Arts & Culture Blog
A Retrospective of the Carmel Art & Film Festival
October 20, 2011
The Carmel Art & Film Festival is days gone, and with it, that peculiarly L.A.-transplant vibration in the air—that mix of genuine film fan giddiness and film industry cool, the carefully careless style and the bigger-city sophistication, the networking radar and the chatty accessibility. And the films—nearly 100 of them—and the music and the lectures, gone. (Michael Childers’ photography show is still up at Marjorie Evans Gallery at the Sunset Center, the last lingerer of the party.) All we’re left with are the merchandise, the program book, business cards...and the memories. Here, in no particular order, are a few of them.
Hanging with Tom Sizemore
One of the trophies of celebrity chasers is to actually get a chance to hang out with one of their film idols. I check myself regularly against being star-struck—they're human and flawed too, after all, and film superstar Clint Eastwood is a fixture here at home—but when I first walked down to the courtyard of the Sunset Center Friday night and ran into Tom Sizemore, who had given the Weekly an emotional and vulnerable interview just days before, I and a few festival volunteers experienced instant celebrity attraction. Tom Sizemore, as I call him, was gregarious and gruff, funny and accessible, just kicking it with us regular folk. After Tom Sizemore and volunteer and local actor Tim Halpin demonstrated the "listening method" acting exercise over a can of Diet Coke, the volunteers were called away to a meeting. Then it was Tom Sizemore and me. "I gotta get outta here," he said, looking agitated. "You want to get out of here? Come walk with me." And I did. And what ensued was one of the most surreal nights I've had the pleasure and apprehension during the festival. Buy me a drink and I'll tell you about it one day. Hoo-boy.
British-born-naturalized-American filmmaker Sebastian Doggart, who had delved into the Occupy Wall Street gathering in New York hours before the police came and cracked down, he says, brought some of that spirit of agitation into the film festival days before it was to start. Sometime after festival co-founder Erin Clark invited new Pebble Beach resident Condoleezza Rice to a screening of Doggart's mockumentary True Bromance, in which the protagonist feigns love for the former Secretary of State and pursues her affections to DC, the film was pulled from the festival's website schedule. Doggart didn't like this at all. Condi, he claimed, was trying to crush his film, as he says she was able to do in a previous festival. After some combative emails, a couple of phone calls, and legal threats, the film appeared again on the schedule. The film itself was much ado about nothing: The film was considered by some audience members as so lame as to not even rise to "so bad it's good" status. To its credit, I think it has its moments, like comedian Jim Norton, who seemed carefree and raunchy. To Doggart's credit, he himself recognized that it was a "nothing" film. The companion piece sounds more substantial. It's a real and serious documentary on Rice, charging her with war crimes.
Again, to filmmaker Doggart's credit, he turned me on to a film starring Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly called We Need to Talk About Kevin, which screened at All Saints Church. And holy crap. I'm surprised the church venue didn't angrily rumble from the dark presence of the film inside its sanctum. The family psycho-drama was artful, deliberate, chilling and as creepy as unidentifiable noises in a dark house. Afterwards, I needed to catch some of the cheery fare of The Pixar Shorts retrospective documentary to feel better about humanity again, but the festival people started that beach-venue film early, so no consolation there. But it was cool to see James Franco in the audience.
Franco's directorial debut film, Sal, which recreates the last day, in 1976, in the life of openly gay actor Sal Mineo (Rebel Without a Cause), was screened before a big, rabid audience at the Sunset Center on the last day, Sunday. Franco, who did a Q&A before the screening (which constituted the U.S. premiere), spoke plainly about his many ventures: acting, writing, teaching and directing. The film itself, if you get to see it, is so different and so simple and so banal that it's a revelation. It put me to sleep a couple times but in the days after, I've been liking it more and more. The Herald's Mac MacDonald said it best: "I admired it more than I liked it."
The Best Things Come in Small Packages
The Best of the Carmel Art & Film Festival Shorts program, sandwiched (or "hammocked," as they say in the TV biz) on Sunday between Franco's Sal and Tom Sizemore's White Knight, was awesome, transporting the audience to a small boy's racial and national identity struggle in India, to a love story/suicide note collaboration in San Francisco, to a conventional chance-encounter between former high school friends in L.A. that ends on a wallop of tenderness and hilariousness.
Michael Childers' photography show—formerly (just days prior formerly) called Icons & Legends before it was changed to Famous Faces on Film—at Marjorie Evans Gallery at Sunset Center is an awesome collection of the stars and personalities that lit up the silver screens in the '70s and early '80s. For people who remember that heady slice of time, this show is like an indulgent and affectionate time machine.
Not So VIP
The festival itself contained high quality content in its lineup of films, lectures (though Twitter co-founder Dom Sagolla was reportedly cancelled—I hope that was Tweeted), galas, music and photography. The Art in the Park portion was not exceptional for art-gallery-studded Carmel. But Friday's VIP party was sorely lacking in VIP amenities. For at least 30 minutes after it started, bottled water or any non-alcoholic drink was nowhere to be found—only tequila, beer and wine flowed (though good wine it was), which created a dilemma for my thirsty friend Tom Sizemore (yeah, we're friends now) who said he'd been "free and clear" (sober) 2 years and 133 days on that day—which squared with what he had told the Weekly on the Monday prior. And tortilla chips, taquitos and nachos (sans plates) does not a VIP party make. I know. I've snuck into my share of them (in this instance, though, my friend Tom Sizemore got me in—shout out to Valerie, who, after a young door tender wouldn't let Tom Sizemore in, intervened and got him and I and Mac MacDonald and PR mover and shaker Tanya Moore on the right side of the "velvet rope"). But the multitude of changes and glitches (the power outages that knocked down, and then, in the end, knocked out the last few minutes of the much-hyped pre-world-premiere preview of Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar was just unfortunate timing) seemed to overlooked by the attendees, who were eager to mix, mingle, network and talk film as if all that VIP amenity stuff ain't nothin' but a thang.
The 831 Magazine photographer who stopped my friend Tom Sizemore from entering a cab to take his picture didn't know what she was getting into. She snapped a couple of pictures (perfectly acceptable ones, in my opinion) but Tom Sizemore, upon viewing them, insisted she take the picture again. And again. And again. Five times, previewing them himself until he was satisfied and told her, "That's the one. Publish that picture." And judging from the beaming look on her face, it looked like she would comply.
Mise en Scene
The scores of directors prowling the various venues was like a lake stocked with trout just waiting to be baited into conversation. One director said she thought the festival had the feeling of an early Sundance Film Festival. Another, a former MD, showed me her samples of her web series shorts on her iPhone, cupping the device so the sound could be heard—good stuff. Another bemoaned the organizational component (the We Need to Talk About Kevin screening was seemingly run by the young volunteers, one of whom asked me, before the film, "Are you one of the filmmakers?" and, after the film, announced, "Are there any of the filmmakers here? Anyone? No? Well then thanks for coming folks.") As most artistic endeavor teaches, you have to embrace the messiness of it. This year's Carmel Art & Film Festival was more haphazard than the previous two, but it was also fun and fascinating and lively, like the best parts of life can be.