I’ve learned this film festival process veers wildly between highs and lows. The most obvious lows are the rejections. Rejections and entrance fees. Like you have to pay these festivals a lot of money to have them tell you they don’t want to show your movie. Whatever, I’m a playwright, I have a thick skin.
So when you do get into a festival, the instinct is to want to be there for it. The first premier in Arizona was kind of a no-brainer, it was the first time my movie was being shown publicly so I wanted to be there. Then we had New Hope, which was our home turf so again a no brainer.
Now the number three in Louisville Kentucky. Is it worth it to come to Louisville for the screening? It’s definitely good for the movie that we got in (we need more laurels on our poster!). But will it be a difference maker for me to come vs. just sending the film? Am I going to meet a distributor in Louisville. Probably not.
But Mary encouraged me to make the trip: meet people, try to promote the screening, and (spoiler) I’m really glad I came. Opening night was super fun.
I arrive at the theater for the opening night screening and it is a bit more of a thing then Arizona or New Hop
e. The venue is their local science center (huge IMAX screen) and they have a full on red carpet at the front with both a photographer and a videographer, as well as an actual red carpet interviewer. She looks the part, big blonde hair, big Kentucky smile. I’m milling about as she finishes an interview with a filmmaker. At first I assume this is reserved for the opening night film team. I ask a woman who seems to be involved and she sees my filmmaker badge and asks if I want just a picture on the red carpet or a picture plus an interview. My feeling is if someone asks if you want to be interviewed you say YES, even if you don’t know where the interview is going in the world (most likely nowhere).
So now I’m in line for my red carpet interview behind this older documentary filmmaker. Chatty guy, he tells me about his short documentary about a Vietnam vet. He goes first, camera goes on, blonde Kentucky interviewer’s face lights up and she gushes out her apparently stock first question:
“What do you LOVE about the Louisville film festival???!!!” The doc guy seems prepared (he’s had films there before). I wonder how I will answer this question having been at the festival for 20 minutes.
Well it turns out I have plenty of time to think about it because just as it’s my turn to get my fake interview the filmmaker and actors from the opening night film arrive and the film festival founder Conrad Bachmann (who I will learn is a local legend--actor who's IMDB takes you back to the golden age of Hollywood) tells me that he’s sorry but they’re all going to go next.
I’m like of course they are, and I step back as 3 then 5 than 8 actors and producers and investors and their mothers take pictures and have interviews with the interview person. Conrad checks in on me a couple times:
“You’re next, buddy, we didn’t forget you!! We know you’re next. You’re a trooper, you are!!”
So they finish their interviews and I go up and do mine and it’s embarrassing because the woman is so peppy and up like she’s on some kind of positive only drugs, and she asks what my film is about and I say the word autism and her tone and body language shifts completely she puts on this very serious local-newscaster-like frown.
And in my interview, I tried to be all: “yeah it’s about autism but it’s like a relationship drama, and there’s humor in it, etc,” But she was unswayed, once autism came up she had her serious/sympathetic pose. I tried to stumble through something but the final result will most likely and justly end up on a cutting room floor.
So next is the opening night film, which is called Corsicana, a western based on a true story of a slave who fought for the north in the civil war and then became one of the few Black federal marshal
s. Cool story, very impressive performance by the writer/director Isiah Washington.
Afterwards we go to the Muhammad Ali center which is a big cultural arts center space in Louisville where my screening will be (in what i will learn is basically a classroom). They are serving way to easy-to-drink strawberry lemonade vodka which I find helps me be unashamed to insert myself unwanted into conversations.
I meet these sisters who had helped produce their daughter/niece's film. The mother is incredibly sweet, school teacher of ESL in Louisville. She tells me some of her students have autism and the principal of her school has a boy with autism. They said they’ll come to my screening. Promises made while drinking strawberry lemonade vodka have to be taken with a grain of salt but I actually believe her.
