AFI DALLAS – The First Blog

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on February 1, 2009

I just got into Dallas on Friday. I was welcomed to Texas just before I got here with a speeding ticket. Which I scored by going 80 in a 70 zone. The cop told me that if I had kept it to 8 MPH over, he would’ve ignored me. They say it’s a game of inches…Two years ago, I got a speeding ticket as I was heading home to L.A. So, I guess we’ll do one every other year now. Tradition.

The last two years I’ve been put up at this great apartment/condo building called South Side of Lamar. Very convenient – both in living style and location. This year, that isn’t available so I’ll be living in the guest house behind the home of David Gravelle, one of the AFI DALLAS Board members. Beyond having been the head of marketing for MCorp, the largest bank holding company in Texas for 11 years, Gravelle has climbed Mounts Rainer and Shuksan. Those are just a couple fun facts. And he is genuinely nice and welcoming. As is his wife and the daughter I met.

To have me stay there goes far beyond the call of duty. Especially, considering this is in a place called Highland Park where people have “Welcome Back Home, George W. and Laura!” signs on their lawns. And I’m the L.A. PR guy – which not only spells depravity, but the promotion of it (in a lot of conservative minds), I’m sure. But, you know, I wear a tie a lot and I’m white and a man so I can pass undetected in their midst fairly decently. Hell, I even did an event for the LAPD’s leading charity last year – talk about your hot bed of “we’re more moral than you”… I just hope David and his wife don’t get in trouble from some community watch group because they’re housing me. Should’ve kept the Dodgers cap at home.

The “guest house” is actually a glorified game room (complete with pool table) with a bathroom and a kitchenette area. I had to buy a microwave and a hot plate so I could prepare a basic meal. It’s made to order for a sleepover for some visiting businessman or dignitary. Not so much for someone in town for 10 weeks. There is also the unnerving plethora of life size Star Wars stand-ups populating the place. Every night, I’ll go to sleep with Darth Vader, Obi Wan Kenobi and Jango Fett standing guard nearby. I told my wife, Justina about this and she said if she ever had any reason to worry about on the road shenanigans that no one would get laid under those conditions. She’s right, there. But it will increase the likelihood that I’ll be that much more focused on the job at hand which is to help ensure that AFI DALLAS takes another step forward in year three of our existence, as opposed to a step back.

And that is a challenge this year. Like all film festivals, we’ve had sponsors bail and we face major budget shortfalls. There is less paid staff, fewer venues, and a couple days shaved off the schedule. The films we’ve lined up so far already are a nice selection, so that looks good. But frankly, the film festival is fighting for the proper kind of attention and support from AFI. Not that that is any surprise. There is a lot going on at AFI. All the time. A conservatory, various awards, events and several other exhibition programs all clamoring for their place at the big people’s Thanksgiving dinner table. And right now, the biggest advocates in L.A. for AFI DALLAS (and AFI FEST for that matter) are Rose Kuo, AFI FEST’s Artistic Director and myself.

Christian Gaines, the former Head of Festivals at AFI had sold me on the possibilities and potential of AFI’s “suite of festivals” (SILVERDOCS included). I bought into it conceptually and I would still love to see that potential realized – as a year-round circuit of film festivals, each with individual personalities and mandates, but collectively – adhering to an exceptional level of filmmaking, pushing forward the ongoing conversation on film, not to mention the careers of the best and most promising filmmakers. Because it would be one of a kind. We’d be leading the pack in the best way. And everyone wants to do that, right?

Or maybe not. Maybe that’s not a big deal. Maybe we’re all good with picking through choices at the multiplex like PAUL BLART: MALL COP (Kevin James? That’s a Number 1 movie? Really? Really?), BRIDE WARS (I’ll say it out loud – Anne Hathaway’s NORBIT), and another freakin’ UNDERWORLD movie (Are those films just like a World Series between Werewoves and Vampires? And, if so – can we just fast forward to Game 7?). Maybe we should just be content to hunker down at home with our Blu-Ray discs and Criterion collections.

No, I’d rather drive my ass to Dallas, recruit as many allies as I can, and keep being the one consistent voice in the AFI room to make sure this thing lives. And lives with style. That’s probably why they forgive the Dodgers cap…

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