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Our correspondent T. R. Black reports from the film trenches:
Thank you to all who wrote to thank me for the information provided and to those of you who intend to attend.
The festival is off to a good start. Unfortunately, I have not been able to attend as much as I would have liked (which is every minute) thus far. However, I have been able to clear the schedule to be there from start to finish, today through Thursday. In that regard, I hope to see as many of you who can possibly share in this local feast of films rarely seen on the big screen.
The Laguna Hills Mall makes for a convenient venue. Although, I must point out that the theatre’s location is not as obvious as one might hope. Having not been there since 1985 (yes kids, there were movie theatres in 1985, as well as clock bracelets), I had a difficult time remembering (yes kids, it becomes more difficult as you age) just where the entrance is located. Here’s a tip: driving on Via Carlotta, you will see a typical marquee at the edge of the parking lot. Drive into that entrance (the third as you go south from El Toro, just past J.C. Penney and before Sears. Park as close to the right of Sears as possible. There (next to a shuttered restaurant on the exterior) you will see a small slice of a mall entrance. You will then see that you are immediately in the right place, as the festival’s photography set-up will greet you at the door. Entrance to the theatres is immediately to your right.
There you will be met by some very nice festival volunteers. If you are pre-ticketed you are all set, otherwise you can purchase tickets at the box office. Other transactions or information can be found in the in the festival lounge, very comfortable and a place you can talk film to your heart’s content (or in my case, until the people you are speaking with simply walk away…) while refreshing yourself (lavatory included). This is a very cool addition to the program, as opposed to sitting in an atrium and clogging the pathway of mainstream filmgoers as in previous years.
However, the screening auditorium is not nearly as large as the one provided by the Edwards Westpark 8, although it is large enough to hold a reasonable number of viewers. The seats are very comfortable rockers and the screen is clean and curved. The digital projection is sharp and the audio is good. It remains to be seen how this location will accommodate the entirety of the festival. The theatre employees, while being courteous, have no experience with an event like this.
In the spirit of journalistic full disclosure, I must report that there was a bit of a snafu on Saturday. The scheduled film, Running From Crazy, was inadvertently replaced with Running For Jim. I was hoping maybe Jim was crazy, thus creating a bridge of appeasement. Unfortunately, there are some pretty ornery seniors in Laguna Hills (no comments on the proximity of the theatre to Seizure World, please) and, I kid you not, security had to be called. It seems no amount of refunds and/or free passes offered by festival directors and theatre personnel could mollify these angry members of the entitlement generation (yes, Brokaw had it WAY wrong…) Even as a certified mediator, I could not quell this emotional, irrational bunch. Ironically, in retreating to the lounge, I was actually living the film, running from crazy. The relief lasted only moments though, as the producer of Running From Crazy was none too pleased that her film was not showing and that she would have to stay in OC for an extra couple of hours (missing a birthday party). She stomped away back to LA in a huff. Hollywood types, eh? More irony here, in that when I queried her about why her film, out for many weeks in LA, had not made it into OC theatres, she replied, “it is too expensive to play a documentary in OC.” Huh? Then why are you leaving when it is finally getting shown here? Oy Vey! As a trained mediator, it was disappointing that I could not reason with any of “those” people. I mean, I was looking forward to the Hemingway documentary, too. I was disappointed, as well. However, the mistake had been made and very reasonable offers to rectify it were dismissed. I suppose the angry mob wanted Sears to provide tires that could be put around the bodies of the festival directors and set afire. The mall has rules about such things, though. So, I was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice: I offered to run home to get my very rare DVD, a bio pic on the career of Jackson Browne after 1978, including all of his memorable hits since that time, entitled, Running on Empty. No one was pleased. I was finally out of final solutions.
Having spent 15 hours at the Edwards Theatre located in The Spectrum last Thursday, while enduring Hercules 3D and the torrent of trailers of redundant films coming to a theatre near me SOON, I realized what a soul-sucking exercise mainstream film watching had become. All of the films previewed in the trailers (oxymoron) were LARGER than life, loud, violent WAR-based films. All of them, from I Frankenstein (Mary Shelley just spun realizing she had no way to know what Hollywood would concoct with her cautionary tale), to 300 Rise of an Empire, to Pompei, to Noah (seriously), not to mention the film that has been smaugging up the IMAX for weeks: The Hobbit (can’t someone afford to hire Martin Sheen to go up river down under to save Peter Jackson from himself and his Hobbit habit? Isn’t it obvious (except to The Academy) that it has been all down hill since the first Lord of the Rings?). What do all of these films have in common besides the aforementioned: SIMPLETON stories (usually swiped, er, adapted) that can be told/sold to an international audience of indiscriminate social networkers, with terabytes of CGI effects and stale dialog. Experiencing this amount of tedium all in one day resulted in a personal epiphany that should have hit me decades ago: Studio-based, mainstream films are factory made. They are not “dreams.” They are nightmares. From the money-is-my-only-concern producers, to the pedestrian directors (Michael Bay), to the amateur actors (‘cept the good ones whoring for cash in order to pay for their indie film habit), to the usual production people, to the graphic artists, the audio crew, to the last gaffer, most of whom went to school to be a part of a special, innovative, creative industry, must realize that they might as well be insurance agents or construction workers. They are creating nothing. They must be depressed and uninspired as they realize that they are only showing up for a paycheck. This depression carries over to the films they make. All of those film factory workers should be required to suffer through a day like I did. Maybe they would have a wake-up call epiphany, too.
Enough of the negative news. On the bright side, I saw some really fine short films at this festival. The creativity and talent exhibited by those films is so uplifting and inspirational, that optimism seems sane in the world exemplified in the previous two paragraphs. I was grinning ear to ear: THIS is why I love movies. I refuse to let those so-called films, exporting examples of inert intellect to the whole world, crush my spirit. I have been revitalized, in one brief afternoon. While all films shown are inspired, two stood out to me: Mr. Hublot (see still above) and the sensational short, Pepe and Lucas (see trailer below!) And, because it is a film festival, we are fortunate to have some of the filmmakers present. I was lucky to speak with Mo Davoudian (Pepe) and his ravishing redhead amour (Lucas) after seeing the film. I was surprised to learn he is locally raised, right here in the OC and in fact, went to high school within miles of the theatre (El Toro). I wonder if Ms.Hollywood producer had stayed around, whether she would have chatted up Mr. Davoudian and learned a thing or two from a guy from the OC outback. At least that is how I imagine a film fest to be, ostensibly.
Anyway, all it took were those two short films to flush the toxic crud from my system, inflame my imagination and restore my faith in the existence of dedicated, talented individuals who actually want to extend the art of filmmaking. I am now excited about the rest of my week. I hope you can/will take some time out of your busy schedules to experience the revitalizing renaissance that is the IIFF. Today through Thursday at the Laguna Hills Mall Cinemas.
T R Black