I wish I didn’t have to write this, which is to say, I wish what happened this evening had never happened, so that I wouldn’t be compelled to have to write this. Simply, heading home at 5pm later on today, the only thing I wanted to do Sunday night was reconnect with friends and say my goodbyes. Unfortunately, that will not be my lasting memory of this evening.
Tonight seemed like it would be like any other film festival evening. I made my way to the SAG Indie party at the Doublewide bar with John and Lauren from Gordon and the Whale, and much fun was had there. While I didn’t partake in the karaoke, I did, at “Bear Nation” director Malcolm Ingram’s urging, ride the mechanical bull… 3 times. I lasted only 5 seconds at my best time (and got ill, because the food at the party included fried mushrooms, fried chicken and fried Twinkies… yes, I had a fried Twinkie; two actually). Anyway, it was a fun party. Malcolm held court with the Gordon and the Whale gang at a table while I listened in, getting up to get more drinks or to chat with a friend, and everything seemed like the perfect evening. Until we decided to leave, and I suggested that Malcolm and I ride the waiting festival shuttle instead of taking Chase and John (again, Gordon and the Whale) up on their offer to give us a ride in their car. This was the decision that started the downward spiral.
In the shuttle were two British “gentlemen,” a festival advisory board member named Sherri Haskins, myself, Malcolm and our shuttle driver. As we pulled away from the Doublewide, the shuttle was already an obvious, loud affair. Drink had been had by all this evening, and that was apparent… but it didn’t excuse the one British guy from, when we stopped at a red light, calling our volunteer shuttle driver a “w***e” when she didn’t speed through said light. Malcolm and I got to chastising the guy for his behavior, and Malcolm was definitely the more incensed of the two of us, rightfully calling the British man out for being rude and disrespectful. Which is when Sherri got involved, reaching into the back seat to roughly grab Malcolm’s hand… which made a bad situation worse.
No one wants to be rudely touched, especially in a situation like this, and Malcolm told Sherri as much, asking her what she thought she was doing, grabbing him like that. She proceeded to inform him that he should shut up, or she’d have the shuttle driver pull over and kick Malcolm and I out, while the two British guys got into the active act of trying to instigate Malcolm into a fight. At one point, when we asked why she was defending the two guys who had just called the shuttle driver a “w***e,” she referred to them as very important men, filmmakers, and referred to herself as a “board of directors” member, who we should watch our mouth with. She also belligerently asked who Malcolm was, to which I informed her that he too was a filmmaker.
At this point, we had to be five minutes from the hotel, but it was getting uglier and uglier. Malcolm was now goading them to follow through with their instigation and start a fight proper, and the British guys were being increasingly obnoxious. At that point, all I could think about was this poor volunteer. She didn’t deserve to have her festival experience ruined by where this was going, she didn’t deserve the questions and s**t that would come afterward and she ultimately NEVER deserved being called a “w***e.” I decided to play peacemaker, doing my best to convince the shuttle to just shut up, period.
I pulled Sherri aside (which is odd, when you’re in a small shuttle), and asked her to control her guests, and perhaps we could get this situation under control. I talked to Malcolm and for a few seconds, we had total silence… until one of the British guys, again, started instigating Malcolm.
Luckily, at that point, we pulled into the hotel and Malcolm and I exited the shuttle while Sherri and her guests rode away. And thus began the loud and angry explanations of the evening to anyone who would listen. Ultimately festival staff member Lisa Stabler was pressed into duty as the one to sort all this out, and as she listened to Malcolm and my story, the shuttle pulled back up… with Sherri and British guys inside.
Malcolm rightly walked away, but the British guy in question, who called our driver a “w***e,” came up to apologize to me. when he did so, I informed him the apology was not to me, but that he should make it to our driver. He responded with a semi-drunk “but I never called you or your friend a w***e.” I countered with “Yeah, but you called the driver a w***e.” His response? “She is a w***e.”
