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April 28, 2011

Opening Night

For the sake of recording: here is how Opening Night in New York went. I arrived, I took a cab to my host's house in Queens, I hastened to take a nap. I awoke. Aaron Hillis had asked me to get to the theater at 5:45 for a tech check. I'd planned to take another cab, but my host, the valiant Karl Jacob, had a better idea. He'd just bought a motorcycle, and proposed a jaunt through Brooklyn on the back of this new bike. I eagerly accepted, donned a helmet and climbed aboard. Together we rocketed through Queens, into Williamsburg, as the diorama of Manhattan slipped by in opposition. My hands were frozen solid by the time we pulled up to the theater in Dumbo, but it was worth it.

I climbed off and climbed the steps and met Aaron. He gave me a quick tour. We walked back to the projector and he extended both his hands and I slapped them in an enthusiastic double high-five before realizing that he was actually holding them out to receive the Blu-Ray disc we were going to use to exhibit the movies. Which I didn't have. I'd overnighted two Blu-Rays a few week ago, but they hadn't worked in the theater's player and from that malfunction a misunderstanding had grown and flowered and now saw both of us standing there, on either side of a flickering projector beam, wondering what exactly we were going to show the already-clamoring throngs taking their seats before us.

The answer was to show both films straight off the HD copies on my MacBook, which I'd left at Karl's house, which thus mandated a hop back onto motorcycle and race back across Brooklyn to fetch it. Which we did, and did, and then turned back and retraced our steps yet again. My hands had no feeling at this point. We had thirty minutes until showtime. Which was why, this being an independent film exhibition, it was the perfect time for a cop to pull us over for switching lanes.

Thus began our twenty-minute standstill on the shoulder of the BQE, as we waited for the police officer to figure out what we'd done wrong. I could just about see the ReRun Theater from the overpass where we were held. Of course this would be how opening night went off, I thought. Something would be going wrong if this hadn't happened.

Eventually a citation was issued, the engine was revved, we made it the rest of the way to the theater, the files were opened, an HDMI cable procured (thanks, Josh and Jim) and everything was ready to roll by 7:17. The lights dimmed and the theatrical engagement began.

Sorry, no pics.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:26 AM

April 27, 2011

A Trip To The Airport

By the time I landed in New York last Friday, I'd been awake for over twenty-four hours, and those on just a few blinks of an eye the night prior. I was happy to be alive. I'd had a lovely evening at home with my wife that past evening, and when I woke her to say goodbye before heading to the airport, I noted a tenderness in our farewell of the sort that would be well-remembered were we to never see one another again. Something about the smile that lingered on her face as she quickly slipped back into sleep imparted a gentle sense of closure; the goodbye felt like it could have been one with a capital G.

I left and locked the door behind me and in the shuttle that carried me to the airport listened to a story on the BBC timed to that dawn of Good Friday about the ways in which we come to terms with death. There were interviews with a priest who was on his deathbed and a woman who counseled cancer patients, and a young man whose brother was killed in a bombing. The tone of the story was firm but comforting, and underscored throughout with Catholic hymns that I'd grown up with, week in and week out. The sun was not yet risen, and in my weariness I wondered if I was being prepared for something. I'm not a fatalist, but I couldn't deny the immense sense of finality that seemed to be trailing at my heels. I began to make a list of lasts: the last thing I'd eaten, the last thing I'd read. The last movie - what would they find in the DVD player and think, "this was the last movie he ever saw?" Of course, it was The Thin Red Line, fraught as it was with all those philosophical bemusing on the great beyond, which I hadn't finished watching the day before.

The radio story continued. Another hymn came on the soundtrack, and the sole other passenger in the shuttle chimed in, singing along softly in the seat behind me. 72 hours later I was in the Atlanta airport, waiting on a delayed connection on my return home. When I finally boarded the plane and sat down, next to the woman who's still sitting next to me now, she was on the phone with someone and in tears. I couldn't tell what they were talking about. "He could just fall asleep" was the one snippet I overheard from which I could draw any conclusions. She was on that phone until right before we took off. We have yet to land.

