickets and asked if anyone needed a ticket to “Family Name.” Some young woman said yes and so I gave her Judi’s ticket. When she asked how much, I said nothing. She wanted to pay me but I told her I couldn’t charge her for a ticket I got for free. She was quite thankful. Glad I was able to do someone a favor.
3.) At the end of the screening of “Moving Midway,” just as the talkback began, the moderator asked the audience a curious question. Because the film dealt with Southern issues, and Southern audiences have reacted to it differently than other audiences, he asked everyone, by show of hands, whether they considered themselves a Southerner or a Yankee. He was curious because Charlottesville is in the center of the northern most of the southern states. About half the audience identified as Southerners and half as Yankees. (Interesting that he used the term “Yankee” rather than “Northerner” which might be more appropriate in opposition to the term “Southerner.” But apparently in this case, “Yankee” meant anyone who was not a Southerner, which includes those from the West and also non-Americans.)
Neither Judi nor I raised our hands. Not sure why Judi didn’t—probably for the same reason as me—but the reason I didn’t was that no one ever asked me that question before. So not having really thought about it, it was impossible to make a snap judgment in a few seconds. And now that I’ve had several days to consider it, I’m still not sure. I’ve lived in New Jersey, Florida, Georgia, and now Virginia, and might possibly be moving to New York in less than a year. I’m definitely an American, of that I have no doubt, but I’m not sure what exactly the terms “Southerner” and “Yankee” mean today. 150 years ago, it was clear. If you lived in a state that seceded from the Union, you were a Southerner; if you lived in one that didn’t, you were a “Yankee.” Although, even then, it was a bit unclear since there were four “border states” in which slavery was legal but did not secede. If you lived in Missouri, like Mark Twain, which were you?
I’m a Virginian because I am registered to vote in this state and have a driver’s license from this state. And Virginia is considered a “Southern” state. But I suspect that is not what the guy was asking. I suspect he meant it more in the cultural sense. If a Southerner is someone who romanticizes the Civil War, waves the Confederate battle flag, and drives around in a pick-up, no, I’m certainly not a Southerner. If a Southerner is someone who admires Thomas Jefferson and William Faulkner, maybe I am. If a Southerner is someone who admires Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, I am not. If a Southerner is someone who likes Cracker Barrel, maybe I am. If a Southerner is someone who eats grits for breakfast, I’m not. Maybe a Southerner is someone who laughs at Jeff Foxworthy jokes.
Having lived in Florida for 20 years, I considered myself a Floridian. But Florida—at least urban and suburban Florida—is considered more “Northern” culturally even though it is the most southern state except for Hawaii. And Hawaii is certainly not “Southern.” So it’s certainly not a question of geography. I’d feel much more comfortable being asked the question if I identify as urban, suburban, or rural. But I don’t know if I’m more of a Northerner or Southerner and I’m not sure what constitutes the distinction and if it’s really of any importance. And in fact, I rather resent the question. Why should I be forced to identify more with one culture or the other? Isn’t that a bit like asking the child of a mixed-race marriage whether he considers himself White or Black?
Well, none of this matters; I just found it curious to be asked the question.
4.) At one point during the festival, I was in the restroom and overheard an interesting conversation. Two young men, probably in their early 20s, were talking loudly. One said, “Are they going to have a discussion with this movie?” And his friend said, “I think so; they usually do with all the movies.” To which the first replied, “Damn, I hate that shit. I just want to see the movie.” It was hard to keep from laughing since, usually, hearing the filmmaker speak is one of the most fun parts of a festival.
5.) The screening of “Moving Midway” was extremely crowded—not many empty seats. That’s a good thing, of course, and I couldn’t help but wonder, since I was the guy who wrote up the description of “Moving Midway” for the festival program, if I could take some of the credit for the large crowd. There’s no way of knowing, really, if the crowd would have been bigger or smaller if someone else had written the description. Still, I’d like to believe I did have a small hand in that and take a little pride in helping to promote this great movie.