I verbally ripped him a new one at that point, telling him that no one treats a volunteer that way, they do this for free, for the love of the community and film and THEY DO NOT DESERVE TO BE TREATED THAT WAY. He blew me off, and it was then I realized that justice, if any would be had, would have to come at the fingertips typing on this keyboard (as opposed to the clenched fist, though I was equally as prepared for that, had it gone that way). Sherri corralled the British guys, and as they walked in, hotel security got on their walkies to make sure nothing happened in the lobby (they had been listening to our story, and were sympathetic to our concerns for the volunteer and were also not happy). Simply, those two British guys s**t in the fan, and didn’t care where it went, didn’t care that it made the fest look bad, that it had bothered the hotel staff… and Sherri seemed content to defend them.
At that point, while Lisa continued to try to sort the situation out, Malcolm and I went up to the driver and apologized profusely for what happened, and for making the night so awful for her. She was strong, and said she just wanted the chance to defend herself for what they said, and that she had done so when we weren’t in the shuttle. I respected that, but she never should’ve needed to defend herself.
Malcolm and I went up to the lounge, and the situation continued to turn. Lisa talked to Malcolm and I, and while Malcolm seemed to calm down, I stuck to a feeling that had come up in the shuttle, which was that there was no way this night ended without me writing about this; without the truth being committed to the world for all to see. For justice for the volunteer.
And to the festival staff’s credit, despite knowing how this could tarnish the fest’s image, no one, save Malcolm in his more calm moments, tried to talk me out of writing this. It was understood that I had to, and that I, personally, did not see this as a reflection on the festival, or the people of Dallas, but of the behavior of Sherri and the two guys in the shuttle.
But was the evening over? No. As Malcolm and I began to leave the lounge, more content than we were when we came in, the “w***e”-calling British guy showed up out of nowhere and tried to apologize to Malcolm… which just ignited the powder keg AGAIN (as anyone who talked to Malcolm in the hotel lobby can attest; he was hurt that those people were “rewarded” for being rude by being allowed in the lounge, when he was under the impression their behavior, as admonished by most we talked to, was not going to be accepted any more).
To that end, why was this guy up in the lounge? While I understand, from what I saw, that Lisa was put into duty, this time as handler for British guys and Sherri in the lounge, I didn’t understand why any of them were allowed up there. Forget how the evening went, why couldn’t folks just see that a volunteer was wronged and that THAT was what this was all about? And why was Sherri still defending the British guys (which she did when she came up to talk to me in the lounge) when they had been so rude to the driver. I asked her, point blank, how she felt, as a woman, hearing a guy call another woman a “w***e”? I never got a good answer.
In the end, I still love this festival. James Faust, Sarah Harris, Michael Cain, John Wildman… they do a great job, and it hurts my heart to have to write something so critical of an event at their festival when I know they had nothing to do with it, nor would they ever wish anything like this ever happening. I respect and appreciate the staff, the volunteers… I know how hard putting on a festival is (I worked with Slamdance for 3 years) but… that shuttle driver did not deserve to be treated the way she was treated, and I can’t pretend it didn’t happen, or that I wouldn’t write about it. I fought with naming Sherri or keeping her anonymous, but her continued defense of the offending British guys (whose names I never did get) led me to believe that she didn’t quite get what the real offense was, and by not naming her I’d be letting her off the hook. To her credit, she did try to diffuse the shuttle situation after I talked with her, but to her discredit she never seemed to understand why it all began in the first place.
Oh, the British guys? Apparently potential sponsors, but hopefully no more. Does the Dallas Film Festival need their money, if this is how they behave? If the answer is “yes,” then my opinion of the festival is wrong, because I hope and truly believe, in my heart of hearts, that the festival will do the right thing and get rid of those two men.
Tonight was ugly; single-handedly the WORST experience I’ve ever been involved in at a festival. I apologize, again, to the shuttle driver for this evening, and to all volunteers who have felt s**t on or disrespected at this festival or any other festival by so-called “industry professionals,” be they staff, press or sponsors. Next to films, volunteers are the most important component of a film festival, and they deserve our appreciation and respect at every turn.