I frequently say that each film festival usually has one happy moment for me, personally. Sometimes they are obvious ones that align with a lot of other people. A rare appearance by a filmmaker or a moment where a filmmaker entertainingly reveals something about themselves or shares a moment with the audience that is special to everyone “in the room,” and if you weren’t there, then you just missed out – it’s something like that.
But more often than not, it’s just something that would only be special to me, or that literally only happened with/to me. And that is exactly what happened on Opening Night at the Dallas International Film Festival. We were screening BONNIE AND CLYDE to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the film and as part of that celebration, we were also honoring Faye Dunaway with our Dallas Star Award.
The previous evening, we had honored another Academy Award-winner, Robert Benton, with the Dallas Star Award, as the honored guest at our Art of Film event. He, of course, co-wrote the script for BONNIE AND CLYDE, and Faye had attended that event as well to say a few words on behalf of the man that was partially responsible for the script that essentially made her a major international star.
Now, one of my jobs with the consulting and press and PR that I do for film festivals, is to reach out to the people responsible for the the people we want to honor or bring in as special guests in order to convince them that they should come out and attend the film festival. And let me tell you, it is very hard to convince a famous director or movie star, etc. to leave their home in New York City or Beverly Hills or wherever to come spend a couple days at a film festival in Oxford, Mississippi, or Wichita, Kansas, or Birmingham, Alabama, or Dallas, Texas, so they can have film fans make a big deal over them, talk about a film or films they made 10 or 20 years ago, and receive a cool award and endless praise. It’s even harder to convince a personal publicist, or agent, or manager.
Unless you are paying them to come.
Or they can exploit it for other reasons.
But we were able to convince Faye Dunaway to come to Dallas. Academy Award winner. Fashion Icon. Film Legend.
It was a big deal. Very important, and the kind of “get” that separates the Dallas International Film Festival from another fest in town that is determined to try to fuel some kind of silly grudge-match competition between fests like a mean girl shouting insults in a school hallway long after all the other kids had left to watch movies over at the nice kid’s house because they welcome everyone – even the geeks and nerds.
Anyway, I spoke with Faye a few times on the phone once she arrived as she thought out and planned out and did her homework for her two appearances. What should she talk about? What should she wear? She bounced ideas off me. Talked about the competition for that coveted Bonnie Parker role, etc. That stuff is always fun for me. And it always happens with stars of that stature that want to get into it personally and not hand it off to a personal PR rep. We had another star at DIFF this year who would only talk to one crew on the red carpet because “my publicist told me that’s all I should do.” Which was too bad for that person. They missed out on both a greater experience for themselves and they also missed out on an opportunity to create a lot of brand new loyal fans.
And I get it. If you don’t live here, then Dallas (or more so, Texas) can be scary territory coming in. Politically, this is not perceived as a welcome place unless you believe in one religion, one color, archaic gender roles, and a gun philosophy hearkening back to the Old West. That’s the perception still, to a lot of people outside of our city and state, and with the politicians killing film incentives because they literally can’t do math and apparently are job-killing religious zealots to boot, and with a Governor and an Attorney General that are as anti-woman and anti-LGBTQ as one can get, well, the Dallas International Film Festival is continually fighting the battle to introduce the rest of the country to a “different Texas.”
And largely, personal publicists don’t want to send their clients to a fest or event when they can’t be there personally, and they sure as hell don’t want to come either. So, it’s not an easy sell. Fortunately, Faye was a friend of a friend (that she trusted and that trusted me), and now she was here – entrusted to my care.
The Art of Film event went about as well as those events can go. Gary Cogill moderated the conversation with Benton about his career and specifically, BONNIE AND CLYDE. They both said warm and wonderful things about Faye. Sitting next to her near the stage, she was clearly moved they would make a point to do that on Bob’s night. And she genuinely enjoyed herself. Having worked in personal PR, film and film festivals (AFI and Lincoln Center included), you know when you are in the midst of a performance or when someone like Faye has decided to actually join you for the night, if you know what I mean. And she was as present as you could be.
