Seven Movies and Free Vodka, How Bad Could That Be...
A Report from the 1998 Gen Art Film Festival
by Eugene Hernandez
Finally, a manageable film festival. The concept is simple: seven
films and seven parties. Thats it. (Sounds like one evening at Sundance...)
But for the folks at Gen Art -- thats it. Oh wait, on seven consecutive
Gen Art is an endurance test. Few make it from crowded film screening
to open-bar party every day for a full week and thats OK, because the
Gen Art Film Festival is actually one night in the spotlight for a feature,
a short and the filmmakers -- the audience is just along for the ride.
And, while there was a lot of talk throughout the week about "the Gen
Art audience" (the group seems to be mainly comprised of twenty and
thirty-something Manhattanites), the crowd was fairly unique on
any given evening. For each filmmaker this was the chance at a New
York City premiere, so each film played to a warm crowd made up of
family and friends, rounded out with a sprinkling of indie-industry
types and celebs.
New company on the block Stratsophere Entertainment set the stage
for the seven day showcase by presenting its fall release "Six
Ways To Sunday" on opening night -- directed by Adam Bernstein,
the film stars Deborah Harry, among others. Commenting on the
screening, Stratospehere President Paul Cohen credited company
vice president T.C. Rice with singling out the festival as a unique
opportunity for the distributor to unveil one of its first American
indie releases. "I think that the Gen Art Festival was not only
surpinsingly exciting, but gratifying in the number of crossover
audience participants," Cohen explained, adding that it was a terrific
"word of mouth event." Filmmaker Marcus Spiegel, whose new film
"The Farmhouse" screened to an enthusiastic full house on night
four, complimented festival programmers, offering that "the stature
of the opening night film has increased each year."
In fact, by most accounts the quality of the overall program was
stronger this year than at the two previous efforts. Spiegel, who
has attended each year and even served as a volunteer throughout
the week this year, called the festival "the most consistent festival"
from a pure programming point of view. Without criticizing the two
previous lineups, Festival Director Deena Juras agreed. "I really
felt, without a doubt, that this was the strongest slate of films
that the festival has ever exhibited," Juras explained, adding that
there was an "unevenness from night to night last year" even
though she personally liked all of the movies. "The goal has always
been to put together a slate of films that are challenging,
entertaining, provacative, accesible, but still really clear about
the independent spirit," she offered, adding, "I think that we did
that really well this year." MOMAs Graham Leggat headed up the
1998 selection committee which incuded Juras, Festival producer
Jordan Rothstein, along with Adam Pincus, Laura Shapiro, Dan Rosen,
Doug Turner, and Josie Peltz.
Jimmy Smallhornes Sundance premiere "2x4" screened on Thursday,
occupying the difficult "post-opening night" slot, Craig Richardsons
"Anima" was a crowd-pleaser later in the week, while Christopher
Hansons "Scrapple" packed the house on closing night, prior to an
post screening bash at Manahttans"Wetlands." But, clearly the
standout film of the week was S.R. Bindlers non-fiction film "Hands
On A Hardbody," a movie that Juras introduced as her favorite of the
festival. Attendees agreed, selecting the video-shot doc as Gen Arts
first audience award winner. "Hardbody" has been a crowd-pleaser
on a festival tour that began at last years Santa Barbara Film
Festival and also included stops in Florida, Austin, and California.
In some ways the sort of screening experience afforded by Gen Art
was exactly what Bindler, and producer Chapin Wilson, had their hearts
set on back when they were working on the film in Longview, Texas.
"How great would it be to one day be sitting in a New York theater
with a 35mm print," Bindler recalls imagining, "that was the best
that we could think of." Looking ahead to their first theatrical dates
that begin next month, he added that the Gen Art showing "fueled us
for the next leg of the journey." (Legacy is set to open the film in
Austin on June 12th). The other documentary, also showcased in a
prime weekend slot, was Iara Lees second Gen Art entry, "Modulations"
(her previous feature doc, "Synthetic Pleasures," screened at the
festival in its innagural year. It will be distributed by Strand
Reflecting on the event earlier this week, Seattle and Edinburgh
festival vet Deena Juras revealed that the 1998 event was most
likely her last as Festival Director. "I feel like I have made a mark
and am ready to move on, and to see what somebody else will do
with it," she explained, "I think I really am ready for some new
things." She added that she hopes to remain on board next year as
a member of the selection committee.
When asked about some of the changes that next years organizers
should consider, Juras immediately offered, "There arent enough
women filmmakers on our slate, thats something that needs to be
worked on." Juras also critiqued the decision to up ticket prices
by $10 over last year in some cases (opening night was $40, while
admission for next three nights was $25 and $20 for the final three
nights), "I personally felt that it was kind of a steep jump," she
confirmed, "But we were in a position of having lost money in the
first two years." She hopes that organizers will scale back a bit
on costs next year. Yet, despite the dramatic jump in ticket prices,
Juras admitted that ticket sales were up 66% over 1997, even
though the festival only gained about 75 seats in moving the event
to the DGA theater.
Continuing to discuss the future, Juras added that it is important
for the festival to stick to its seven film, seven night format,
"With all of the festival that are cropping up, it is important to
identify yourself really well." Along the same lines, Juras hopes
that the festival will becomes a venue for U.S. and world premieres,
"I think that filmmakers will really see the value of premiering
here," she forecasted, "Its a key market -- its New York City."