Posted by David Lowery at 2:10 AM

April 21, 2011

Good Press


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I just finished making another DVD case, and I'm about to catch a red-eye to New York. Then perhaps a nap, and then on to the ReRun Theater to let this age old epic unspool once more. We're aided and abetted this time by a flurry of press notices.

And last but not least, The New York Times, whose review I was anticipating and dreading in the same manner one waits for word from Sundance each Thanksgiving.

I couldn't be happier with the results. Especially the last passage.

Posted by David Lowery at 10:31 PM

St. Nick DVD Giveaway

St. Nick's theatrical bow begins tomorrow, and to celebrate I want to give away some DVDs to audience members at the cinema this weekend. However, this is complicated by the fact that, although the film does have distribution, is is not yet commercially available, and we're not quite sure when it will be made so.

So instead of giving away the official DVD, I've decided to make a few homemade editions to hand out.

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Each one of these limited edition copies of the film is completely handcrafted. The cases are handsomely assembled from recycled materials, and will be signed and numbered. Each is individually illustrated and lovingly teastained. Particularly unique about this edition is that the discs themselves are hand encoded - each 1 and 0 that makes up the contents of the DVD has been typed, by hand, by myself, in a text file.

As for the contents of the DVD, it will contain St. Nick and, at the very least, a commentary track from myself and the stars of the film. There may be more; I prepared a slew of extra features for the real DVD release, and if I can fit any on without compromising the compression of the master file I have on hand, they'll be there. If they're not, never fear; whoever receives one of these handmade copies will also be mailed a copy of the final release, when it's actually available.

To receive one of these very limited editions, simply come to any of the Friday or Saturday shows at the ReRun Theater and participate in whatever contest we put together. It might be as simple as a drawing - I'm not quite sure yet. All I know is that by the end of the weekend they'll be out of my hands; I'll post the names of the winners and the artwork for each cover next week, so that they (the winners, and my attempt at illustration) can live in on posterity!

Posted by David Lowery at 3:05 AM

April 14, 2011

St. Nick opening in New York!


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At long last, two years after its festival debut, St. Nick is beginning a theatrical run. We're opening at the ReRun Theater on April 22. And Pioneer will be screening before it at every show, turning the engagement into a double feature whose brevity (103 minutes total) is inversely related to its epic scope!

Tickets can be procured here. I'll be at each screening on Friday and Saturday night. It should be a thrilling weekend. I hear there's one special guest already attending on Friday night who I'm very much looking forward to meeting.

And now to sit back and steel myself for the reviews...

Posted by David Lowery at 11:28 AM

April 13, 2011

Pioneer at the Ashland Independent Film Festival

That the street below was a main thoroughfare cutting downhill through the beautiful hamlet of Ashland, Oregon was probably a good omen:

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I'm currently heading home from three days at the Ashland Independent Film Festival, where last night Pioneer was awarded the Grand Jury Prize for Narrative Short. It was a fine capper to a wonderful weekend in a quintessentially picturesque town. So lovely the weather and sweeping the scenery that I nearly felt guilty sitting down in the dark to watch any films. Thankfully, such compunction was alleviated by the fact that every film was so well attended by local moviegoers that I was actually shut out of a few of I had on my list.

What I did see, though, was almost exclusively nonfiction. I keep my finger so close to the pulse of narratives that I often forego that other great discipline, and I decided to take the great documentary programming here as an opportunity to correct that. I saw the beautiful Tibetan drama Summer Pasture, the crowd-pleasing Hood To Coast, a handful of shorts and a few older chestnuts like Gasland, whose enthusiastic audiences who cared not a whit about such things as premieres or imminent DVD releases; the communal theatrical experience is clearly cherished here. Not just when it comes to film, I learned, but also the stage - the town had just begun its world-renowned Shakespeare Festival, and I wish I'd been able to stay an extra day or two to catch a performance.

