Dallas Film Festival Loses AFI Affiliation, Gains Independence

The 2010 DALLAS International Film Festival (DIFF) was a tightly run, well-organized and managed event this year; contrary to concerns about the success of the festival sans its American Film Institute (AFI) affiliation. The Dallas Film Society clearly took its role very seriously in maintaining a well-ordered machine, in order to provide festival quality films, along with balancing out celebrity appearances. Now that the red carpet’s been rolled up and the dust has settled―and yet people are still talking about the festival―we can see it from a much clearer perspective.

Chairman of the Board and face of the festival, Michael Cain, has taken what began as a small, independent film festival (Deep Ellum Film Festival) and turned it into what it is today. Not only should a film festival screen amazing, cutting edge films; but at the helm should be all the filmmakers who make these films. Taking care of the individuals behind the films is of utmost importance with regards to festival experience. Dallas knows how to take care of its filmmakers.

This year marked my third anniversary of attending the festival as a filmmaker and I can safely say it’s been my favorite experience thus far. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that I’ve met so many people in the last three years involved with the festival, the press who covers the festival and Dallas film culture in general. But ultimately, I found myself at a festival where a filmmaker can screen his or her film and not get lost in the shuffle of A-list celebrities and big-budgeted films. Not that there weren’t a ton of A-list celebrities and big-budgeted films! There were. But this has to do with the organization of the festival as a whole. In Dallas, it doesn’t matter how successful you are; as long as you’re a filmmaker, you get the rock star treatment. Personally, my week was filled with red carpet appearances, interviews and publicity spots―and I didn’t even star in, write or direct the films I’m associated with!

This year I had two films I produced at the festival, LOVERS OF HATE and EARTHLING. While both films did really well, EARTHLING stole the show―probably having something to do with all the pre-festival press it received as well as being one of Dallas Observer’s most anticipated films of the fest. Not only did it sell out its two scheduled screenings; but received a third screening at the Dallas Museum of Art to accommodate those folks turned away. Several other films received the same treatment due to the foresight and flexibility of DIFF staff.

Aside from packed houses and successful screenings, DIFF cleverly balanced its festival-quality content with all sorts of celebrities, award-winning filmmakers and loads of events and parties. Texas native and Fort Worth regular, Bill Paxton, who I’ve met on several other occasions, was seen at all the events over opening weekend. I also had a great deal of time to spend with my friend, Jeff Scheftel (writer/director/producer “Biography” & “Modern Marvels”) who was there with a Darfur doc, THE LAST SURVIVOR. Bummed about missing WINTER’S BONE for the third festival in a row (it premiered at Sundance), I was relieved when I had a chance to catch up with lead actor and Texas lover, John Hawkes. Additionally, meeting Frank Darabont (writer/director THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION & THE GREEN MILE), Tim McCanlies (writer THE IRON GIANT), and actress Karen Black (EASY RIDER) were high points. The low point was meeting Clint Howard in an elevator and not recognizing him until long after I’d put my foot in my mouth―oh well, he silently forgave me by accepting my Facebook request!

Most of the official parties took place at the Palomar Hotel (across from the Angelika Theatre in Uptown Dallas, the venue for most of the screenings); and DIFF, who’s been known for its festival lounge in the past, certainly didn’t let us down this year. The lounge boasted three arcade machines (with tons of games on each), Billiards, a Foosball table, Wii, full service open bar all ten days, DJ, and “DallasFest After Dark” presented by Red Carpet Crash and Bigfanboy.com nightly coverage. Suffice it to say, the lounge was certainly a convenient destination point for filmmakers, press and festival guests.

Dallas has certainly come a long way with its festival; and as long as strong programming and a welcoming attitude continue to prevail, I’m certain the festival will thrive for years to come. Kudos to the DIFF staff. You can bet I’ll attend next year!

More coverage of film related stuff, with links to all the pics, on my blog at www.adamdonaghey.com and please follow me on Twitter @adamdonaghey and Facebook!

Look out for LOVERS OF HATE, still available On Demand from the Independent Film Channel, and EARTHLING at these film festivals in May: LOVERS at 360 | 365 (ST. NICK is also screening), both LOVERS & EARTHLING, along with MY MOM SMOKES WEED at Maryland, EARTHLING at Santa Cruz and a special screening at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

***Originally published in The SCENE Magazine – May 2010***

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2010 South By Southwest Film Festival

The South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas is consistently one of my favorite times of year. This year marked my fourth anniversary attending the festival and, with two films world-premiering (EARTHLING & AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK) and another screening (LOVERS OF HATE, which premiered at Sundance), I was certainly a busy bee! SXSW was jam packed with film industry folks, celebrities, distributors, press and publicity, festival programmers and movie lovers from all over the world. Unfortunately, as much as I love selling out screenings, people were turned away in droves―one issue, I believe, SXSW is remedying next year. As swamped as I was with my own films, I did have a limited opportunity to catch some other people’s films, along with sitting in on a few panels and attending as many parties and film-related events as I could.

The Houston area, in particular, was on the scene in Austin this year with its own party, featuring an appearance by former Houston mayor Bill White, celebrating Houston at SXSW. Several films at the festival were shot in the area and/or documented all things Houstonian; one of those films, FOR THE SAKE OF THE SONG: THE STORY OF ANDERSON FAIR, I actually caught a few days before SXSW, when I happened upon an invitation to a cast and crew screening. As the title suggests, the film documents legendary hippy folk music venue, Anderson Fair. With heartfelt testaments and rare footage from true troubadours like Lucinda Williams, Robert Earl Keen, Townes Van Zandt and especially Lyle Lovett―who’s extensively interviewed―the film unfolds a story about an eccentric place where volunteers and performers were paid in spaghetti and the music was all that mattered.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Belgium, the town of MARWENCOL is busy drinking and dancing and fighting off Nazis. Made from 12” G.I. Joe figures and catfighting Barbie Dolls, the inhabitants of MARWENCOL, are mostly all named for real people who’ve interacted with their creator, Mark Hogancamp. Having suffered from brain damage and amnesia after a viscous assault, Hogancamp, in a bout of self-therapy, spends the vast majority of his time building his town, setting scenes, and coping with the horror he knows happened but can’t recall. Not only has Hogancamp built this town in his backyard, but he’s got thousands and thousands of amazing photographs and detailed stories to go with them. The intricate stories set him apart from other hobbyists and toy photographers, but what’s most interesting is that he’s doing all of this while investigating who he was in the past and discovering who he is now.

Other discoveries made at SXSW was painterly shot short doc, SELTZER WORKS, featuring the last bottler in Brooklyn discussing the finer points of bottling seltzer and why it’s a dying trade―women in the workforce, old folks retiring to Florida, one-liter bottles at supermarkets; super bizarre psychedelic trip, ENTER THE VOID, which takes several turns for the weird, culminating in the rebirth of the lead via his sister; and KICK ASS―probably one of the most intense, adrenaline-packed cinematic experiences I’ve ever had. But most appealing were the short festival bumpers―SXSW is notorious for having some of the best on the circuit―which preceded every screening. David Lowery (ST. NICK) was given the prestigious honor of creating four of the five this year. Each “handmade“ piece presents an idea that film, as we know is, is changing―the way films are made and the way films are presented. Most disturbing was a piece where a filmmaker’s head suddenly bursts into flames.

As far as my own films are concerned, we had a great turnout for all of them and most of the screenings were completely sold out. According to io9, EARTHLING is “destined for cult status” and Karina Longworth, film editor for the LA Weekly, writes, “Unjustly underbuzzed was AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK”―perhaps we should have hired a publicist after all! LOVERS OF HATE, which the New York Times called “viciously amusing,” was the feature of an NPR broadcast and became available on IFC On Demand concurrent with the festival. Each of the films has a long festival road ahead and LOVERS OF HATE will go theatrical later this year. Additionally, Lowery, my producing partner James M. Johnston, and I, met with our distributor for ST. NICK. We’re currently preparing deliverables in an effort to get the film out on DVD by the end of the year. A limited theatrical release is also in negotiations. Next up for me is the Dallas International Film Festival, taking place the second week of April; EARTHLING and LOVERS OF HATE will be screening and we’ll be announcing another project as well.

The year’s been great so far, dear readers; and I’m certain it will only get better. To prove this point, I’ll ask that you keep up with my endeavors, not only in The SCENE Magazine, but also on my website at www.adamdonaghey.com. And add me on Facebook; but when you do, mention The SCENE!

***Originally published in the April 2010 edition of The SCENE Magazine***

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LOVERS OF HATE Successfully Premieres at Sundance 2010

LOVERS OF HATE Cast/Crew – Photo Courtesy, Adam Roffman

There’s a certain sense of spectacle and wonder when you’re 7,000 feet above sea-level in Park City, Utah, during the last ten days of January. As you walk down Main Street in the bitter cold, the air is thinner and your breaths shorter. Strings of light glimmer in the night and during the day, despite the weather, there’s a hustle of film industry and festival goers that crowd the sidewalks. As you pass the Mary G. Steiner Egyptian Theatre and see the words “Sundance Film Festival” boldly displayed on the marquee, a sense of accomplishment courses through your veins. Whether you’re there to support your own film or just to watch new innovations in independent filmmaking, you’ve found yourself a part of an important paradigm shift in cinema. This is where new trends in filmmaking begin.

In last month’s column, I introduced the two films I was involved in that were graciously invited to screen at this year’s Sundance. Being there and witnessing spectacular moments of glee and tears of joy as the directors of these films, caught in the limelight, reacted to all the hubbub, was a real treat. Although, as a producer, I stand in the shade, that giddy feeling came over me as well. I sat quietly in my seat at the premiere of LOVERS OF HATE and watched as writer/director, Bryan Poyser, walked on stage, already teary-eyed. Exactly one week after getting the call from Sundance on November 23rd, Bryan received another call informing him that his father, Kennedy Orville Poyser, had passed away. As Bryan introduced the film and announced his dedication of it to his father, the tears began to flow and he forced a laugh, promising the audience that it was indeed a comedy. I was particularly touched due to the fact that I had met his father when he owned a comic book shop across the street from the University of North Texas in Denton, while I was going to college, seven or so years prior to meeting Bryan.

LOH is a grown-up film and it’s a very real film. It doesn’t take the easy way out and make “movie characters,” as Bryan puts it, out of the actors. Instead, these actors genuinely feel like real people with real emotions and because of this, the audience sometimes isn’t quite sure how to react. All of the screenings were filled with intensity at some moments and boisterous belly-laughing at others. The queasy, uneasy feelings during uncomfortable moments, subsided with the hilarity of the general situation; and the audience played right along.

For me, each screening presented the film in a new light and to an ever-changing audience. As stated above, the premiere began in tears and might have ended in tears as well. I know it did for me. And it was the culmination of the film itself―the ridiculously amazing performances of actors Alex Karpovsky, Chris Doubek and Heather Kafka―and the fact that we were all right here in Park City in the snowy cold premiering a film Bryan had only just conceived of two years ago (in Park City, during Sundance 2008) and filmed one year ago (partially in Park City, right after Sundance 2009). For a moment it really hit me hard, as I realized how insanely lucky I truly was to have gotten the opportunity to help this film in its fruition. And I was really here, at Sundance; arguably the second most prestigious film festival in the world―second only to Cannes. That’s one of those rare feelings I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.

I regret missing the second screening of LOH; however, I attended the third screening in Salt Lake City and, of the three (out of five) I actually caught, it proved to be my favorite. The great thing about having a screening in Salt Lake City is you’re almost guaranteed to have a majority of the house packed with locals just wanting to watch movies. The likelihood of having a great deal of press, industry or other filmmakers is quite slim―mainly, because the drive from Park City to SLC inconveniently requires finding transportation. But when you do get out there, the entire vibe changes. Suddenly, you’re no longer in the hustle and bustle of one of the great film events in the world; instead, you’re just a guy trying to order a sidecar at a local bar because you have no idea how to order a drink in Utah.

A very small group of us went to this particular screening; consisting of me, Bryan and the actors (and a few friends). Bryan introduced the film and we watched the opening sequence and then we hit Johnny’s, a local bar serving up enormous plastic mugs full of intensely weak draft beer. The savvy drinker orders a Hops Rising beer in a bottle at 9% alcohol per volume. Because Utah’s infamous liquor laws don’t apply to bottled beer sold in drinking establishments, the state has several such bottled delights. But the real delight was just hanging out in a total dive, drinking excessive amounts of beer, smack dab in the middle of a city that largely frowns upon alcohol consumption.

After guzzling down our spirited libations, we made our way back just in time to catch our film’s climatic conclusion. The audience appeared knee-deep in the movie and the majority stuck around for a Q&A that rivals any I’ve ever attended. Slightly lit, Bryan and the actors took the stage and entertained the audience with anecdotes and witty repartee, encouraging the audience to ask some really well-thought out questions. The actors talked about Bryan’s rehearsal and introductory process―an interesting combination of what you might find on the first day of kindergarten or at a retreat sponsored by Alcoholics Anonymous; they mentioned oddball outtakes and noted uniquely phrased improvised dialogue. Laughter ensued as the audience took it all in and the people on stage were obviously just having a really fun time. Chris Doubek, who plays a jaded failure of an elder brother, resentful of everyone around him, noted the real importance of the venue―this wasn’t a theatre created for the festival or even an art house; this was a real theatre, packed with real people. You could hear the munching of popcorn and slurping of soft drinks; and there were no expectations. This was pure entertainment.

My final screening took place in the famed Eccles Theatre, located in a high school and boasts a 1,300 seating capacity. I’d say we had at least 800 people packed in there―nearly three times the usual screening. Most of the cast and crew, who attended the festival, stayed for the duration of the film. Throughout the screening, I heard roars of laughter and gasps of breath and found myself taking part as I watched the film yet again with a new set of eyes. Hilarious, dark and quirky, LOH is a film I’m intensely proud to be a part of. It’s been reviewed by the likes of The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Entertainment Weekly, L.A. Weekly and The New York Times. We’ve got a long festival road ahead of us; but nothing will be quite like our Sundance experience. Find out more at http://www.loversofhatethemovie.com.

Adam Donaghey is an award-winning film producer from Texas and his website is http://www.adamdonaghey.com.

*** Originally published in The SCENE Magazine – February, 2010 ***


Let’s Go Exploring!

Two years ago I wrote a blog entry using the title above. We were on the brink of shooting ST. NICK (my first feature film) and, in addition to the conventional impetus during the transition from December to January, I was feeling particularly inspired, partly because director David Lowery and I had just finished scouting the ranch location where, “along with prospecting the land for great shots, we made friends with the cows, the buffalo, and the horses – particularly an overzealous glass-eyed horse with a propensity for biting.” My response to our visit to the ranch had little to do with movie making and more to do with childlike experiences. A renewed spirit had overcome me and this playful mentality seemed to course through the veins of everyone involved with ST. NICK from start to finish. Now, as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, that stimulating sentiment has returned, and I’ll set my sights toward newer projects on the horizon.

The year is looking promising already. In late January, I’ll find myself surrounded by snow in Park City, Utah, at the Sundance Film Festival. Founded, in part, by Robert Redford, Sundance has long been the most prestigious independent film festival in the country. When I was in high school, making short films in lieu of doing homework, I dreamed of one day premiering a film at Sundance. This year I’ve got two films playing there: LOVERS OF HATE (written and directed by Independent Spirit nominee Bryan Poyser) will be making its world premiere in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section and Clay Liford’s short, MY MOM SMOKES WEED, will be screening in a shorts block program.

A dark comedy, surrounding two adult brothers in love with the same woman, LOH relies on deep-seated sibling rivalry to present a convincing tale of deceit. Rudy Lucas is a complete and utter failure at everything. Recently separated from but still in love with his wife Diana, Rudy lives in his car, barely holding on to his job as a door-to-door fact collector for the U.S. Census Bureau. He showers at the car wash or at the homes of unsuspecting home dwellers, constantly bugs his soon-to-be ex-wife, and is all-too-obviously jealous of the success of his younger brother Paul. A children’s author of fantasy tales in the spirit of the Harry Potter ilk, Paul dedicates every one of his best selling novels to his older brother – his inspiration for the lead character and childhood co-collaborator. Oddly enough, upon watching the film you’ll get a few second’s glance at me playing the only “grown-up Paul Lucas fan,” as the author reads a selection from his latest novel. An opportunity arises and Diana decides to visit Paul at a mammoth ski lodge, incidentally located in Park City, while he’s writing a new book. Soon after, Rudy takes a road trip of his own, and, as the intimate moments between Paul and Diana play out, the unexpected visitor silently follows their every move, as he hides in closets and peeks around staircases. Upon discovering the sneaky housemate, tension rises and unexpected events unfold in a climatic, despairing finale.

MMSW premiered at the 2008 Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival. The film garnered the attention of critics and film programmers as it made its way on the festival circuit via some of the smaller, hip festivals. Sundance caught wind of this and invited the film to screen in 2010. While obviously the film centers around Marijuana, the story is thematically concerned with the unsettling relationship of a mildly resentful, uptight son and his loose, septuagenarian mother. Tension mounts from the very beginning as a disappointed son enters his mother’s smoke-filled room. Although happy to see him, his aging mother has difficulty rising up to hug her visiting son. As if it were a chore, he uneasily helps her up. The mood sets in and the audience is bombarded with awkwardly, uncomfortable situations throughout the film. Apparently, mom has set up a drug deal and her son is to provide transportation. Overly against the whole deal, he reluctantly agrees to drive, though mother and son argue about how to get there the entire way. Upon arrival at the drug dealers’ apartment, the son is filled with anxiety as the pot heads sample the product, and steps outside for some air. Paranoid and distraught, his only recourse is to spill the beans about he and his mother’s relationship, while one of the druggies listens. A moment of satisfaction turns completely topsy turvy as the situation culminates with consternation and the son finds himself in a most compromising predicament.

In addition to screening these two films, I intend to announce several other projects at Sundance, to be shot in 2010. I also have two other films set to premiere at later festivals and one other film currently on the circuit; although, dear readers, you’ll have to wait for another column or check my blog for news. The title “Let’s Go Exploring!” comes from Calvin’s final words to his stuffed tiger, Hobbes, as they embark on their final documented journey in Bill Watterson’s final Calvin and Hobbes strip, published December 31, 1995. The inseparable duo enter the strip, sled in hand, after a hard snow the night before. Hobbes remarks, “Everything familiar has disappeared! The world looks brand-new!” to which Calvin responds, “A new year… A fresh, clean start!” making it quite clear that despite the retiring of the comic strip, the journey will continue off the newspaper pages. As I type this, the year hasn’t quite ended and amidst feelings of complete satisfaction at where this year has taken me, I’ve got a childlike anxiety about entering the new year. It certainly is a fresh, clean start; and I’m ready to explore.

Learn more about Adam and his films at http://www.adamdonaghey.com

*** Article originally published in The SCENE Magazine – January 2010 ***