Official Rejection • Saturday • 1:30 p.m. • Carver Theatre
Film festivals are fun for those of us who attend them, but they’re deadly serious for the people who made the films we’re watching. Director Paul Osborne’s documentary Official Rejection shows us what independent filmmakers go through after they make their films and try to sell them.
Seeking to jumpstart their careers, Osborne and his friend Scott Storm made an independent film called Ten ’Til Noon. The movie is a 90-minute thriller, the entire running time of which spans 11:50 a.m. to noon, showing us events in the film’s twist-filled plot from the vantages of several different characters.
After the guys made Ten ’Til Noon, they needed to get it distributed, and for that they needed film festivals. And what is a film festival, exactly? It can be a trade show, where potential buyers can view a product, as well as a way for filmmakers to expose their film to viewers and get feedback from them. But before a festival can serve any of those purposes, a film first has to get accepted to one.
We hear about how much independent films cost, but we never hear about how expensive it is to submit them to festivals. There is postage, entry fees, posters and fliers. One filmmaker said he spent more on entry fees than it cost to make his entire short film. And if the film gets accepted, you need to go there and promote it.
Osborne and Storm of course start with Sundance, the pinnacle of independent film festivals, but they’re rejected. Then come rejections from Slamdance, Cannes, South by Southwest, Tribeca, Cinevegas and tons of other major festivals. Acceptances from small festivals followed, and the guys spent almost a year of weekends on the festival circuit trying to sell their film and making friends with other filmmakers trying to do the same thing.
The film spends time detailing what is wrong with a lot of film festivals today (schmoozing festival runners can get you acceptances, then awards; Sundance is now a stooge of corporations, with little room left anymore for true independent films), but is more interesting when it shows what Osborne and Storm went through during their time on the festival circuit with Ten ’Til Noon. They took the film to whatever festivals would take it. They flew around the country, taking time off from their day jobs, sacrificing time with their families (saddest moment in the film: a sequence dealing with Osborne’s family life, immediately followed by the voiceover, “I am now divorced.”), and for a long time, nothing seemed to be happening.
But after all the toil, 14 festivals and nine awards, Osborne and Storm finally sold their film, getting a brief theatrical run and distribution on DVD. Besides being an interesting portrait of the side of film festivals we movie lovers don’t often think about, Official Rejection got me interested in seeing Ten ’Til Noon, but while there seems to be no screening of the film planned for Sidewalk, it is available at most non-Blockbuster video stores and from Netflix.
The Dungeon Masters • Sat. 6:15 p.m. • Alabama Power
Dungeons & Dragons has been popular since the 1970s, letting gamers go on adventures and campaigns as characters they design. Some of these games go on for years. Dungeon masters are the people who run the games. They lay out the world their group of players inhabits, and are the arbiters of what happens in those worlds. They can be benevolent rulers or capricious dictators. This new documentary, from director Kevin McAlester, explores the lives of some of these dungeon masters.
After spending a little time with the gamers in their preferred habitat, a sci-fi convention, the film splits off to follow three of the dungeon masters. Scott has tried a little bit of everything over the years, from hypnotherapy to puppet ministry. Now, he’s married with a child and working as an apartment manager. The movie follows him as he tries to write and publish a science-fiction novel, while also trying to launch a cable-access called Uncle Drak’s Magical Clubhouse, about a supervillain who comes to realize his real place in the world: as the host of a cable-access show.
Richard is a vaguely antisocial man who lives in Tacoma with his wife, who hates D&D. He used to live in Miami, and while DMing a game there, he decided to kill all the players, because he didn’t like what they were doing. He later moved away from Miami almost on a whim, barely saying goodbye to his family and friends. He seems to push people away almost reflexively, and then laments that he’s alone.
Leslie is a girl in her twenties living on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. At conventions, she dresses as a Dark Elf, meaning she paints herself entirely black and wears a white wig. In real life, she spends “pretty much every moment I’m not asleep online.” After having suffered through a terrible marriage, she is trying to find someone who appreciates her for who she is, and maybe wouldn’t mind painting himself black.
