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David Poland

By David Poland


Seattle has become an annual destination for me… eight years now. It’s one of the most joyous and best programmed fests in the world.

This year has challenged my festival screening system. You know, 16 month olds don’t sleep soundly when daddy is watching indie films until 3am with the crib two feet from the tv.

This year’s experience, so far, has offered three really interesting film ideas. One is from a doc called Circus Dreams. Made by a middle school teacher, the film documents a summer of Circus Smurkus, a professional traveling circus performed by 12-18 year olds. It’s a great story and reminds you of what the NEA should be funding. This is a $1 million a year operation that needs to make that nut in 70 public shows in 3 summer months. They generally are making it, but a $250,000 government grant, it seems, could insure years of operation without quite as much pressure to scrape by. And besides the 28 kids who perform, Smirkis seems to inspire the next generation to see its potential.

As far as filmmaking, this novice does a really fine job of telling the tale without losing the audience with pacing that’s too fast or too slow or by losing track of the story. However – this is the repeating fest movie phenomenon I have been seeing a lot in recent years – you wish she had better equipment… that the film looked as much like a permanent document as her work deserves. It’s great that she did it and for $150,000 spent over 5 years, she did great. But she’s not going back… and anything more than VOD and scholastic distribution, already a hard get for this kind of film, becomes almost impossible when it isn’t glossy.

See the movie when you have a chance. You will be happy you did, unless you are in the mood for brooding Russians.

The other phenomenon, which is hardly new to festival movies, but seems to have become as glossy as Circus Dreams is not, is the “don’t know how to end the sketch” thing. Here’s a fascinating idea… so now let us drag it out on powerful images until the audience is saturated with style… and then leave them to create the third act over their post-screening dinner. Argh!

The third notion is great ideas in the hands of inferior directors. Today’s was a great teen movie for the post-Twilight era. A bunch of good looking teens get into competitive gaming… some mad genius figures out a way to empower them in the real world as they are empowered inside the first-person shooters, racing, and fighting games they are so good at… he seeks to use them to rule the world, but their power is too great and their little teen brains and morals are all that is left between using these powers for good or great evil.

The problem is, this director ain’t Louis Letterier or Michel Hazanavicius or Timur Bekmambetov. It’s some guy who made a low budget thriller with a better idea than its execution.

Kills me.

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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