Don’t expect me to just kiss its Palme d’Or-winning ass.

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on February 22, 2009

So the new D Magazine (March issue) just came out. D Magazine is the equivalent to Los Angeles Magazine (for those of you in L.A). Thematic pieces about the city it hails from, trends, social press with pictures of what happened the previous month and tons of restaurant ads, lawyer listings, and other essential stuff from their editors and publishes point of view about the city.

Anyway, in the front of the magazine there is a big’ol feature with full-page photo of James Faust and Sarah Harris. Now, I knew it was happening because I helped coordinate it, but….nice. Sometimes, the results of what we’re trying to do live up to the hopes you had for it in the first place. And while it felt like it kinda landed in my lap, there was still some pursuit and romancing of that magazine for a good couple of years to do this particular piece.

Fortunately, the editors and writers (in this case, Eric Celeste), while having to defend themselves against countless e-mails and pitches, etc. still manage to take the time to put stuff into context and respond and write accordingly. And it all worked out this time. Of course, you’re thinking, “Well, duh – they did an AFI DALLAS feature. Of course, you’re all about D Magazine now.”

Well, maybe you should slow down a little and not get ahead of me. See – here’s the deal: Originally, they were going to just do the feature on James. Which mind you, still would have been great except for this: We already had another feature due out on James in another magazine. And when you factor in the fact that the Texas Black Film Festival just honored him and he recently made a trip to the White House on behalf of AFI DALLAS, 2009 has already been showing Faust-About-Town a lot of well-deserved love.

And the truth is – those two are a true team. Yes, James is the Director of Programming and is clearly the leader, but if Sarah went down in a hail of crossfire at the hands of some rogue filmmaking storm troopers, then so would his protective programming force field. (and that imagery was all for James’ benefit, just so you know).

And to Eric’s credit, he understood that and decided to adjust his approach on the story. But here is the point I took so long to get to: I believe they are a great programming team because they argue with each other about the films they are considering and you can argue with them. They have opinions about the films they like and program and they’ll let each other and you know about it.

But here’s the best part – they don’t freak out if you disagree. And they’ll debate. Real debate. They won’t pull that crap about you having to love every damn film they program just because you’re one of the AFI DALLAS family. Because they’re bright enough and self-aware enough to know that will never happen. Certainly not with me. Now – to put this in the proper context – I absolutely can appreciate every film they program. Just as I can for AFI FEST, IFFLA, Lone Star and the Feel Good Film Festival. I can understand the merits of the filmmaker’s work, I can get behind the reasoning for the spot it is taking in the schedule, the politics that are sometimes involved, and how it all comes together as a greater whole.

But love everything? It’s bad enough nudging up against that “flak” description with this job; if I start edging toward “shill” then I descend into loathsome ‘Peter Keating’ territory from The Fountainhead. I think being tough on that is vital to me having any kind of authority to deliver the message on why people should come to the film festival or see the films I’m singing the praises of. Because, you have to be able to trust what I’m saying. Not that you’ll necessarily agree with me – but you will at the least be able to respect where it is coming from. Otherwise I’m another asshole flak just pushing product.

And that would be gross.

Two years ago, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the critically acclaimed 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS. I understood where the praise was coming from, and it certainly was no mystery why it was a great film for us to have at AFI FEST that year. But it didn’t “do it” for me. Appreciating isn’t the same as liking. But, let’s just say there was a lot of “concern” that I didn’t want to automatically give the film a big wet smacker on its Palme d’Or-winning ass. And my response at the time was to challenge someone to justify it beyond a rubber stamp of what Cannes had done. Eventually, that did happen, but not until a month after the festival was over – during a conversation with Artistic Director Rose Kuo and her husband, screenwriter and scary-smart cinephile Larry Gross. And it was that compelling argument on behalf of the film and response to what hadn’t worked for me that put the film and my expectations as an audience member in a more appreciative perspective.

The inspiration for this thought is the fact that I have been particularly relentless about one of the films Sarah and James programmed for this year. And rather than give me a “just because” or use another festival as a not-to-be debated-with seal of approval, Sarah stood her ground and got the best of me in the deliberations. The jury would have easily ruled in her favor. And I would’ve had to pay the court fees too. AND I will be much better equipped to argue on behalf of that film myself now because of it.

And that filmmaker is lucky to have her on their side.

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