Filmmaking weasels

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on March 10, 2009

Let me tell you a little story about how history repeats itself….

The first film festival I worked on was the 2006 edition of AFI FEST. And one of the first films I screened and got really excited about was a little documentary called GIRL 27. Directed by David Stenn, the film explored the story of Patricia Douglas, a woman that was raped at an MGM sales convention and through cover-ups, etc. basically had her life destroyed with nary a whiff of acknowledgement, let alone an apology from the studio or the guy who did it even years afterward. It was one of those stories that makes you want to grab a pitch fork and a couple of easy-light torches and make your way (presumably with the other people in the theater) to exact justice on men who have been dead for years.

Now, it wasn’t a perfect film. In fact, in many ways, the film simply served as a delivery system for the director who was much more interested in communicating the fact that he knew Jackie Onassis and actually had voice mail messages from her. Very exciting for him. And maybe his relatives and a few friends of his too.

But probably just him.

Okay – definitely just him.

Still – Patricia Douglas’s story was powerful and we leapt right into working on the PR for the film among other things. Stenn and the production company were thrilled because we were so enthusiastically pushing the film. We loved them and they’d get a lot of attention for themselves and the film and it was all gonna be great.

And then one day – something happened…

There were some problems with lawyers and getting clearances for interviews with Patricia Douglas’s relatives or something like that. We couldn’t really get a clear understanding what the issue was, but what we were fearing was that we might not get to screen the film. I mean, we had already announced that it was playing. We had included it in some feature pieces that were moving forward for the festival. The producers and Stenn were upset because they really wanted it to play at AFI FEST, but their hands were tied. There was no way they would be able to get this thing cleared soon enough.

Not only that, they needed every screener copy they had sent us sent right back to them. Quick! I mean, track them all down! Where were they?! If one escaped it would be disastrous! So we busted our asses getting everything back to them and bemoaned the loss. But what can you do, right?

And then the schedule for Sundance was announced…

And there was GIRL 27.


Or, huh. (Depending on how jaded and cynical you were.)

Guess they got those rights issues cleared up just in time so they could make their world premiere at Sundance… Wow, that was some lucky timing right there.

Weasels. Stupid, shortsighted, filmmaking weasels.

Why stupid? Why shortsighted? Because it didn’t have to go down that way. There are a couple of film festivals that cling so desperately to their need to play world premieres that they will inspire this kind of bad filmmaker behavior. See, here’s the deal: Anyone who has any kind of decent sense of self awareness in film festival-land knows exactly where they stand on the film critics’ totem pole and the business totem pole and the filmmakers’ opinion totem pole. So a film getting a chance to play at Sundance and having to bow out because of that idiotic world premiere policy – well, we got it and we get it and as much as it sucked we would have understood.

But they lied.


And because of that, David Stenn better be fucking channeling Alex Gibney and Werner Herzog and Errol Morris combined if his next film ever gets within a 500 square mile radius of any film festival I’m working at. Seriously, dude could send Jackie O in a dusty pillbox hat AND JFK Jr. to personally haunt my ass and I would still be putting my foot down to let that guy back in the house, so to speak.

Because that integrity thing…? That means something to me.

A couple months ago, we planned on playing Lynn Shelton’s cooler than cool HUMPDAY at AFI DALLAS this year. We were tipped off before it even got to Sundance by the in-the-know-and-you-can-trust-their-taste tandem of René Ridinger and Dayan Ballweg and saw it right out of the gate. Loved…it! We told Lynn and Joshua Leonard we wanted the film, they were excited, the film company was excited, we were excited.

And then they got the call from another film festival. A grand daddy, make-your-reservations now film festival.

What are you gonna do?

Well, you get out of the way, congratulate them, and be happy that deserving filmmakers receive a rare day at the beach. But the important thing is – they told us immediately. There was no sudden issues with music rights or a dying uncle or a conflict with a rare provision in the indie filmmaker tax code that suddenly surfaced and then conveniently went away. No – they were transparent. They were truthful. And everyone at AFI DALLAS that saw the film and dealt with them will continue to champion that film and that company.

We also planned to play a documentary called PLAYGROUND. Directed by Libby Spears, the film explored the child sex trade industry. We featured the film in one of our early announcements, even made sure that some outlets printed art from the film because we were so excited to have it on the schedule. On several long lead pitches (magazines that need to write their stories a couple months ahead of time), I pushed PLAYGROUND and Libby to be included. She was getting the full-court press push from us and it was gonna be great to debut what we saw as an “important” film at Dallas.

And then one day – something happened….

There were problems with some clearances with interviews they had conducted for the film. Strange, right? To make it that far in the process and then figure out you neglected to get releases signed by people you interviewed for your film. But wait, maybe it wasn’t that – it might’ve been music rights issues that only pertained to festival play. I mean, that sounds kinda preposterous too, but that’s what they were saying. When we could get them on the phone, that is.

Then the final word came down. We had to drop it from the schedule. It would be a little embarrassing for us, but these things happen sometimes. They were really bummed. We were really disappointed, but what could they do, right? You have to listen to your lawyers in a case like that. We understood.

Today the schedule for Tribeca was announced…

And if I may quote the recently departed Paul Harvey, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

AFI DALLAS Announces 15 Official Selections

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on February 3, 2009

2009 AFI DALLAS International Film Festival Presented by NorthPark Center, Founding Sponsor Victory Park Announces Fifteen Titles in Official Selections


Dallas, TX, February 3, 2009—AFI DALLAS 2009 International Film Festival Presented by NorthPark Center, Founding Sponsor Victory Park announces fifteen films that will screen at this year’s festival (March 26 – April 2) including the World Premieres of the documentaries ONE NATION, PLAYGROUND and ROCK PROPHECIES as well as the U.S. Premieres of FOOD, INC., GIGANTIC and THE SEVEN OF DARAN.