And indeed, when the time came, I was remiss to go. This is one enchanting little festival. A huge thanks to Joanne Feinberg, Cambria Matlow, the festival staff, the jury and the town of Ashland itself for being such wonderful hosts. It's so nice to go to a festival where the residents stop you on the street or in line for coffee to talk to you about your film, because they've actually seen it, and care.

* * *

And now an anecdote: I attended a panel on documentary filmmaking, hosted by the estimable AJ Schnack. The focus, loosely, was on subjects, and how they evolve over the course of a production. Now, as with post-film Q&As and any other open forum, I never ask questions on panels. Ever since kindergarten, I've always been too shy to raise my hand. And yet there was something I wanted to ask this time, and as the panel progressed, that question began to burn, until I found my hand hovering, hovering, waiting for just the right moment to shoot up - which it did, finally, and I was called on and I posed my query:

"In so much as you make films as a career, are you able to keep an eye out for new subjects while working on a new project? And after making a great film and maybe playing Sundance or winning awards, does that effect how you look for follow-up subjects, and have you ever begun work on a project that didn't work out cinematically the way you had hoped?"

It was answered with silence. Either my question was a stumper, or I was completely intelligible. I fear the latter. One of the panelists halfway answered part of it and then they moved on, and with that my brief stint as a question-asker ended, probably forever.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:27 AM

April 9, 2011

Sidney Lumet Changed My Life

When I was twelve or so, my aunt and uncle gave me Sidney Lumet's Making Movies for Christmas.

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I don't think I'd seen any of his movies at that point - maybe Dog Day Afternoon - but it didn't matter. What that book provided was a warm, congenial tour through the clockwork of a film production. Each cog and gear was momentarily taken from its bearings and explained in language simple and efficient enough for anyone with a passing interest in motion pictures to understand. But for those of us with more than a passing interest, there was detectable a latent ardor threaded through that explication, which grew from one chapter to the next; a passion infused with the sort of tenderness that denotes a longstanding love affair, a love that's stood the test of time.

By the time I reached the end of the book, I knew there was nothing else I wanted to do with my life. I already knew that, but Lumet reassured my choice, as well as explaining to me how lenses worked, what to look forward to on craft service tables, and the value of taking a nap during lunch breaks. I've seen a great deal of his many movies, and loved most of those, and it's no affront to their quality that this book is what I'll always think of first when I hear his name, and what sprang to mind when I heard he passed away this morning.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:01 PM

April 7, 2011

Charles Burnett: Interviews


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I'd entirely forgotten that this was in the works until last month, when I happened across it on Amazon: a book of conversations with the great filmmaker Charles Burnett, including one by yours truly. Longtime readers may recall that it originally appeared on this site about four years ago, right around the time that I began to focus my efforts more seriously on making films rather than writing about them. It was the last interview I ever did.

The book also includes pieces by Terrence Rafferty, Gerald Peary, Amy Taubin, David Kehr and others. Here's the publisher's description:

Charles Burnett (b. 1944) is a groundbreaking African American filmmaker and one of this country's finest directors, yet he remains largely unknown. His films, most notably Killer of Sheep (1977) and To Sleep with Anger (1990), are considered classics, yet few filmgoers have seen them or heard of Burnett. The interviews in this volume explore this paradox and collectively shed light on the work of a rare film master whose stories bring to the screen the texture and poetry of life in the black community.

And here's where you can get it, along with his masterpiece Killer Of Sheep.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:44 AM

April 2, 2011

Myles Brooks

I'm at the airport, getting ready to head straight to the second Pioneer screening in Dallas. The first was last night, and in spite of my absence, co-star Myles was on hand to walk the red carpet, do press, handle the Q&A and appear on the news:

The screening of St. Nick last night at the South Texas Cinematheque was lovely. Beautiful projection at the art museum, a large crowd of engaged audience members. I went out to breakfast this morning with my hosts and a woman approached me in the restaurant to say how much she appreciated the films, which is all I need to make these ventures more than worthwhile.

Posted by David Lowery at 6:19 PM