6.) As much as I loved and raved about the festival, there were a few things that annoyed me. For one, there were just so many really good films playing at the same time that I absolutely hated having to choose between them. At any given moment, there were at least three, sometimes four or five events, and I could only be in one place at one time. This meant that I had to miss a lot of things I wanted to go to including screenings with John Turturro and John Sayles. During my conversation with Alan Berliner, when he found out I was a writer, he said, “So you can go to every movie you want?” But that wasn’t true. I could only go to one movie at a time, thus missing a very large percentage of the festival.
The other thing is that the movies were scheduled so close to each other, that there was little time to eat. The festival takes place, mostly, at theatres on the Downtown Pedestrian Mall which has so many wonderful little eateries, but with almost no time between screenings, you couldn’t take advantage of these wonderful restaurants.
Finally, the thing which most annoyed me was how cold the theatre was. It was in the 40s and 50s outdoors, most of the time, but they insisted on air-conditioning the theaters. I had to wear my heavy coat indoors and even then I was still uncomfortable. Why they insisted on running the AC when it was 45 degrees outside I have no idea, but it made the experience rather unpleasant.
7.) I made a deal with Godfrey Cheshire. He and I exchanged business cards. I told him that if he sent me an e-mail once “Moving Midway” finalized its distribution deal (he’s been talking to distributors but they have yet to settle), I would write a review of his film for my Chizfilm website. He agreed.
8.) Of the ten films which I had written up for the program, four were unavailable for me to see, so I had to base my blurbs on press materials and the reviews of others. When I finally did get to see those films (the three of Macky Alston and “Nobody’s Business”) it was very interesting for me to look back on what I had written. For the most part, I was relatively pleased with what I had written, however it was only about 95% accurate. I did make a few minor errors, but I’m not sure if it’s because I misinterpreted what someone else wrote, or if they had made the error and I just copied it. (For example, in my blurb for “Nobody’s Business,” I referred to Oscar’s Navy buddies, but it was actually the Army he was in. And in my blurb for “Hard Road Home,” I said that Alston profiles three just released ex-cons when actually only one of them is just released—the other two had been out for a while.) Fortunately, once someone watches a film, they almost never go back and reread the original description to see if it was accurate (unless it was way off, which at 95% correct is not the case here) so I think I’m pretty safe. Besides, my name wasn’t attached to the specific blurbs; rather it was just listed in the program as one of a half-dozen staff writers.
However, in several cases, I think I would have written up my blurbs a little differently, and placed emphasis on a few different things, had I actually been able to see the films first.
Not that it really matters all that much. And besides, so much of what I did write (nearly half to two-thirds) was edited down and re-written, first by my boss and then by his boss, so that what finally was printed was little more than a shadow of what I had turned in.
Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I always hate it when my writing is edited by someone else; that’s one of the reasons why I started my own website. If the writing is bad, I have only myself to blame.
By the way, there is a great line from Adlai Stevenson that I used to quote a lot: “An editor is one who separates the wheat from the chaff and then prints the chaff.” (Nothing personal, Sean. Actually, in some cases, he made my writing better.)
9.) Here’s an interesting coincidence, especially for a film festival whose theme is family. It turns out that Godfrey Cheshire and Macky Alston are cousins.
10.) It was interesting for me to see that the press (The Daily Progress, which is the local daily paper, some blogs, and the few bits I saw of local TV news) didn’t cover any of the same screenings that I went to. A shame—they missed some good films.
11.) In “Nobody’s Business,” there was a fascinating point brought up. It seems that everyone on this planet is related to everyone else by being no more than 50th cousins. There was an interesting formula which calculated this. I found it a rather curious idea which could have important social and political implications if developed more fully. Unfortunately it wasn’t—neither in the film, nor in my description of the film—essentially because it was irrelevant to the main point—i.e. that Oscar had no interest in the same things that Alan did, and this was just one more thing, of dozens, that Oscar dismissed. Yet I cannot get the thought out of my head. If we realized that we were all one, big, giant family, would we have more of an impetus to solve our global problems?
It’s hard to say. After watching all these movies about family—families that love each other and families that hate each other—I realize just how complex it all is. But I’m glad that the films raised all the issues that they did because they gave me a lot to think about.
And that, I think, is the goal of film. And why I’m proud to be part of this industry.