The other night, I was watching Elvis Costello’s Spectacle show and he was interviewing Tony Bennett. At a certain point, Bennett said that when he began singing with big bands like Stan Kenton, Woody Herman and Duke Ellington, etc. that the public decided for themselves if they liked a band or a singer versus having a corporation “convince” them that they liked it. In his opinion, the audiences were more savvy, paying attention more to what they were hearing and experiencing and then making the call for themselves as to who they wanted to see and hear more of.
And fifty years later I analyze and re-analyze my part or role in that process when it comes to my stuff. I am, after all, the publicist. So, I am supposed to try and sell the artist, the film, the event, the organization, whatever – to the public, to people, to “you”. But here’s the thing that I feel justifies my efforts (because the thought that I would be considered a flack grosses the hell out of me): I truly and genuinely believe in the need and the worth of each of these film festivals and the filmmakers and their films. And I have very high annual goals and my own “vision” for The Vision Awards show that I produce and a sincere belief in the good and greater potential for positive change that Retinitis Pigmentosa International (the organization it supports) can achieve. I even put some time in on behalf of the comedian Doug Stanhope for awhile last summer because he is smart, and relentless about delivering the unvarnished funny (and I so loathe so much of what is accepted as stand up comedy by people who have been fed a never ending calvacade of witless and canned Comedy Central crap).
So I’m not just selling for selling’s sake. I want everyone to be aware of what’s going on, to hear our side of it, to listen for a moment about why I think it’s worth the time or their attention. No single film is for everyone but there is a film for everyone. After 20 years in this town and 15 years in entertainment PR and television/film production, I’m as cynical as the next person, but there is stuff out there that should be celebrated or at the least be attended. Because, if it goes away it just may NOT come back. That goes for each of the film festivals, it goes for the filmmakers, it even goes to the specific programs within the American Film Institute that benefit film artists and future film artists and film lovers to come.
So, while it wouldn’t seem that I should be, considering my job – I’m with Tony Bennett on this one. Because, while I know I have a tough time just sitting through the trailers for movies like THE SPIRIT, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and BEDTIME STORIES, I know that anyone who experiences a typical film fest screening with a smart Q&A afterwards by the filmmaker will always come back for more.
My job (or jobs – depending on how you look at it) for the American Film Institute, AFI FEST, AFI DALLAS, the Indian Film Festival, Lone Star Film Festival, Feel Good Film Festival and last, but certainly not least – The Vision Awards has required me to increasingly to take on the role of spokesperson. Which honestly, I am happy and sometimes relieved to do because I know exactly what I want to say and what I think people need to know about each of those film festivals, events and organizations. Of course, I’ll hear or watch myself afterwards and appropriately loathe myself for opening my mouth and preaching my happy version of the movie gospel like that too loud guy standing in front of you in any line anywhere in Los Angeles or worse – like that roommate or co-worker or ill-chosen boyfriend or girlfriend you just can’t escape well enough.
And, yet – after the handful of television, radio, and print interviews, panels, Q&As, there is much more to say. And even after hating listening to the sound of my painful earnestness and in the worst cases – obviousness, there is still so much more to say. So now – after a lot of prompting by my wife (a dedicated and much more prolific writer, herself) to begin writing and blogging about what I’m doing and what I’m seeing – from my perspective – well, I’m gonna give it a shot.
And while I won’t always be writing about “work”, a good amount will be about film, filmmakers and the film festival world because the films and filmmakers I give the largest rat’s ass about need as many voices singing their praises and alerting everyone as to their existence as they can get. David Redmon and Ashley Sabin and their wonderful, intimate documentaries like KAMP KATRINA and INTIMIDAD, Jacob Medjuck’s SUMMERHOOD, Johnny Asuncion’s FLOAT, Daniel Stamm’s A NECESSARY DEATH, pretty much everything Bill Sebastian (MIDLOTHIA) has done since I’ve known him, Mo Perkins’ A QUIET LITTLE MARRIAGE, Sabine El Gemayal’s NILOOFAR – there are so many more, but I’ll stop this list for now.
And film festivals – well, in these tough economic times – they are under siege in more than a few ways. Sponsors are going away, and there is a lot of fair weather support out there that is hanging by a thread by small groups of people in each case that see their film festival as just that – theirs. And so they work harder and harder to keep it going and make the next edition better than the last. And they deserve someone shining a light on them too. So here we go….