One of the things always of interest to this particular writer is being able to attend a film festival. At these events, one has the opportunity to see in a kind of nutshell all that is happening within the area of screen writing and film making at a given moment.
I live in Palm Springs, California, and we’re blessed with having an almost endless supply of film festivals throughout the year. The big one is the Palm Springs International Film Festival that commences every year in early January for about ten days. In addition to this special event, we can throughout the year attend other thematic festivals such as Short Fest (a selection of short films) , a Gay film festival, a Jewish film festival, a Film Noir festival and a Native American film festival. Each serves to let you view films you wouldn’t easily have the opportunity to see otherwise.
Festivals are unique for writers because they allow you to meet filmmakers, make contacts, attend film workshops and indeed feel you are part of the pulse of the vibrant world of movies. These occasions can serve to stimulate you and refill your creative jugs so to speak.
Most commercial presentations shown at your local movie theater during the year consist of 80% hype and 20% substance. At festivals you attend films devoid of excessive hype. You can actually think for yourself for a change instead of being influenced by critics. You come into contact with productions that would for the most part never come to your local cinema. Such moments give you an inside view of screenplays and perhaps new thoughts for writing. Another plus is that usually after a festival picture, the director or stars of the film will hold a Q & A and you get to question and hear first hand all sorts of interesting ideas. Festivals are fun, exciting, instructional and make you feel part of the world of screenwriting and film like nothing else can.
You don’t have to pay out an arm and a leg to attend these activities. At the just concluded Palm Springs International Film Festival, I bought what is called a “Six Pack.” This means you get to see six films for the price of five. On the other hand though you have the option of buying passes that will allow you to see as many films as you like or all of them—your pocketbook being the judge. For me, I generally stick to six films because I find that I get over-saturated with more than that.
My six-picked films for the recent festival were a rather eclectic group:
- GLORIA, a film from Chile, concerns a middle-aged divorcée searching for love in single bars. It shows the vulnerability of older, needy people who find themselves in an empty nest and their attempt to escape. A great character study.
- HEART OF A LION from Finland tells the story of a neo-fascist who belongs to a white supremacist group. He falls for a waitress who turns out to have a mixed-race son. A strong human drama about bigotry and conversion.
- GERONTOPHELIA is a Quebec offering that in many ways updates HAROLD AND MAUDE of many years back, a film that focused on a loving relationship between a young man and an older woman. In this sociological update, the bond is between a young guy of 18 and an 81 year old man. An eye opener on many levels and a wake-up call for the intolerant and socially unaware.
- OPEN UP TO ME is a Finnish film about a transsexual looking for love and is a bit reminiscent of the film WORKING GIRL with Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford. The gist of the film is that so far in our present-day world, normal love for a transsexual is just not there yet. I enjoyed talking with the director and star of the film and telling them about my book CONTESSA, which basically deals with the same subject—a transsexual looking for honest love.
- GENERATION WAR, PARTS 1 & 2, was one of the winners of the festival. Of the films I saw, this two-part film was the best. This powerful, intelligent, big-budget WWII epic follows five German friends and the divergent paths they take between 1941 and 1945. A superb cast makes the fate of each of these characters into gripping drama that is as relevant today as 70 years ago. Excellent writing.
Film festivals can be both fun and a great tonic to stimulate a writer’s psyche. Even if you’re not a writer, attending festivals will make you wish you were.