The freakiest thing about indie filmmakers is that we are bred and conditioned for harsh news. We wake up to 32,000 “no’s” a day, and self-preservation protects us from the ambush of let down. We have made an intrinsic peace with the fight required to shape shift those 32,000 “no’s” into a version of “yes”. That’s how we live. With hand crafted versions of “yes.”
But Yelling to the Sky, my first film, got a yes from the prestigious Berlin Film Festival and we were all off to Germany. The day of our world premiere was crackpot fun. Producers Billy Mulligan and Ged Dickerson, editor Bill Henry, my loyal friend Kirsten Johnson and I, woke up at 4:30am for the 5am tech run of our film. The cavernous Theater Palast before dawn up has a hum. I kid you not. It’s intimidating and will warm the jaded.
You are given the option to watch a couple reels or the entire film. We opted to watch the film through. There is something specific and private about watching the film through in a theater of that magnitude, and history. I implore you, whatever hour your tech run is slotted, whatever festival you play at, to watch it. It is the absolute last time the film is yours. Come nightfall, it will no longer belong to you.
From there, I went straight into the press junket, press conference and premiere with two breaks for lunch and dinner. More advice, whether you’re hungry or not, eat a proper meal before your premiere, as you will not stop until 7 hours later.
The craziness began. You are driven to the red carpet, three people to a car. Timed entrance. The moment you step out of the car your every move is recorded, live streamed and playing on a jumbotron in the theater for seated guests. The Berlinale red carpet is a perfect circus of old school gala fun.
Dieter Kosslick (the head of the festival) walks you upstairs to ritualistically sign an oversized photograph by Gerhard Kassner. You carry on, led by Mr. Kosslick into the theater, where you, cast and producers are announced by film name, then led by spotlight to your seat, where you sit and let the breath of 1600 people overwhelm you.
It is virtually impossible to pick a highlight, from a week loaded with “firsts.” These firsts included: seeing the film with 1600 people; sharing a two-day, nonstop junket with my actors Zoe Kravtiz, Gabby Sidibe; hearing Dieter share with me his reasoning for selecting the film; seeing local teens powerfully relate to the film and many others. And what could I say that doesn’t minimize or diminish the first time, someone (who speaks another language) looks you in the eye, touches their heart, wipes tears from their cheeks and musters a hybrid version of, “Thank you.”
Everything you hear about the respect of Berlin audiences is true. The only people on Blackberries or mobile devices were from that Western-most town in California. I’d pay you to find one local who took out a phone or talked or walked in and out. In every single screening, every film, any theater, you could hear a pin drop. I can’t think of the last time I was in a stateside theater where someone wasn’t involved in a minor or major disruption.
I’ve covered the human portion. What I would really like to share with up and coming filmmakers is, the inhuman portion. Festivals along with the industry, have become excessively corporate. There were so many odd circumstances where I realized the shift may never swing back from, “how much will this film sell for?” to “how much of a risk did the filmmaker take?” There is a running conversation amongst my generation of filmmakers about this witch-hunt, overtly slaughtering unconventional choices. We are shocked at the level of careless assault on creative exploration.
I walked around terrified for the next generation of first-time filmmakers who are aching and aiming to drive off course, with a deeply rooted wish to grow, regardless of hitting a bullseye. Hitting the bullseye has nothing to do with independent thought; be it film, photography, painting, sculpture or literature. We are purposefully aiming off mark for untapped territory beyond what we already know and have had jammed down our throats for years.
If you’re going into principal photography this year, I beg you, throw the numbers kit out the window. Flip convention on its ear. Sustain your need to say something above the want to be bought. I’m not talking about ignoring the importance of selling our films, but keeping it as only one priority.
There were also moments of sheer, doubled over humor throughout the festival. My personal — and daily favorite — came by way of, “no one could believe how intelligent you were at your press conference. Everyone was so surprised.” (I’m sorry but isn’t the subtext or inversion of that sentence that everyone presumed I was stupid? The reason I laughed whenever it was said, and I laugh again as I type, is I can’t figure out if they say this to filmmakers in general, or was it just me, specifically?
As I fly back to the states, I have only one familiar quiet heart ouch. Somehow, with all the incredibly talented women filmmakers invited to share their films at Berlinale 2011, and with a wonderfully mixed gender jury, not one single woman took a top writer or director prize. Not a one.
I don’t mind in the least, who comes after me for stating this since, I’m not whining. I’m simply observing, and you bet your arse I’d mark this observation even if I was sitting in my apartment in NY and had nothing to do with this year’s fest. I don’t entirely understand, with such a strong level of presence and quantity and quality of talent, how it is that not one single woman got to touch a writing or directing bear on closing night?
We head out in a couple of weeks to Austin, for SXSW Film Festival for the next round in the life of this film. Screening times are: Friday 3/11 at 6pm, Sat 3/12 at 4pm, Sun 3/13 at 8:45pm and Fri 3/18 at 4:30pm. We are excited to see the film with an American audience. And by the way, we are still looking for a buyer.