Well, I’ve just arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia for the Atlantic Film Festival, but I can’t enjoy this festival guilt-free without first posting a quick recap on the festival I went to over Labor Day weekend, the 1 Reel Film Festival, part of the massive Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival in central Seattle, right in the shadow of the Space Needle.
Not to bury the lead: we came away with the Jury Award for Best Narrative! More about that here.
Even before that awesomeness happened, the festival was a really incredible experience. Here’s how it went down:
I flew in Saturday morning, got myself checked into the hotel and walked a couple blocks to the festival grounds. Picked up my passes for the weekend— generously provided by Sarah Loritz, the 1 Reel programming coordinator—and started to get my bearings. The festival was a lot bigger than I was expecting, a huge fenced in complex with three giant outdoor stages and a bunch of indoor theaters. Tucked away in a corner was McCaw Hall, where the 1 Reel Film Festival would take place.
The only real task I had that day was to get our poster and postcards set up at the media table. There happened to be another program of shorts going on while I was setting up the stuff, so I snuck in the back and watched the rest of the program (theme: twisted fairy tales). There were some great shorts in the program, so I knew our movie was in good company.
Coming out of the screening, I met Sarah and introduced myself. She gave me some good tips on getting the most from the festival and I headed off in search of dinner and music. There was plenty of both to be found, as food booths lined every walkway. I got a lamb pita wrap and a Coke and had my dinner on the lawn in front of one of the outdoor stages. I perused the schedule, which was a bit overwhelming, as there were at least four or five performers playing different places on the grounds at any given time.
This time my choice was easy: Jayme Stone, a banjo virtuoso, was playing a small indoor stage. I walked over and got a seat right down in the front. He and his very tight four-piece band played a set of traditional folk pieces he’d adapted from his own travels. His violinist also played this crazy-looking Swedish instrument called a nyckelharpa that’s sort of a cross between a violin and a hurdy gurdy and had a truly unique sound.
After their show ended, I wandered the grounds, listening to a few songs from different acts, including part of Mavis Staples’ set at a big outdoor stage. At 10pm the festival started to wind down for the night and I headed back to the hotel to collect myself for the next day…and our screening!
I headed to the festival in the morning by way of a café, hoping for some of Seattle’s famous coffee. The latte I got was good, but I think L.A.’s offerings hold up just fine by comparison.
Properly caffeinated, I headed into the festival. I enjoyed some of the music, which was already in full swing, then headed over to McCaw Hall for our screening. I got there very early and sort of stood around nervously, not sure what to expect. I had never seen the movie with a big audience, nor with an audience of people who knew nothing about it, and I had no idea how it would be received.
The theater started to fill up, and at 2pm the host brought me up to the front and introduced the program, which was called “Cupid Attack” and was themed with movies about love. He handed me a microphone and I gave a short introduction to the movie. I was the only filmmaker in attendance, so I got the spotlight all to myself (for better or worse).
The program started, but I have to confess I was too nervous to really enjoy the first few movies. All I could think about was whether these people would connect with our movie or not. Finally, it was time. I took out my notebook, ready to make notes on what worked and what didn’t, and hopefully learn something from the experience.
I didn’t end up writing a word. Because right from the beginning it was clear the audience was into the movie. People laughed at pretty much everything I’d hoped they would, including several moments I never thought worked as well as I’d wanted them to. I heard little gasps at the right moments, and there was just a palpable sense of an audience that was engaged with the story. It was awesome.
The rest of the program was a bit of a blur as I was just floating, euphoric, but I do remember enjoying the rest of the shorts. When it was done, the host called me up again and I did a short question-and-answer. I got several great questions, including one about a reference we’d made in the movie to one of my favorite webcomics, XKCD. The guy who asked that question said he thought the tone of the movie was similar to the tone of the comic, which I took as a great compliment. Another guy asked how I know when I’m done editing a movie. That was a really tough question. I told him it’s one of three things: you run out of time, you run out of money, or you find that new cuts are making the movie worse instead of better.
After the Q&A I went out to the lobby and talked further with a few people. As the lobby filled up again with people for the next screening, I chatted briefly with the host and Sarah, then headed back out to the festival grounds, blinking in the sun and just feeling great. The screening couldn’t have gone better.
I had to rush across the festival grounds to get to a theater where I had a ticket for a group called the Improvised Shakespeare Company. They were from Chicago, and I really didn’t know what to expect, but as someone who has done both Shakespeare and improv at Theatricum Botanicum, I was very curious.
They were amazing. The group was five men in neutral costumes, with no props. They asked for a title from the audience and someone shouted out, “The Unfortunate Moustache.” And away they went, constructing an entire hour-long Shakespeare play from nothing more than that title. They were phenomenal, listening to each other, incorporating changes and structuring the whole play perfectly. It was hilarious, full of sly references and jokes, and all in Shakespearean language, much of it rhymed couplets. When they finished, I stood immediately with the rest of the audience and gave them a standing ovation.
After that I went back to McCaw Hall and watched another short film program, themed “The Unexpected.” This program was made up of strange and offbeat movies, including All Flowers In Time, a truly trippy and very good short by Jonathan Caouette, who made Tarnation. There was even a movie (The Burning Wigs Of Sedition) made by and starring the Extra Action Marching Band. It took place on a slave ship, and I could not describe it if I tried.
At the end of that program, feeling appropriately weirded out, I collected my poster and HD tape and headed back out into the evening. I had some dinner and caught a set by a Celtic-bluegrass-rock fusion band called Carbon Leaf.
Another day came to an end at Bumbershoot and I followed the flow of people exiting the festival grounds, and headed back to the hotel.
I slept in a bit Monday, as this was a pure vacation day. I just wandered the festival all day, enjoying a couple of the short film programs, a live taping of the Comedy Bang Bang Podcast and several bands, including Greensky Bluegrass.
But again the highlight was the Improvised Shakespeare Company. I went back, partially to see if they could do it again, and partially to see if I could discern how they were doing it, if I could find any structure to the show. But mostly, I went back because I’d had such a great time the day before.
They didn’t disappoint. The title this time was “Titanic II” and they built a ridiculous sequel to the movie, including the requisite love story, a struggle for the throne of England, assassins and royal mathematicians. I did start to see some structure to how they went from scene to scene, but that did nothing to diminish my admiration for the performance. We gave them another standing ovation.
As the final night of Bumbershoot wound down, I caught one of the final musical performances, a very high-energy set by The Reverend Horton Heat. It was great, and a perfect way to end an amazing weekend.
The music was still going around me as I made my way out of the festival grounds for the last time and back to the hotel.
Back to Reality
Tuesday morning I took a very early flight home, and when I checked my e-mail, I had a message from Sarah telling me we’d won the Jury Award. Welcome home!
Thank you, 1 Reel, for a great, great start to the festival circuit.