we were, to be perfectly honest - and what's the point of a blog if it isn't honest - not entirely sure whether we should submit our film to the 3rd NYC independent film festival, running for the first time under this name. having previously been known as the astoria/LIC film festival, the organisers argued, not unreasonably, that nobody knew "where the fuck astoria was" - their words, not mine - and so felt that NYC would be a better bet and label and took themselves across the east river to manhattan, all of which seems a fair assessment of the situation and a wise move. once we had submitted, we weren't entirely sure whether we should accept the very kind invitation we received to screen there and once we had decided to screen there i wasn't entirely sure whether i should go to attend the screening. money is tight and time anything but spare, but then i reckoned: how much of an excuse do i really need to go and see my 'mistress of a city' and bask in it, for a day or four?
being so new, unsponsored and unfunded, and put together, it seems, by the willpower of its founder dennis cieri with a little help from some hardworking friends, the NYC indiefest is still very much in its infancy, and as is the nature of infants, they take small, sometimes clumsy, steps and fall over a lot. and they have a fair bit of learning to do, even when it comes to some pretty basic common sense things that to a grown up or even a slightly older child might appear as glaringly obvious. but it's hard not to love them, infants, because though they drive you up the wall with their unreasonable behaviour and you wish they could, quite literally, get their shit together (and dispose of it), when they smile at you they are golden and all is forgiven.
after the magic combination of ultra-professionalism and unfailing personal attention of lessinia, with an audience in their hundreds who absorbed the film in absolute silence and then responded with fully expressed appreciation, the experience of the charming though decidedly battered producers' club on 44th was almost bound to be something of a juxtaposition, which is not, perhaps, entirely unhealthy, if nothing else for the purpose of an occasional reality check. new yorkers are a restless bunch at the best of times, and although this auditorium was tiny and by no means full, their apparently innate propensity towards motion was exacerbated by some creaky old velveteen seating and the typically frequent passing of sirens outside, which you get in london too, even in the best of west end theatres. the sound was set too low, so listening and concentrating felt like hard work, and the picture might have looked better with a slightly more pro projector properly calibrated and aligned, but other than that the screening went off without any hiccups, and mercifully we suffered few interruptions, aside from people quite liberally coming and going, a practice that appears to be de rigeur in this town... but that was all as nothing compared to the screening i went to the following day by fellow film maker gustavo ramos, during whose delightful urban comedy delusions of grandeur a young chap came into the room, squeezed past several members of the audience, stood on a seat, fiddled with the projector (thus wobbling the picture for a long few seconds), and then walked away with a power lead he obviously needed for some other significant purpose that couldn't wait until after the screening. (it was at moments such as these that you found yourself thinking: baby steps, people, i know it's baby steps, but just hang on in there, you know you can make it...)
it was gustavo ramos and his film, it was the incredibly moving and revealing short documentary that preceded his feature (a surprising, joyous piece called kung-fu grandma telling the story of kenyan, slum-dwelling, grannies who take self defence classes because young men there have started raping them - in preference to their previously younger victims - thinking that this way they would either not get, or even be cured of, AIDS), and it was the people i spoke to at the 'closing gala' that made my festival. (the choice of vocabulary here is perhaps also a tad misleading: this 'gala' took place above the irish pub next door, where, of course, you bought your own guinness...)
gustavo had been at the bar in the half hour before our own screening (and bear in mind that was at 11:30am) and struck up a conversation with me and my friend willow as we were waiting for willow's wife to catch up with us. gustavo had created the most imaginative poster design for his film, which fused its characters with the figures of a mexican card game. like us, he had postcard versions of this lovely piece of publicity with him, and he explained in caring detail each one of the tableaux he'd drawn and what it meant. we told each other about our films and he decided on a spur of the moment to come and see ours, so of course i felt i should, at the very least, go and see his. and man am i glad i did: if a festival like this is not, perhaps, the most glamorous of occasions or the most career-changing of events, it is still a wonderful opportunity to see the kind of inspiring work you wouldn't otherwise get to see, and so suddenly i felt in good company. i was in good company, and when we met again at the closing party we got on - and here it is again - like old friends, like people who already knew each other, talking for hours, long after everybody had gone and they'd moved us down into the main room of the pub until we were practically the only ones left.
that affinity, and the fondest of farewells at the top of the steps to the subway station, the insight into another film creator's mind and seeing their part of the world they want to share with you their way, that is what makes any trip, be it down to your local arthouse cinema, be it across the pond to another great city, or be it round the world to some place you've never been, more than just worthwhile. it's what 'it's all about'.
and, yes, the feedback. i was not, as you can tell, overly thrilled with the screening itself, i felt the film was short-changed somewhat by the setting and the standard of technology and expertise that determined the quality of the projection, but to my unending surprise, when the next day i bumped into someone who had seen the film, he told me something i half knew and half needed to hear: it was, he earnestly announced, a unique film. like everybody who talks about it, he adored sam as theo, relished pepe's music, marvelled at the photography and praised the writing. and he admitted: at first he wasn't sure, he didn't want to like it. but he kept being drawn into it, and it wouldn't let him go. notwithstanding the distractions, the low sound and a picture that was slightly askance, the film captivated him and he came to appreciate, even love it.
i have a feeling that the hour of living hasn't quite finished yet, with new york. i have a feeling that it may need - and get - another opportunity here to captivate an audience. that it is capable of doing so, of that i now have no doubt...
the website of delusions of grandeur
the facebook page of kungfu grandma