Though my Google search under the term “film festival” yielded no less than sixty-two million, nine hundred thousands hits, there are really only two kinds—those nobody goes to and those where everyone who’s anyone is there, darling, yet you’re still not welcome. Funny thing about this second category is that even though swarms of people you’ve never heard of show up from places you’ve never heard of wearing bizarre new Finnish designers you only wish you’d never heard of, you can’t get a room. Which doesn’t matter anyway, since you also can’t get a screening ticket, a dinner reservation or an after-party invite.
I get enough rejection at home. The consummate industry outsider, my idea of festival fun is the year-end film school brand, where the student filmmakers happily greet even the straggling homeless guy toting his bag of raw bacon. All you have to be is semi-conscious to watch the fifty thousand dollar shorts financed by the sale of their parents’ second car that was only cluttering the garage anyway and you qualify to sample the wine and cheese platters. A Friend With A Real Job once joined me wearing a suit. Mistaken for an important agent, he was appeased like a Roman god with extra cubes of Gouda. When word got out that he was only some Sherman Oaks CPA sniffing around the free snacks he ran off to the parking lot in fear of a public stoning.
Who needs the amateurs, anyway, what with so many grown-up festivals where I can stand half-frozen in a line winding around the block only to discover it leads to the back door of the Park City Soup Kitchen. And here I’d called the organizers months in advance asking how I could get in to see an actual movie among the six hundred and forty they were planning to premiere. “And you are?” some snotty little college intern inquired.
“What’s it to you?”
“Another movie lover,” she sniffed, pulling the words out of her mouth as distastefully as a strand of hair.
“God help me, yes.”
She paused, lowering her voice. “You could always sign up to volunteer. Park cars, wave flashlights, tear tickets. Why do you think I keep showing up here, for the catered burritos? They don’t even give us salsa!”
Since I can do plenty of work nobody wants to pay me for here in town, I’m figuring I should set my international film festival sites a little lower. My research revealed that many of the lesser events sometimes manage to attract a star or two among the welcome public by way of their very specific themes. For example, at the Tibetan Screwball Comedy Fest, Richard Gere and Sharon Stone might well appear to suck up to the Dalai Lama. Goldie Hawn, Kate Hudson and little Ryder would surely agree to chair the judging committee for a conference on the Ethical Screen Treatment of Geese, Ducks and Other Endangered Water Fowl.
Although I’m not particularly interested in films about oneness with God or abused poultry, you can’t always count on connecting with the selections made by the more important festivals, either. The powerhouses earned their stripes not necessarily because of what they screen but where. What no-talent, bony-assed celebutante doesn’t want to go to Cannes either way? Nantucket, Maui, Sundance, Aspen, Venice–if you like to sun, ski and make out with aspiring starlets in gondolas after chowing down their share of the complimentary pizza and chocolate, these are the gatherings of choice regardless of whether or not you were ever a movie buff to begin with.
As for the competitions anchoring these events, they’re not meant to congratulate the winning filmmaker, per se, but rather the cigar-chomping idiot from Hamburg who ponied up the Euro-bucks to finance the indecipherable, vaguely unsettling little flick despite its obvious lack of box office appeal. Remember, unless you happen to be a legend like Woody Allen, Michael Douglas, Clint Eastwood or one of their recent wives, never expect to be feted, recognized or even admitted. Unless of course you're among the entourage of a Bankable Young Star who clearly needs your brilliant new script and false compliments along with that overdue shower and shave.
End of the day, the way I look at it is screening, schmeening. My new film festival motto is go for the picked-over goodie bag somebody fabulous left in the lobby, stay for the chance ladies’ room encounter with a Drug-Addled A-Lister begging you for a tampon and some Chiclets. One day maybe I’ll get a chance to make a movie and show it to my peers around the world, but for now I’ll have to settle for the occasional bathroom stall brush with greatness.