Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My very second film festival programming meeting last night!...

It suddenly occurred to me, when I arrived for my very second film festival programming meeting, that my fellow programmers may not want me blogging about the process. No one mentioned to me that this was frowned upon. No one so much as suggested it. I'm fairly certain that no one is even aware I'm blogging about it. Of course, this may be why no one has mentioned it. Or maybe, it simply does not bother anyone and I'm creating a lot of useless drama in my own head. But the process of programming has always seemed a bit mysterious to me and other filmmakers I know. I mean, there's no clear equation, is there? But I wondered if this is by design. Perhaps programmers want the process to remain mysterious, even mystical. Or, perhaps, I'm just a drama junkie with a hyper-active imagination.

Nonetheless, all this occurred to me, because in many ways, programming is a very personal process...sometimes downright intimate. Each time one of us utters an opinion, we are sharing insight into ourselves. Our comments are a reflection of so much - our aesthetics, our personal preferences, our worldview, our education/upbringing/cultural background, our political ideology, our theology (if we have one) and even our sense of humor. If we are passionately arguing on behalf of a film, it can get emotional and even...well, intimate. Programmers may not want some obsessive hack blogger documenting all that stuff.

Programming meetings can get incredibly passionate...

This is only our second meeting, so no explosively passionate or achingly intimate moments have transpired as yet. And it will probably never get too deep/crazy/weird. This group seems far too grounded. But we did have a few moments of gently clashing perspectives about films and it was interesting to see how the dynamics play out.

In my case, one of the programmers was talking about a film that, last week, I tentatively suggested was worth a second look. She took that second look and did not respond to the film at all. She had an issue with the way the film was shot (as I did), but also had a very personal distaste for the character, the story and the over-all energy of the film. She simply was not at all compelled by it. At that moment, my insecurities could have immediately lead me to question my judgement. And typically, when I feel insecure, rather than shut down, I tend to investigate the opposing opinion. Why do you believe this? How do you justify YOUR opinion? That is sometimes followed by a verbose defense of my position, no matter how wrong it may be. It's part of my process. If I am barking up the wrong tree, I like to believe that, at some point, I'll actually listen to what I'm saying and get hit with an embarrassing moment of clarity...leading to a quick, humble capitulation.

But no need for any of that. There's no right or wrong here. Just subjective reactions to a creative piece of work. No need to feel insecure. My fellow programmer was merely giving me the opportunity to truly assess my reaction to the film on all levels. Was it worth mounting a passionate defense? And, if so, was I ready to share some insight into myself in the process of articulating my very subjective reaction to the film?...Uh, no. On both counts.

As I listened to her reaction to the film, I realized that we were both operating deep in subjective land. Her issues were clearly less with execution and more with the creative choices...and her gut reaction to them. I had to quickly assess my own gut reaction and decide if that reaction was not only something I was sure others would have, but one that others NEEDED to have. I quickly came to the conclusion that it was not. And if I did feel it was a necessary film for people to see, given the subject matter, there would have to be something a bit creepy about me. Maybe there is, but I'm certainly not able to cop to it at this point. And certainly not at a festival programming meeting.The film was indeed off-putting in many ways. Although I thought the energy was authentic despite or because of this, and that the filmmakers did a great job accomplishing their own creative goals, there just wasn't enough in those goals to get passionate about. Because I think the film is well made and authentic, and because there are others like me who will be perversely fascinated, rather than off-put, by the energy of the film, I do hope it finds a festival home. But I wasn't passionate enough about its subject matter to fight for it to be in this one. My silence sealed its quiet death at this festival.

This is all with the awareness that some filmmaker is sitting at home, biting their nails waiting for an answer. But as programmers, you can't think about that, even if you've been that filmmaker. You have to make it about the film, not the filmmaker. And you have to believe that your reaction to the film comes from a place of real love of cinema. You have to believe that the result of that honest reaction - good or bad for the filmmaker's chances of being in the festival - will ultimately be good for the universe of cinema. You aren't doing anybody any favors - not the festival, not filmmakers and certainly not the audience - by pushing forward films about which you aren't totally passionate. I'm learning that, sometimes, it's important to just shut your mouth and let someone else's passion speak the loudest.

1 comment:

  1. I'm currently sending out a submission notices for the 2nd year of our small film fest here in Brooklyn and couldn't help but think back to last year's funky/heated (weird combo) arguments about certain films, including shorts. I love programming and producing these things but you're so right: it really does tell a lot about people's sensibilities, personally,cinematically and let's face it, business-wise as well.

    Great blog Jacques.