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By Admin | November 13, 2007

I’m not going to lie, hometown film festivals are more challenging than out-of-town fests. Why? For one, an out-of-town festival creates an almost Summer camp situation for a covering press team. We have a limited time in town, we have weird living arrangements and we have one focus, and one focus only: cover the film festival. Our normal lives are put on hold or forgotten, and we do what we left our homes to do.

Hometown festivals, however, include an entirely different set of obstacles. Whereas my morning should be concerned with what film I’m seeing, my decisions and thoughts are invaded by additional concerns such as cleaning the apartment, needing to go grocery shopping, making it to a non-fest related press screening. In other words, scattered focus.

To the AFI Film Festival’s credit, however, they make it easy to work with them and maintain focus. By setting up homebase at the Arclight Cinemas (arguably the best theater in Los Angeles) and never budging for 10 straight days, you’re able to climb into an almost out-of-town routine (because the Arclight is like a small cinema town unto itself). Between a lounge open almost all day (and offering coffee and Krispy Kreme donuts for the early screening audiences) and a comfortable rooftop village on the 7th floor of the Arclight’s parking structure where one can relax and talk to other press or filmmakers, it is an insular world amidst the normal hustle-and-bustle of LA.

Still, knowing the challenge, we at Film Threat assembled a larger team than most years and let them loose on the festival. Myself, Eric Campos, Sally and Niki Foster, Zack Haddad and Jamie Tipps were at the festival as often as life would allow, often missing each other by seconds as we crossed mid-screenings, and we soaked in all the 2007 AFI Film Festival had to offer… which included:

I’ve been an Arclight Cinema-goer ever since I moved to Los Angeles 6 years ago, and I’ve never seen the parking as unreal difficult as it was this year at the festival (kudos to the fest for packing in such an audience). 6 floors of the huge Arclight parking structure filled-up almost daily, making for some interesting pre-screening parking adventures. Whereas this could’ve been a huge disaster, the festival made sure to have additional parking partners ready in the surrounding area (CNN and House of Blues building, for example) to save those of us who may’ve been thinking that we could get to a movie at 7pm on a Friday by arriving at 6pm. So thank you, AFI, for the forward thinking.

“Confessions of a Superhero” played the festival, a film about those who stand outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Blvd. dressed as superheroes, and one of the stand-out stars of the film, Hell the main ambassador for the costumed-crew, was the man who portrayed Superman. The night the film premiered, Superman could be found shaking hands outside of the theater, upstairs at the village giving interviews and generally posing with any and everyone who asked. Then the next night he could be found drinking in the Cinema Lounge and smoking on the back “patio.” And then again the next night… and the next night… and the next night. I think I saw Superman more than anyone else at the festival, for good or bad. Nice guy, but I really wanted the final night of the festival to end with him winking at the crowd on the roof, and then flying away. I am glad he didn’t try though…

You can read my review of “Heckler” for my thoughts on the documentary itself, this is more an anecdote about the post-screening Q&A with director Michael Addis and star Jamie Kennedy. First, to set the stage, the “Heckler” screening I went to sold-out, and not only was it sold-out, it was filled with people from the film, mostly comedians or actors who have been on the sore end of the heckler / criticism sword. Since the film starts being about heckling and then segues into being about criticism and critics, being in a crowd that seemed to be taking immense glee in the evisceration of critics made me feel like I was getting kicked in the nuts repeatedly. Still, funny is funny and if this movie was a point-counterpoint on criticism, well, let it have its say. I wasn’t about to get involved.

Then the Q&A started, and someone asked what the critical response to the film had been thus far, and the director Addis stated that it was generally fair, though there were some reviewers that obviously didn’t “get it.” That’s when I decided against my non-involvement in the discussion.

For me, the defense of a critic “not getting it” is akin to a critic saying something “sucks” without offering anything to back it up. It’s a poor, if completely, nonexistent argument. They’re both dismissive, condescending and flawed as far as responses go and I was taken aback by the director of a film that actually questions such situations then going that route himself. So… I raised my hand and asked him what he meant about someone “not getting it.”

To Jamie Kennedy’s credit, he immediately agreed that the “get it” language was poor and he attempted to give a well-thought answer but Addis… I guess he wanted to get in a few jokes too (the film was definitely a comedic documentary) so when Kennedy started talking about criticism being no different whether you’re an artist, or a poet, or a chef cooking Papa John’s pizza, Addis said something along the lines of me being someone who obviously cooks and eats a lot of Papa John’s.

Really, a fat joke? I’m a big guy, I admit it, but… it was a cheap shot from a guy who just made a film pointing out how bad cheap shots are and it seemed like he wasn’t entirely aware himself of the film he had made, because his own post-screening demeanor did very little towards advancing any of the positive points he’d made. I reacted to the fat joke, questioning its originality, but then we all moved on, because Jamie Kennedy was actually making good points and seemed very interested in continuing the dialogue in an intelligent manner outside of making fun of one another. For that, Kennedy gained my utmost respect. Addis… well, he and I talked much later in the evening and whereas I can’t shake his demeanor post-screening, he seems much more together than I was initially ready to give him credit for.

The programming of this year’s festival was awesome, and I’m slowly starting to wonder if the solid programming slates over the course of 2007 are due to great programmers sifting through the piles more successfully than normal, or whether we’re in an era of indie or film festival circuit fare that is just that much better this year than in year’s past. I, again, did not see anything I thought was painfully awful and, if anything, saw lots of great potential that I’d hoped was perhaps taken a bit further.

But enough of my written gibberish, check out the pics from the festival in Part 2 of Film Threat’s 2007 AFI Film Festival Wrap-up>>>

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