The next night was Opening Night AND it was the night for Faye’s award presentation and conversation about her career with Variety’s (and noted film encyclopedia) Joe Leydon.
And she was nervous. That might be hard to imagine if you are you or me, and then again, maybe not. But we talked a couple more times on the phone about when she should arrive for the red carpet, where she should sit onstage for the “conversation,” etc. She got there and was patient – who could imagine that? – as I took some time to clear the carpet for her and then Robert Benton so we could get nice photos of her and the two of them together. Then, she did some interviews (mind you she had also done interviews on the red carpet the night before – thankfully, no personal rep was around to try and convince her otherwise) before she went backstage to the holding area to wait for her introduction.
After I wrapped the red carpet, I went back to check on her and as the time for her introduction grew closer, she had a moment of tension and I helped manage it and take care of a couple requests for her quickly, so she could focus and relax just a little bit. When the time came, I escorted her backstage and we watched her clip reel. She turned to me after the famous board room scene in MOMMIE DEAREST and said, “I can’t believe they didn’t include the end.” (“Don’t fuck with me, fellas!”) Then, Joe welcomed her onstage and they talked. And she was into the conversation so much that as he began to wrap things up, she volunteered to stay and talk some more. I mean, “what about NETWORK?,” she would ask later. “Don’t people want to talk about that one?” Seriously, how often does that happen? – that a star says, “Let’s keep going with this. I’m not on the clock.” Answer: Almost never.
Afterward, we walked backstage to the holding area where her guest hosts, the amazing Laurie Duncan and Stacy Girard were waiting. We were all saying our goodbyes when Faye turned to me and said she’d like to watch the first few scenes of the film before she left. Sure, why not? So, all three of us slipped in a side entrance and found some empty seats. I sat in front of Faye, with Laurie and Stacy sitting close by, as well.
And this is when it happened…
We stayed and watched the entire film.
Occasionally, Faye would lean over to me, lightly tap me on the shoulder and say, “that was a great scene.” When the sequence with Gene Wilder happened, it was, “He was so funny.” Same thing with Michael J. Pollard. And so on… I watched BONNIE AND CLYDE with Faye Dunaway. And with Faye Dunaway providing commentary every once and awhile.
That was a moment. That was my happy moment for the fest and it took place on Opening Night.
So what happened after that. Was it just a downhill slog for the next week and a half? Hardly.
Here are the runner ups:
The panel discussing the films of 1967
Joe Leydon and the Dallas Morning News’s Chris Vognar were set to discuss the films of 1967 as part of the theme that Artistic Director James Faust had come up with for this year’s DIFF. Routinely, I will moderate a couple panels, but that didn’t happen this year, so James asked me if I would be interested in joining this one and I jumped at it – maybe a touch too eagerly. One, I just think those guys are smart. They know their stuff backwards and forwards, so being onstage with them to talk and discuss film… Reservation for 3, please! I mean, seriously.
Of course, I then, lame as can be, arrive 30 minutes late as I had convinced myself of the wrong time, and promptly started stirring things up introducing the topic of a foreign film of that year that I wanted to discuss (BELLE DE JOUR). Joe thought I said the “porn” films of that year, which would have REALLY livened things up. Anyway, I got 30 minutes of fun film talk in with those guys and that is always a happy moment.
Moderating the GOOK Q&A with producer Alex Chi.
When I am a fan of a film and a filmmaker – then I. AM. A. FAN.
And I really, really like Justin Chon’s film, GOOK. Saw it at Sundance, loved it, interviewed him for the Daily Buzz NPR radio show, and sang the praises of the film to anyone that would listen. So, it was a no-brainer that this film was assigned to me to moderate the Q&A.
Alex Chi, the film’s producer, was open, engaging, funny, and frankly, was a wealth of information (as I had hoped) on what it took to make the film. Raising money, dealing with crises on set, making what is a sublime piece of art as well as a searing and effective drama for damn near no money at all. I think he had a lot of his family there as well, and going beyond introducing a film to a brand new audience and couching what they just saw afterward to complete the experience for them, there are few things I enjoy more than bragging about someone’s talent or good work in front of them to people that care about that person. That is just so much icing on the cake for me.