These profiles are all quite interesting, but I wanted a little more out of the film. I’ve seen the idea of role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons providing ways for shy people or outsiders to express themselves and connect with other people done better in other films, both fiction and documentary. I wanted a bit more depth from the film about its subjects, even about D&D itself, and how it became popular. But as it stands, The Dungeon Masters is still a very interesting film about three gamers.
We Live in Public • Sat 7:30 p.m. • McWane Science Center
Some people are cursed with being born before their time, but it doesn’t help if they’re also a little nuts. Director Ondi Timoner’s fascinating new documentary We Live in Public follows the life of Internet pioneer Josh Harris, who had a number of wildly innovative ideas but tempered them with his own special brand of eccentricity. As a child, Harris had a mother who found it difficult to demonstrate love, and a number of siblings who were several years older than him. He was parked in front of the TV for most of his childhood, and the most significant emotional relationship he developed was with Gilligan.
In 1984, Harris moved to New York, convinced that the fledgling Internet was where the future was going to happen. He founded Jupiter Communications Consulting, and created chat rooms for Prodigy, later selling them the chat platform he designed. After Jupiter went public, Harris became crazy rich, and started throwing crazy parties, explaining that he didn’t want to spend his fortune on something boring like houses or cars.
To that end, Harris started Pseudo.com, an interactive web TV site that Harris saw as a rival for the major television networks, with copious amounts of varied programming.
Harris left Pseudo in 1999 to start another “experiment.” Quiet was a sort of underground society in which dozens of people lived in a sort of capsule hotel beneath New York City. It was a cultlike, Orwellian, quasi-fascistic society in which membership meant that you gave up all rights to your image while there. Cameras were absolutely everywhere in Quiet, including the toilet and shower, and everything was recorded. “Citizens,” as they were called, were also required to undergo interrogation while in Quiet. As one might imagine, it started out beautifully, with all the participants’ needs taken care of, but the confinement, constant scrutiny and lack of privacy wore on people, until behavior became quite beastly. The cops shut down Quiet on Jan. 1, 2000, after being told it was a doomsday cult.
Harris’ next project was “We Live in Public,” in which cameras were installed in his house, and he and his girlfriend lived in constant public scrutiny. As with Quiet, this started out well, but ended with the experiment breaking up the couple. Harris had made the mistake of making himself the rat in the maze in this experiment, when he always loved being in control.
Harris’ various projects and eccentricities hemorrhaged money, and when the Dotcom Bubble burst, he was one of the people who lost everything. Recent years have found Harris running an apple farm and living in Ethiopia, hiding from creditors and serving as the CEO of the African Entertainment Network.
With the proliferation of Youtube and social networking sites, and the popularity of reality shows like Big Brother, it seems that a lot of Harris’ ideas about living in public are coming true these days. Unfortunately for him, after his initial success he could never quite shake his personal eccentricities enough to make money on these groundbreaking ideas.
We Fun • Sat. 9:30 p.m., McWane Science Center
In recent years, Atlanta has earned a reputation for having a great music scene, and the new documentary We Fun, from director Matthew Robison, dives headfirst into that scene. We see some great music from Atlanta bands such as the Subsonics, the Carbonas and the Selmanaires. There are a lot of different sounds in the scene. There’s a lot of punk rock, but it varies from dreamier stuff from a band like Deerhunter to surf-rock influenced stuff from King Khan and the Shrines and girl-punk groups like the Baby Shakes and the Coathangers.
The Black Lips are probably the most famous band to have come out of the Atlanta scene recently, along with the heavy-metal band Mastodon. A lot of the bands interviewed for the movie tell stories of the Black Lips’ early days, how they could barely put on a show without screaming at each other onstage or having some sort of calamity. There is a lot of thinly veiled astonishment from the interviewees that the Lips managed to break out.
We don’t really come to understand much about the Atlanta scene other than the obvious. There isn’t much depth to the movie, but the filmmakers don’t really mean for there to be. The Atlanta scene is described as mainly just having a “party atmosphere” (or “Athens minus the bullshit”), and that’s what we see. It’s said that none of the bands really expects to go anywhere, and we see them just having a good time on their own terms.
Much like its title, the film doesn’t feel quite complete (it only runs 65 minutes), but it has a lot of great music in it, and it’s a really fun documentary of this group of bands.