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Posts Tagged ‘Sundance Film Festival’

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Last Saturday night I had the pleasure of attending a free live performance by Bear McCreary and his team of world class musicians perform his original scores from the Emmy-deserving television show, “Battlestar Galactica.” It was the opening for this summer’s Grand Performances in downtown Los Angeles, a consistently wonderful showcase of world music.  We’ve been going for years.  One of those hidden treasures of LA.

As indicated on these pages in January, I think “Battlestar Galactica” is fracken great.  However, I didn’t really understand how important the series was until I attended a panel last week hosted by Geoff Boucher (LA Times Hero Complex) as part of the LA Times “Envelope” Emmy screening series. Writer/creators Ronald D. Moore and David Eick were there, as well as stars Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, but the surprise was that they were joined by United Nations Senior Human Rights Official, Craig Mohkiber and United Nations Senior Political Affairs Officer, Stephen Siqueria. I guess last March, this same group sat in front of the United Nations (video links here) and discussed issues ranging from human rights accountability to peace and justice in the world. They not only talked about how these issues related to BSG, but what we as nations can learn from the decisions made in the show, both by the military, demonstrated in the series by Admiral William Adama, played by Olmos, and, on the civilian side, by President Laura Roslin, played by Mary McDonnell.

If who haven’t seen the show, tens of thousands of human survivors have escaped annihilation from the man-made Cylons by taking refuge aboard a group of spaceships, lead by the aging warship Galactica. They begin a search for a new home planet, the mythical 13th colony, called Earth, chased by the Cylons, many that look human. As President, Laura Roslin sacrifices thousands of innocent civilians, abolishes reproductive choice, executes enemy combatants without trial and nearly steals an election over the course of the series. That was the point of the UN event and the Los Angeles event billed as “TV – making global issues relevant.” After showing clips from the series, the speakers shared how these shameful and violating acts continue for real across our world. As UN official, Craig Mokhiber said, “every nation on this planet has broken the rules of human rights,” and talked about how part of the UN mandate was to safeguard the human rights of everyone, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, and station. This fictional series gave us all an opportunity to think and discuss human rights, justice versus revenge, punishing people who perpetrate crimes against humanity, by watching episodes that take place on a spaceship in the future.

Isn’t that amazing? A fictional television show that carries significant political and world issue relevance. Most important, BSG was entertaining, I never felt like I was being preached too. That is the true genius of Ron Moore and David Eick.  In addition, the contribution of director Michael Rymer, as Moore acknowledged that night as “the third creative force that contributed heavily to our vision.” (It was fun to see the director get credit publicly for their creative input on a television series.  It rarely happens.)

It doesn’t have to be mindless, to be entertaining. That’s why I got into filmmaking.  To tell stories that make us think, react, research, formulate an educated opinion. We understand this to be true with documentaries, but as Basil Tsiokos reminds us in the terrific blog he wrote for indiewire,”8 Documentary Dos and Don’ts,” no one needs another wrongly executed doc film that’s only about message. Basil is a programming associate for the Sundance Film Festival and was Artistic Director for NewFest for twelve years.  He screens a lot of films and knows that a documentary can be important and informative, but it still needs to be entertaining.

That was our goal for the documentary, “Houston We Have a Problem” directed by Nicole Torre. The film explores our dangerous addiction to oil through candid insights from the Barons, Wildcatters, CEO’s and Roughnecks that comprise the world of Big Oil. An inside look into the culture of oil that explores the history of our dependency and how it has led us to the current energy crisis.  I’ve written about this film before here, when it premiered at AFI-Dallas and it continues to play the festivals. The issues the film addresses are important, but I believe we presented them in a fun, sometimes humorous, never boring way.

However, I am no Ron Moore. I’ve tried to write screenplays with significance, usually with them ending up being obvious and heavy.  I look forward to Mr. Moore’s television movie “Virtuality” airing June 26 on Fox about a group of astronauts who pass the time in virtual reality modules as their interactions are beamed back to Earth as a reality TV show. The new BSG series “Caprica” starts in January, about the kind of people, think us, that would create Cylons in the first place.  There is also “The Plan,” the Battlestar Galactica story from the Cylons perspective airing on Sci-Fi in November.  Directed by Edward James Olmos, a trailer was shown at the event and to quote Olmos, “it is breathtaking. It’s fantastic… I couldn’t have imagined this kind of a situation happening at the end of a show, where you would actually start at the beginning. That’s a masterful piece of understanding, Ron is a genius. Because after you see ‘The Plan,’ you’ll want to go back and view the whole series again.”

