Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dallas International Film Festival - Opening Night

Yes, we are in day 7 of the Dallas International Film Festival, or DIFF as I like to call her, and I have yet to post a blog up to this point. But this is actually a good thing. The festival has been that entertaining. Plenty of good films, panels and red carpet events. Good free alcohol too, but that's besides the point. Lets get this started off right.

Opening night festivities were exactly what they should be for a film festival held in Dallas. Glitzy is the best word that comes to mind. Small but glamorous. We started the night off at the Winspear Opera house for a screening of Being Elmo: A Puppeteers Journey. If you just rolled your eyes at the thought of an Elmo movie, then you were me a week ago. "An Elmo movie, seriously. This is whats opening DIFF? I don't care how well it did at Sundance, Dallas is a Barney and Jimmy Neutron type of town", I thought.

I have to admit though, I really liked the film and it was a very positive, empowering way to open up the festival. Being Elmo is a documentary about the puppeteer who truly gave Elmo his "voice" and it's a great story of being true to one's self, despite the odds. I highly recommend it, if nothing else for the hilarious behind the scenes footage of Sesame Street outtakes where Elmo goes "diva" when other puppets can't get there shit together on camera.

And a quick word about seeing a film at the Winspear. If you've never been there, then you're probably as frightened at the prospect of seeing Opera as I am. Suffice it say, the Winspear is an amazing structure; a modern masterpiece of architecture that leads itself to so much more then just opera. That joint needs to be seriously utilized during off nights for film showings because even in the upper balcony where I was sitting, I could see and hear as if I was in the middle of modern cineplex theater. The immense size of the place gives an air of grandeur to the exhibition of film. It wouldn't make a bad film suddenly better but it would certainly make it feel like it should be a better film. Why else would you be in those plush seats?

So yeah, Ann Margaret was there to receive a Star Award (If you don't who Ann Margaret is, google her). She was amazingly awkward during her two minute speech. In true Hollywood starlet fashion she showed up wearing over sized dark sunglasses, spoke as if she was trashed and gushed about how much she loved Texas and Dallas. In her words, we Texans are a very polite people and therefore we are "patriotic". Take that communism!

After hearing from Ross Perot, Micheal King, James Faust and other Dallas Film Society figure heads, we were off to the opening night gala (a.k.a. afterparty). Free Stella Artios beer, tasty h'or devours, and plenty of film industry talk. My friend who accompanies me knows everyone at the party so it's non stop introductions and picture taking. I talked to Gary Cogill about his new film company and he jokes about how the picture of him and his film company cohorts looks like a picture of a boyband (which it kind of does). Chris Vogner, film reviewer extraordinaire, tells me that his favorite "Latino" film is El Norte. Great chocolate desserts are passed out which, in my opinion, are so delicious that they're more patriotic then Texans!

But the funniest part of the evening, which I teased in my previous blog, was a conversation I overheard at the Gala. I'm minding my business, enjoying some Barefoot Pinot Nior, when I heard a slightly drunken woman talking in a raised voice somewhere behind me. And she's saying something to this effect:

"I tried getting a hold of your publicist be she never returned my calls. You promised me an interview. What happened. That was so rude!"

The person who is on the receiving end of this says something like:

"I'm sorry I have no idea what you're talking about."

And the response from the miffed woman was something like:

"Whoopi, I talked to you directly about that interview!"

And so of course I turn around...who wouldn't. And I see a small group of people. And there is the slightly tipsy, frustrated woman. And across from her is Whoopi Goldberg. And Whoopi looks confused and amused at the same time. Why was she amused? Because this was not Whoopi Goldberg but a professional impersonator. This is her:

Looks just like Whoopi, right? And yes, the angry woman accusing her did not realize this was just a look-a-like. In fact I turned around just in time to see a friend of the angry woman lean in close to her and point out the fact that this was not the real Whoopi Goldberg. I'm sure she felt quite the fool ... and on the eve of April Fools Day no less.

Apparently, just the kind of stuff that happens at the DIFF. More to come....

Friday, April 1, 2011

DIFF Begins

Got my press passes for the Dallas International Film Festival 2011. Should be a week filled with some groovy screenings, shameless schmoozing with Dallas's film elite and some overall good times. I'll be seeing plenty of films, attending several of the panels and attempt to fit in at the Hotel Joule for the nightly "chill" sessions at the lounge. I'll be writing everyday about the experiences and I might even throw up a video or two of stuff I film. So check back often

I already attended the opening night screening last night and drank free booze at the after party gala. I'll be blogging about that soon. Stay tuned and find out how this story from last night's opening festivities ends:

So at the Opening Night after party gala, I hear a woman angrily speaking to someone behind me. I turn around and there is a drunken woman scolding none other than ... Whoopi Goldberg....

Got to run....about to go see a German called "The Future". Any film where a guy talks to the moon should be kick ass, right? We'll see.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Long Take

Its happened to you before. Sometimes you watch a film and its so entertaining, on many levels, that you become reacquainted with that part of your being that fell in love with movies in the first place. It happened to me recently. But I geek out on a whole other level then most people when it comes to movies; I get hyped about the small things. Its those little components of an overall excellent film that get me going. A cool camera shot here, a nice edit to a piece of music there, even a creative movie poster...all those parts, individually, can excite the film nerd in me.

Case in point, "the long take", which is just film lingo for a scene that continues on for an extended period of time without cutting away. All of the action either happens within the frame, in and out of the frame or the frame itself will travel through or with the action, with no cuts or fades or any edits at all. It doesn't happen in film very often and there is a reason; it take an extreme amount of forethought and creativity to pull off. But its extremely satisfying when it does happens successfully. Its those moments when film, as an art form, begins to transcend its medium and gives you a true, unfiltered portal into a performance or a scene at it's most vulnerable.

If you think about it, about 95% of almost every movie you watch is filled with edits; a cut every few seconds or a fade in and out. The "long take" hearkens back to an age when there was no such thing as editing; when a film was once just one scene, one shot, one window to the world and whatever frame, or perhaps "context", you witnessed the action within, was up to you.

Some examples of films that successfully pull off engaging "long takes"... His Girl Friday...Kill Bill Vol. 1...Goodfellas...Boogie Nights...Carlito's Way...Children of Men...Magnolia...A Clockwork Orange...just to name a few. A good list of 20 of these great long takes, along with video clips of each, can be found here. As I alluded to earlier, I recently saw a "long take" in an fantastic film called The Secret In Their Eyes, (El Secreto de Sus Ojos). Granted, the long take I'm referring to may be dismissed by critics and film buffs because I'm fairly certain some computerized special effects were used to complete the scene. Once you see it you see it, you'll understand what I mean. Thankfully though, there is no point in which special effects are apparent and it all looks completely plausible. On top of that, the whole scene is so creatively imagined that I actually stopped the movie, rewound and watched the scene three times again in awe. The scene begins high in the sky, dives down through the clouds and right into the middle of a thunderous soccer game. The camera travels over the field through the crowds, into the bowels of the complex, and eventually onto the field itself in one long, grand sweeping take that needs to be watch to be appreciated.

Here is a YouTube clip that shows the very beginning of this long take scene:

The scene goes on for a few more minutes, without a traditional edit. I say "traditional edit" because its obvious some "hidden" edits were made, but the illusion of the long take is important here. Why? Because its an excellent reminder that film, like theater, can execute innovative storytelling in what appears to be spontaneity, unfolding right before our eyes. I recommend watching the entire film to anyone who loves movies, because El Secreto de Sus Ojos is one of those stories that sticks with you long after the credits have rolled. And if nothing else, you'll at least appreciate what an engaging technique the long take can be when done with passion.