The three world premiere documentaries include:

Justin Wilson’s ONE NATION – the film utilizes a pastiche of images and sounds to create an artful profile of the year, 1968. The film examines the struggles of power vs. protest, affluence vs. poverty, and human rights vs. the tyranny of want and ignorance.

Libby Spears’s PLAYGROUND – Executive produced by Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney, the film follows a young woman and other children like her, who are victims of the American child sex trafficking industry. Examining America’s legal and social system, the film delicately and responsibly details our country’s most alarming, insidious secret.

John Chester’s ROCK PROPHECIES – The film is a backstage pass into the eccentric world of rock n’ roll from the vantage point of an obsessed photographer, Robert M. Knight, who at 18 years old captured and befriended Jimi Hendrix and the members of Led Zeppelin, well before they became the iconic stars we know them as today.

Among the U.S. premieres are:

Robert Keener’s FOOD, INC. – The documentary takes a look at food preparation, industrialized and otherwise for the mass population, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that’s been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government’s regulatory agencies, the USDA and FDA.

Matt Aselton’s GIGANTIC – Starring Paul Dano, Zooey Deschanel, John Goodman, Jane Alexander, Edward Asner, the offbeat comedy is centered around a mattress salesman who wants to adopt a Chinese baby, and a young woman he meets at his store. Together, they negotiate their increasing intimacy, and the appearances of their many eccentric relatives, as Brian awaits the call from the adoption agency.

Lourens Blok’s THE SEVEN OF DARAN – Children’s tale follows an English boy on an African adventure with the help of a talking giraffe and a precious medallion.

AFI DALLAS also announces three films that recently played at the Sundance Film Festival that will screen for Dallas audiences for the first time at the festival – ART & COPY, CHILDREN OF INVENTION and MOON, as well as ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE UNDEAD, which just debuted at the Slamdance Film Festival.

“These initial 15 selections are indicative of the exciting variety of films we will offer Dallas audiences with this year’s programming. They represent accomplished directors, including Guillermo Arriaga and Doug Pray, compelling subjects, and both provocative and entertaining work,” said Michael Cain, AFI DALLAS Artistic Director.

The fifteen announced selections include:

Director: Doug Pray
Documentary explores the creation of the modern advertising industry, the people behind it, and its influence on popular culture.

Director: Guillermo Arriaga
Cast: Charlize Theron, Kim Basinger
A drama with employs multiple storylines featuring a mother and daughter who try to form a bond after the young woman’s difficult childhood.

Director: Tze Chun
Cast: Cindy Chung, Michael Chen, Crystal Chiu
Drama follows a Chinese American family as they struggle to achieve the American Dream in suburban Boston.

FOOD, INC. (Canada)
Director: Robert Kenner
Documentary takes a look at food preparation, industrialized and otherwise for the mass population.

Director: Matt Aselton
Cast: Paul Dano, Zooey Deschanel, John Goodman, Jane Alexander, Ed Asner
Comedy is centered around a mattress salesman and a young woman he meets at his store.

HUNGER (United Kingdom)
Director: Steve McQueen
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham, Stuart Graham, Liam McMahon
Drama takes a harrowing look at the last six weeks in the life of imprisoned Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands.

MOON (United Kingdom)
Director: Duncan Jones
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey
Drama follows the lone occupant of a lunar mining base as he prepares to return to earth and his life at home.

Director: Justin Wilson
Documentary provides an artful look at 1968 through a pastiche of images from that year.

Director: Libby Spears
Executive Producers: Steven Soderbergh, George Clooney
Documentary explores the rampant worldwide child sex trafficking industry.

Director: Brett Gaylor
Documentary looks at the changing landscape of music in The Internet Age focusing on the line between musical inspiration and copyright infringement.

Director: John Chester
The documentary is a backstage pass into the eccentric world of rock n’ roll from the vantage point of an obsessed photographer, Robert M. Knight, who at 18 years old captured and befriended Jimi Hendrix and the members of Led Zeppelin, well before they became the iconic stars we know them as today.

Director: Jordan Galland
Cast: Jake Hoffman, Devon Aoki, Ralph Macchio, Jeremy Sisto
Comedy about a theater director who finds himself in the middle of a two thousand year old conspiracy involving Shakespeare, the Holy Grail and vampires.

Director: Lourens Blok
Cast: Jonathan Harmse, Ketrice Maitisa, Caroline Goodall
Children’s tale follows an English boy on an African adventure with the help of a talking giraffe and a precious medallion.

SKIN (UK/South Africa)
Director: Anthony Fabian
Cast: Sophie Okonedo, Sam Neill, Alice Krige
Set in 1955 and based on a true story, the film looks at the social and personal impact on two white Afikaner parents and their daughter in rural South Africa, after the girl is born with dark skin.

Director: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Cast: Algenis Perez Soto, Rayniel Rufino
Drama about a Dominican baseball star that is signed to a minor league contract.

AFI DALLAS 2009 will run March 26 – April 2, 2009. Passes go on sale February 6, Tickets go on sale March 2. Passes and tickets will be made available via online (, phone (214.720.0663), and in person at the Box Office located at the AFI DALLAS locations at NorthPark Center and Victory Park.