Earlier today I had the good fortune and humbling experience of seeing one of my films play at the Portland International Film Festival. It was part of a group show called 'Short Cuts III: Made in Portland".
The first film in the program, called Scardeycat, was by a good friend of mine, Andy Blubaugh. Andy's film also recently played at the Sundance Film Festival. My friend Ned did the music along with Eric Schopmeyer, who also did the music to my film playing in the same lineup today.
Scardeycat is a very compelling first-person documentary based on Andy's experience being attacked a couple years ago in an episode of random violence. In the film, he confronts his own demons about being obsessive-compulsive, fearful, and maybe even guilty of unintentioned racism. The honesty with which Andy looks at himself and ties his own journey to larger societal issues is breathtaking. I've known Andy for a few years now, and he also edited one of my previous films, and it's been amazing to see him progress as an artist and, through his artwork, even as a person.
There was also a film called Finca El Injerto that portrayed in beautifully evocative super-8 and 16-mm film the workers of a coffee plantation in Guatemala. The project was produced by Stumptown Coffee to shed light on the relationship they share with coffee farmers. But a huge amount of credit goes to Stumptown owner/founder Duane Sorenson for choosing two experimental filmmakers, Trevor Fife and Autumn Campbell, in order to make something other than a routine documentary. Although short in information, this film captured the spirit of place very well.
My film, Route 23, was one of the simpler, shorter and less ambitious works in the lineup. Consisting of a single time-lapse shot, it condenses a half hour double-decker bus ride through London to about four minutes. It's also enhanced significantly by a wonderful score by my friend Eric that's like a more whimsical version of Steve Reich: very rhythmic to propel the speedy action onscreen, but without a strong melody that threatens to compete with it.
More important than the content of the film, though - today anyway - was the surreal experience of crossing over from having written about films and filmmakers for several years and then being on the other side it. Putting your work in the spotlight can be very frightening, and I think more critics ought to appreciate that.
When my film first came on the screen, I was focusing on the things that didn't feel right, like the volume being way too low or the video looking more grainy on a big screen. Still, a couple of times I caught audience members responding positively, and that felt great. There's one shot where our bus (and by extension the camera) comes just a few inches from the back of two other buses, and the frame becomes split with just a sliver of London viewable through the alley of light between the buses. A few chortled just a bit like one does watching those point-of-view roller coaster shots. I love this, precisely because it's something totally different from what pushed my own buttons visually as I made the film.
Ultimately you make the film for yourself, not for an audience or the honor of having it screened in a film festival. At least that's how I approached it. I feel unburdened by the need to have people like this stuff - the fest notwithstanding. But it is a very invigorating feeling to have strangers respond to something one created, I must say.
At the end of the show, they had a Q&A session with the filmmakers, and one audience member asked me about the process of making the film: how many times did I ride the double decker bus before I got the idea to film it? The answer was zero: I just take my camera places with me (especially on vacation) and capture authentic experiences spontaneously. Having the chance to tell the audience about that felt as good as showing them the film.
It's not about this, but I also wanted to give a special shout-out to my old friend Joel Dunn. Joel has two young children and also teaches and coaches varsity basketball at Woodburn High School. In other words, he's really got his hands full. Just spending an hour with his adorable little tikes is exhausting to me, let alone shaping teenage minds all day. I told him several times it was no big deal to come, and that if I were him I'd use any available spare time just to relax. Joel also is not at all a follower of local and/or experimental film. He had to ask me for directions to the Portland Art Museum like five times. But there he was with a Woodburn High jacket, an open mind and a pat on the back. Thanks Joel.
Over the last year after giving up film reviewing, I've hardly watched any movies at all. I think Casino Royale and The Departed are the only 2007 films I've even seen. But it's invigorating to go a screening where the people sitting behind or in front of you made the films you're seeing. Every show like this of local work has its ups and downs. At least one film in this lineup had me looking at my watch a lot. But the do-it-yourself spirit can be very contagious. It's a continuous epiphany to me when I see a film or a piece of music or painting and think, 'I may not be able to or even want to make something just like the other guy did, but hey - I can do this'.