In these days of Twitter informing the world of election protests in Iran before the news can cover the story, important stories, fact or fiction, WILL FIND an audience. Smart filmmakers are figuring out how to find that audience. BSG is just one of many, many great shows on television, so why go out and spend big bucks on a crappy studio remake. If you want your film seen, it’s about getting it out there, any way possible.  In fact tonight, I’ll be watching the pilot episode of “Caprica” on DVD that was rented from Netflix. I’m sure the hope is that as a fan. I’ll like the new show as much as BSG and so when it airs, I’ll tell my friends and it will become “must see TV.” That’s forward thinking and we need more writers, showrunners and filmmakers to be looking forward and to tell the stories that have important relevance to our lives, yet still are entertaining. And so say we all!

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Catholic Church of Elvis

Catholic Church of Elvis

The Sundance Film Festival of 2009 wraps up this weekend.  I almost went this year.  I even purchased a festival pass, but after watching the Inauguration Tuesday on television, I don’t think Park City, Utah was the place to be this week!  Of course, I didn’t know that last month when I changed my plans to attend the festival.  Family and work commitments forced me to pay out the 20% cancellation fee.

I will admit, I was also a little disappointed that none of the three films I produced were accepted this year into the festival.  Yes, I did fantasize about walking the slope of Main Street with three Sundance Premieres.  I suspected the quirky, very funny, but very low budget, DVD indie feature “Tales from the Catholic Church of Elvis” written, co-directed and starring Mercy Malick was not really the kind of film the Festival schedules anymore, especially when it’s still a work in progress.  And we did receive a wonderfully supportive letter for the uncompleted documentary, “Houston, We Have a Problem” that I’m producing with Producer/Director Nicole Torre.  The film is about the oil crisis from the independent oilman’s perspective and their exploration into alternative sources of energy.  Sundance’s loss, the issue is too important for us to wait a full year to resubmit.  The big surprise for me was that the terrific short film “The Sacrifice,” written and directed by Diane Namm and starring Chris Mulkey, Darby Stanchfield, Jon Lindstrom and Molly Quinn, didn’t get in.  It’s “Big Love” gone bad.  Maybe the issues of incest and polygamy were too close to home.

Of course, I’ve never really had great luck with Sundance, even back when it was the USA Film Festival in the mid-80’s.  It was one of the few festival’s that rejected “Travelin’ Trains.”  I’ve entered my script “Press>Play” a few times, both for the Screenplay lab and the Producing lab, never being accepted.  We’ve had a little more positive feedback for the project “Witness Trees,” but mostly because of the involvement of American Indian visual artist/musician Sandy Corley.

I know this reads like I’m very jaded about Sundance, but I’ve always believed in their mentoring philosophy.  What I find the most exciting these last few years is how they’ve embraced new media to communicate and educate.  You really no longer have to go to Sundance to enjoy the festival.  The homepage has videos and audio podcasts each day from Park City.  They’ve now added on Itunes short festival films and podcasts of panel discussions.  It’s a great resource for anyone that is considering making an independent film, in fact these days, (since hardly anyone is buying films any more), it might be the best part of Sundance.

The Sundance Festival website now has a section entitled, “Storytime,” for people to write memories of past festivals.  Fascinating, to see how things have changed through the years.  I’ve got my own memories, some very good.  My first time at the festival was in 1989 for just one day to see the screening of “Daughters of the Dust” directed by Julie Dash.  We had all worked very hard, for little money, on that film and really wanted to see how audiences would react.  I was the Location Manager and was extremely proud that the film won Best Cinematography that year.  In January 1993, I bought a pass to the festival for the first half, but stayed for the full 10 days.  I had been involved in the very early stages of prep for Victor Nunez‘s film “Ruby in Paradise,” produced by my friend and “Travelin’ Train” producer Keith Crofford.  When the buzz started to build for the film and I had the opportunity to escort a beautiful, young actress named Ashley Judd to screenings, I decided to stay.  A wonderful week of films capped by “Ruby” winning the Grand Jury Dramatic award.  I had such a great time that I went the following year with unpleasant results.  I had no pass, was just another filmmaker looking for attention, couldn’t get into any parties and froze my ass off.

I avoided the festival for over 10 years, partly because I moved to Los Angeles and didn’t see why I needed to go to Park City to make contacts.  In 2005, I had some cash and decided to go just for fun.  Things certainly had changed.  More venues, more people, more advertising and more traffic.  I shared a condo with DP Marty Ollstein, caught dozens of movies, sometimes 5 in one day, (I’ve since decided 4 is my limit).  Heard a great debate between Werner Herzog and Frederick Wiseman on the definition of “Cinema Verite”.  Saw people I kept promising to meet up with in Los Angeles, saw some old New York friends and made many new ones.  Saw an amazing concert by Yo La Tango.  I even went snowboarding.  My one and only time.  Even on the Park City powder, I feel that throwing myself up and landing directly on my back, on concrete, would be more pleasant.

This year, I’m there virtually, checking out the resources available online, catching some short films and staying warm.  For Unconventional Media, maybe that makes more sense.

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