Wednesday, September 3, 2008

VisionFest 08 Wrap-Up

Yes, VisionFest 08 has finally come....and gone. It was truly an amazing event this year. But it runs over us FAers like a cement truck. Luckily, I've recuperated and reflected enough to share some of the thoughts that are resonating within me about the event. But I'm going to express those thoughts by addressing the oft-asked question: "Why do we do it?"!!

Anybody who has been to the event knows what a massive undertaking it is - even though it is just one night - for such a modestly-staffed organization. And, frankly, it is. It includes, but is not limited to, soliciting/managing sponsors and integrating their promotional materials, soliciting/managing restaurant and beverage donations, wrangling/implementing volunteers, designing/diseminating printed materials including the event program, setting up box office, publicizing and promoting the event, building the audio-visual team and executing the AV plan, designing the DGA's lobby and creating an event layout plan, dealing with the fire marshal, getting insurance certs, soliciting/managing award recipients, designing/creating the actual awards, writing speeches and a ton more stuff I'm too tired or forgetful to include.
all photos courtesy of Robin Swank -
This year, the Margarita King added an Amazon Warrior-Princess to his collection of provocative Margarita servers.

And despite all of our efforts, it never garners much press attention for Filmmakers Alliance, although a smattering of press shows up to interview and/or photograph the recipient of our Vision Award - and any others in attendance with even the slightest bit of fame quotient. It costs a LOT (and gets more expensive each year) but doesn't raise all that much money (although it definitely raises some) with tickets very hard to sell (we always end up giving out far more than we sell) even though everyone knows it is a fundraiser.

So, then, why the f&%# do we do it? Simple.....because it ROCKS!! The closest thing I can think of to describe it is like hosting the most awesome wedding you can imagine...every year!! It brings together friends and fellow filmmakers, old and new, with dynamic, celebratory and even inspirational energy. It truly has a sort of spiritual vibe that seems to seize hold of so many in attendance. It is a full and profound expression of community - our community - that allows Filmmakers Alliance, and all of us who are a part of it , to celebrate what we are and what we dazzling style.

The resourceful filmmakers on the left raffled off dates with themselves to fund their feminist date-rape movie.

It allows us the pleasure of creation, no matter how challenging. Simply seeing the army of volunteers and volunteer committee heads take ownership of their work and pull off an event of this magnitude in such a creative and professional way is breath-taking in itself.

It allows us to create the Nilsson Award, and present it to a filmmaker with true artistic integrity and social conscience....Rob Nilsson himself! He humbled us all with his gracious and heart-felt acceptance speech. By honoring him, we are honoring that part of him that exists in all of us and is worthy of exaltation.

Christo DiMassis (far right) demonstrates his excitement about the Nilsson Award by pinching Rob Nilsson's ass.

It allows us to hand out the LA Short Filmmaking Grant, which enlists the generosity of commercial production vendors, elevating their reason-to-be and allowing us to do the essence of our work through a single film - directly supporting work of high creative ambition and/or social relevance. This year's winner, Robert Beaucage, was gracious and exceedingly grateful in a way that, I believe, even touched the other finalists.

It allows us to give the Community Vision Award to places like Echo Park Film Center and the Los Angeles Filmforum - places whose very existence restores your faith in humanity even if you never even walk through their doors. And at this year's event, Filmforum Executive Director Adam Hyman, gave a thoughtful, articulate acceptance speech and plea for support that demonstrated his passion for and belief in the work he does, as well as the spirit of true artistic achievement.

Adam Hyman of Filmforum impressing the babes with his award.

It allows us to display the selected work of the members in all of it's mad, eclectic glory and failure - reminding us also of all the work that goes on throughout the year that we aren't able to show. But we did indeed get to see a little more of that work with yet another program of films that played in the video theater during the party. It is a fantastic reflection of all the various creative energies at play in Filmmakers Alliance and it is enormously gratifying to see the filmmakers' excitement at screening in such a beautiful venue (in any of the 3 theaters there) in front of a vast, responsive audience.

And, yes, it allows us to bestow the Vision Award, - our event's eye candy for the larger public. But we don't just give the award to anybody. We give it to notable filmmakers whose work behind the camera and out in the world holds meaning for us. In recognizing them for what they do, we are holding a light to their work so that others can benefit from it and/or will be inspired to create their own, equally impactful footprints in the world. This year's recipient was Kevin Smith, who was hilariously and gloriously vulgar/irreverent but was also modest, encouraging and deeply appreciative.

Producer Scott Mosier, FA Executive Director Amanda Sweikow, me and Kevin Smith chumming it up after meeting less than 10 seconds before this photo was taken.

It allows us to connect (and re-connect) with our ever-growing community - to catch up with so many who are dynamically in our lives and others who once were but who've faded away from well as others who have yet to demonstrate their impact. And we get to do all of this while noshing on a banquet of gourmet treats and quaffing a delicious selection of mind-altering beverages.

FA founding member and guiding force, Tyler Patton (center) cheerfully offers to kick anybody's ass who thinks FA is a bunch of artsy-fartsy pussies.

Finally, it allows us to send out an annual rallying cry to all of the people in our community and remind them that we are still kicking and screaming and implore them to continue kicking and screaming, themselves.

These women obviously don't realize that long-time FA filmmaker Kerry Prior (slightly off-center), director of the upcoming "The Revenant", has already cast his film.

Clearly, we do it for the experience itself, not necessarily for any professional benefit that may or may not arrive as a consequence of it. And for that, it's worth every dime it costs us along with every ounce of our energy...and more!

And for me personally, it reminds me that what I've chosen to do with my life has meaning and value. Not just to me (which is of no small significance as far as I'm concerned), but to a significant number of other people, as well. No, Filmmakers Alliance does not help feed starving babies in Darfur, nor stop wars, nor fight poverty, nor cure AIDS, nor protect the rainforests, nor reduce global warming. No, not directly. But the right films - films we strive to support - can indeed have an impact on any or all of that. Or they can simply open up a single individual intellectually, emotionally, creatively and/or spiritually. Do the films we show at VisionFest - or make throughout the year at Filmmakers Alliance - accomplish these things? Not always. But sometimes.....I think what VisionFest does most importantly in its celebratory way is remind us of what Filmmakers Alliance is really about - the power and possibility that exists at the intersection of individual creative expression and dynamic community action. And that alone is more than worth the price of admission.


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