Moderating the Q&A/Conversation on Film with Judge Reinhold
I was excited to talk to Judge Reinhold the same way I get excited to talk to anyone that has had the film credits someone like him has, worked with different people I think we are all curious about, and been in positions and life experience due to his involvement with cultural zeitgeist films we all know and am very familiar with, if not outright love.
And he was game for a wide-ranging talk going through his impressive filmography. You can’t always count on that. Now, mind you, I am loath to dredge up tired, over-discussed (in my opinion) territory. However, we all have questions about what it must have been like to be a part of a film like FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH that went on to become a generational and cultural touchstone, or a certifiable big-studio franchise like BEVERLY HILLS COP, or even a film like VICE VERSA that was part of a studio competition of films with similar stories being rushed through production to beat the others to the finish line.
What was surprising (to someone that hadn’t been a Judge Reinhold aficionado going in) is that Judge was/is one of those actors that was clued in to the business side of things, the politics of Hollywood, and studios, and deal-making and breaking. So, he had insight and an opinion about everything that transpired and affected both the films he was a part of as well as himself, personally. The people that attended the screening of DADDY’S DYIN… WHO’S GOT THE WILL? got a fun and very informative peek behind the curtain that I am absolutely sure they were not expecting to receive.
The other great thing about Judge Reinhold is that he relishes the idea of teaching young aspiring filmmakers, of sharing what knowledge he has. As he puts it, he likes the idea of helping them pack their parachute before they jump out of the plane. More fests and schools should take him up on on that, because he’s jumped out of some very lofty planes.
Moderating the Q&A/Conversation on Film with Zoey Deutch and Ry Russo Young
Normally, a conversation with an honoree is going to be a career retrospective thing – going through the filmography and exploring how that person got to where they are and achieved and accomplished what they had to that point which inspired the film festival or organization to give them an award. However, here there were two things that made this one a different animal. One, Zoey Deutch was our Shining Star Award honoree which is routinely someone younger and at the early ascendance of their “star.” Therefore, this would be less a conversation of a career that was, and more a conversation of, “What’s it like to be at this point?,” “How did you get here?,” and, “What comes next?” That sort of thing.
Second, we had the good fortune of having Ry Russo Young, the director of Zoey’s film BEFORE I FALL, make the trip to Dallas to present the award to her, as well as be on hand for the conversation following the screening of their film. Therefore, I had two very talented young women that had already accomplished quite a bit in their young careers, and had gone through the fire together in order to make this film.
I pride myself on helping to build a bridge between my Q&A subjects and interview partners and audiences, utilizing what information, experience, and insight I might have to add some context to the interviews, help paint the picture, or at least lead the interview subject down a less worn path.
At least that’s the grand, diabolical plan. And the fervent hope.
And here, I could give them a forum to talk about their careers through the prism of being young women with ambition (which Zoey had discussed in previous interviews), and dig into the real application of support they gave each other throughout the making of BEFORE I FALL, among other subjects.
It was a fun, lively, discussion, but here is the best part: The Dallas Film Audience.
Oftentimes, I travel to other festivals, other cities and states, and even other countries, and I tell people that the most engaged, informed, curious film audiences are in Dallas. Now, the audiences in the other cities that host the other film festivals I work for are each great in their own unique ways, but Dallas audiences bring something else to the table. It goes beyond being a fan of cinema and segues into being students of film. You can argue that the Lincoln Center audiences are as savvy as they come, but they can also lean toward the jaded “seen it, been there” response that you’ll never get in Dallas.
And here again, the audience “brought it” with great questions, fun questions, questions that forced our guests to think a little bit and set aside canned responses.
It was one of those moments that truly makes me happy and validates me going to those personal publicists in New York and L.A., and telling them they should send their filmmakers and movie stars to the Dallas International Film Festival, because the audiences can not be beat. Except now, I can also add that they should also encourage them to talk to every single video crew on the red carpet, as well.
Those were my personal “happy moments” at DIFF 2017.