Then I start talking this actor Lew
who is kind of the bad guy in Corsicana. Plays a real dark, quiet heavy but in real life super outgoing, and kind of hipster type, wearing this great floral print suit. He had a bunch of stories, funny guy. He’s there with two producer friends who are working on a project with Ethan Hawke (apparently a vehicle for her daughter). I shared my Spaz history which was appreciated.
One producer is American, the other is from Poland. I end up talking to the Polish guy for most of the rest of the night. His name is Voicek. He tells me that basically his family is foundational film royalty in Poland. His grandfather funded most of Roman Polanski’s early work and his uncle was one of the victims of the Manson murders. Fascinating guy.
I’m handing out postcards for my movie to anyone who will take them. I’ve learned with these festivals that you’re kind of on your own trying to find audience. And I know basically one person in in town, a literary manager from Actors Theatre of Louisville who’d been very supportive of the play version of Love and Communication and said she’d come out. I’d also sent emails to some autism organizations, including a very cool organization called FEAT of Louisville. Their executive director replied and said she’d try to send it around, but my expectations are low.
So going into my screening I’m thinking my over/under on audience members is around 5. Which is fine, whatever happens happens, it’s out of my control. I get to the screening and I’m pretty zen about it. And it’s better than expected, about 12 people including the executive director of the autism organization, Melanie, who brought her daughter out, two older couples who are just festival walkups, and the lovely ESL teacher and her sister. The ESL teacher has brought me some caramels written down on an envelope my must-visit Louisville places before I go including this epic candy shop I ended up visiting later this day.
But just as I’m saying hello to her I look up at the screen and I’m seeing the words “cannot read disc.” Those are three words you do not want to be seeing at a screening of your film. This disc worked at home, shouldn’t be anything wrong with it.
But I learned from two people that this Blu-ray player had rejected another film earlier in the day. Tech support arrives. Which in this case an outrageously sweet and apologetic Louisville native breathing on the back of the blu ray disk and wiping it with a cloth. We try to figure out a Vimeo solution but they can’t hook up the wifi to the blu ray player.
The two older couples leave, with one of the older gentleman telling me this is the third time this has happened out of five films they went to see. This is small comfort to me right now. I tell the nice audience members I’m sorry but I will send them all a link to the film to watch it directly. We pass around the envelope pictured above and everyone writes out their email addresses.
They are all very sweet about it and I think that’s going to be that and we go our separate ways and I go cry in my beer for the rest of the night before skulking home to Jersey. But then a pretty cool thing happened. The Vietnam documentary filmmaker starts asking me to tell us all about the film, why I made it, my plans with it, etc.
So I gave a bit of the backstory of our real life situation with Jimmy, what led me to write the play how different it is from real life. And it started basically a half hour conversation about autism and what parents go through, and the lack of equity and resources especially for older kids and adults with autism.
Melanie starts talking about what her autism organization does and the ESL teacher shares her experience and they end up trading contact info as the teacher thinks some of her student’s parent’s should know about these resources. This is a conversation that would not have happened if we had successfully screened my film. So on the face of it my Louisville international film festival experience could be described as a miserable failure. But I am really grateful for that half hour in that room with those cool people. And I believe will most of them will take the time to see my film on their own.
So I go to the closing night party holding my head up. I sit with some other filmmakers, including a fascinating guy who’s got a movie about a theatre group in Houston that has an apparently epic 10-minute play series.
Then I go to another bar by myself to watch the deciding game of the Phillies/Cardinals series in this great bar underneath the main Louisville bridge to Indiana called the Troll bar. I strike up a conversation with a couple my age and we talk about kids, sports, etc. Sweet couple, Phillies win and I finally tell Phillip (we’ve been texting throughout the game) that I bought us a ticket to the first game in Philadelphia of the division series (bought them on a lark when we got into the playoffs not thinking the game would happen).
Back to my hotel at 1am. 5am wake up call for my flight back home. Jimmy and Mary pick me up at Newark and we celebrate with cinnamon buns in Newark. So glad to be back.
As always thanks to everyone who has supported the project. It has been a long road with steps forward and steps back, but tech fail notwithstanding, this weekend was really a highlight and I’m grateful for it. Onward!