MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

Confessions of a Festival Junkie …

Despite avid research I’ve been stumped. The wag who observed that when one receives something for free, the value is commensurate with the cost (or words to that effect) appears to have been lost to time. I’ve certainly employed that theorem over the years and it’s something I’ve believed/experienced without exception.

So, the first blush of news that the American Film Institute Film Festival Los Angeles was opening up its 2009 schedule to the public gratis filled me with apprehension. The minds behind this venerable gateway to the seventh art – with linkage to Los Angeles first film event FilmEx – had to have arrived at some moment of desperation or gone insane to reach this decision. The only significant movie festival I could recall that had employed this policy was the Hawaiian International and, speaking of linkage, that was run by former (that’s former) AFI Fest executive director Christian Gaines.

Fiscally speaking there’s nothing theoretically wrong with the free notion. The festival’s director Rose Kuo has said essentially they were thinking out of the box. However, they weren’t being irresponsible. When it was first considered, the event already had its key corporate sponsors in place. They then took a close look at the budget and proceeded according to their means.

What that meant was that they trimmed the number of films they’ve traditionally shown by about one-third. And, to be frank, on a quality/interest basis, it looks like less is more at least from the perspective of the dozen or so titles I’d seen pre-opening. The caveat I’ll interject here is that the streamlined incarnation ought to have included more (there are very, very few) repeat screenings.

The AFIers have also invoked the economic recession as a rationale for their actions. The logic goes that in this brutal financial environment, the average Joe or Joan Blow might find the decision to plunk down hard earned money for tickets to a film festival. They, thankfully, appear to have avoided the addendum … rather than pay the mortgage, buy groceries or school supplies for the kids.

Nor have they posited some loftier altruistic responsibility. There’s no finger pointing to easy targets like the recent festival incarnations in New York or Toronto or the past summer’s Los Angeles Film Festival that charge full price when the recession was seemingly more fierce and more distantly positioned from “recovery.”

What has been stated is that they wanted to give something back to those that have supported the event in the past. It’s a nice sentiment but hardly enforceable. When tickets became available several weeks ago there was no box to tick that asked whether one had attended (and presumably paid) at some prior edition of the AFI Fest LA.

Conversely, I haven’t read a word from the organizers that the policy just might possibly expand its audience. One could make a legitimate claim that giving members of the local cultural mosaic access to albeit primarily alternative movies should translate into a certain percentage taking the leap for the first time.

When tickets became available virtually all shows sold out within the first two days; sometimes in a matter of hours. According to sources the guideline was to sell to 70% capacity to allow for press/industry space as well as the true friends of the festival that put down hard currency for all access passes.

The drumbeat in the press of an event already operating at capacity is a mixed blessing. Obviously it gets the message across that the “gamble” paid off. But it also has the potential of scaring off the casual viewer who imagines entering into an unmanageable scrum in which securing a couple of tickets is both logistically and physically impossible.

One can only hope that what the organizers demonstrate is a flexibility to adapt as the festival proceeds. If the crowd demands, add second screenings because the one thing no one wants is a patron that feels shut out from the experience. Much better to have someone walk away from such superior offerings as The White Ribbon, Bad Lieutenant, City of Love and Death orLooking for Eric with a feeling of having seen something unique and edifying.

The real problem confronting the AFI Fest, and indeed any cultural event in Los Angeles, is overcoming simply being just another social occasion in a town already rife with myriad cultural/entertainment options. The sleight-of-hand is to elevate it to a requisite and integral date on the social calendar. Few venues have succeeded to that end but there are several whose playbooks are worth studying including Toronto. It was also the case for the original FilmEx but that was a long time ago in circumstances that no longer exist.

The 2009 AFI Fest LA certainly has demonstrated that it has the goods to make a difference culturally that can extend well beyond the city limits. Whether it can put that into action likely spells its fate and future.

November 1, 2009

– by Leonard Klady

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon