Unable to peel myself away from the office on time, Number One Son and I arrive to the International Documentary Shorts late and completely miss Tussilago, the first film. After settling in, however, we find these to be the best set of shorts we’ve seen yet. Here’s a brief review:
Bye Bye Now! - When you lose someone or something how much will you miss it? What if you live in Ireland and the something you’re losing is your local, public Telefone box? A great short that thoroughly explores this unexpected issue. It even includes a poignant love story!
Grandpa’s Wet Dream - If your 76 year old Japanese grandpa wanted to become the lead in porn movies, would you want to portray his cinematic legacy during his funeral? Watch this short and think about that.
Bathing Micky - A daily dip in the sometimes frigid Swedish water helps an old woman find meaning in her declining years.
Face – Did the subjects of this Australian documentary belong here or in the restaurant where Harry met Sally? Sorry, but if you don’t understand that reference, I’m not going to explain it to you.
On the way out of the theatre, I encounter Eve Benson and ask her what she thinks of the films. “I liked them all, I gave them all a five,” she replies, “I don’t always do that.”
As soon as the International Shorts program is finished, Matt from the FFF walks into the theatre with Robert Scott Wildes. After the Phase Cancellation debacle of Day Two, they’re not taking any chances. They’re doing a tech check for Thule. Upon hearing his film, Robert gives Matt the thumbs up. The sound is working this time.
Robert wants to know if it’s a one flat control or are there sub controls. “Don’t go there,” chides Matt. They don’t want to press their luck. By the time Matt walks down the theatre aisleway, he is already busy on the phone attacking the next issue.
Meanwhile, I interview the patrons waiting in line to see Shorts Program 2. “I see them all, all the time,” says Grey Squires-Binford who is here with Michael, her husband. They both have platinum passes. They heard about the issues with Thule’s sound the first time it played. “It’s very disappointing. Something like that seems to happen with filmmakers every year,” laments Grey.
“I think it’s a format issue,” chimes in Michael, “so many things are shot in different formats. To be able to reproduce them all, that can result in bad sound. They do try, as best they can, to fix it,” he acknowledges. “My wife has been going to the FFF for 17 years, I’ve been going for 9.” Michael says he particularly likes the Enzian Theatre and enjoys good independent films. He especially likes the shorts programs.
I catch up with Robert Scott Wildes outside the theatre and ask him what he’s anticipating with today’s showing of his film, Thule. “I’m anticipating the audience hearing the narrative, which will be nice,” he says in a semi-joking, semi-serious tone. “I ran into a woman who saw the film the first time. She, like a lot of people, thought it was a choice to not have dialogue.”
“Actually, It was a polarizing experience. On the one end, you want to stop the film. On the other end, it was an exercise in seeing a film without the dialogue.” He goes on to talk about David Mamet’s book where Mamet recommends that you screen the movie, once it’s completed, without the dialogue. Robert goes on to explain how this applies to his film, “People learned a lot—sonically, it felt like you were on a different planet. It was interesting. People saw nuances in the actor’s performance.” While talking with me, he wrings his hands and his foot thumps constantly. He’s clearly nervous, but does not want to admit it. He pauses for a moment to check his phone for text messages.
While I’m speaking to Robert, an older man walks by and mistakes me for the ticket taker. He attempts to hand me his ticket. After jokingly thanking him for the free tickets, I ask him if he’s seen Thule and does he know the filmmaker? He says he does, so with Robert sitting right beside me I tell the older man if he sees the filmmaker, could he kindly ask him to sit down with me for an interview. Later, I discover that the gentleman I met is Robert’s father.
I ask Robert if he’s seen his movie with an audience before tonight. He says only two or three times. “It was shot for a movie theatre, it wasn’t shot for a laptop,” he points out. “I’m really excited to see it with dialogue and sound. So many people make movies for YouTube,” he concludes, noting that his movie was made for the big screen. At this point he excuses himself so he can go get a seat inside the theatre.
Since Thule doesn’t run until an hour into a shorts program we’ve already seen, Number One Son and I decide to pop over to Austin’s Coffeeshop for a quick bite to eat during the first part of the shorts program. We rush the meal because I want to be back in time to see how the audience responds to Thule.
As we re-enter the theatre, we run into Robert standing in the aisleway entrance. He’s pacing like a animal trapped in a cage. He’s strung very tight and it feels like he’s about to burst. As we watch the remaining shorts, he’s continually making editorial comments in my ear—“You know what’s wrong with this scene? The kid’s backpack is too new. There’s no dirt on it…The director holds this shot too long…Notice how the piece of paper crinkles here, they should have reshot that scene…” It’s clear Robert’s a perfectionist. I have no doubt he’s even harder on himself and his own films then he is on others.
Finally, Thule is the next film. Robert takes his seat near the front of the theatre, right beside his father. I notice his father giving him a gentle rub on the shoulder with a closed fist. It’s a tender moment. Silence descends.
As the opening credits roll, Robert jumps out of his seat and over to an FFF staffer. He asks her to increase the sound volume. He will do that two more times during the course of the movie.
As the movie continues to play, I notice the vast improvement of watching the film on the big screen instead of on my TV at home. Like the iconic director David Lean’s films, Thule needs to play on the big screen.
The audience is entranced. No one is moving, coughing or looking at their watch during the entire movie—particularly Robert. Among all the theatre patrons, he stands alone in watching the film with stark intensity; absorbing every moment. If this were my movie, my attention would be with the audience. Do they like it? Are they engaged? Not Robert. He doesn’t take his eyes off the screen during the entire movie, except to ask the staff to raise the volume level again.
The final scene plays out and the credits begin to roll. Nobody in the theatre moves. It’s a good sign. There’s a generous amount of applause as the credits end.
A few patrons walk out before the Q&A. I pointedly ask them if they liked Thule. It gets overwhelmingly positive praise. One young lady admits that the movie had her in tears (and she looks like it.)
Robert is the only filmmaker for the Q&A session. There are the typical questions about costs, scripting, production details and so forth. As the questions continue, the praise becomes more emphatic and undeniable. The film is compared to a feature. Two times the audience breaks into spontaneous applause during the Q&A.
I’ve lost all journalistic objectivity. I’m so happy for Robert. What happened to him three days ago was nothing short of a tragedy. While the remaining patrons leave the theatre, several people congregate around him. One young woman casually flirts with him as she asks him if she can send him her resume. A Disney employee gives him his detailed schedule for the week–offering him free access to the theme parks. Most just give him justifiable praise.
Finally the room is clear and the paparazzi have all dispersed. All except for Number One Son and I. Robert breathes a sigh of relief and comes over to speak with us.
Ever the perfectionist, he is ragging about the sound quality. “It could have gone up five decibels,” he laments. Number One Son asks him if the sound was muffled. “The problem is that the dialogue is supposed to be coming from the front of the room and the rest of the sound from the sides,” he says, gesticulating widely with his arms to make his point nonverbally as well. He also complains about several other production elements. It’s no wonder he’s so good—he’s a meticulous and driven filmmaker. I can identify. I wince as I note that the film takes place in Greenland, but on my previous post I referred to it as occurring in Iceland.
As he grows a little calmer, Robert kids Number One Son about describing him in the other day’s blog post as looking like Ron Livingston. He gives a hearty laugh as I make fun of the way he mercilessly ragged on the movies previous to his. His nervous tension is beginning to abate and he’s just beginning to let this FFF experience sink in.
After all, this is what the film festival is really all about. And it’s fun. And it’s magical.
But don’t take my word for it. Robert promised he would read this blog and make a comment. So I will end here and await for Robert to continue the conversation below. After all, the conversation is really what this blog is all about…