EDITORIAL UPDATE: After a productive and appreciated conversation this afternoon with Los Angeles Film Festival Director Rich Raddon, Zack Haddad has been officially accredited. Film Threat will not be covering or giving the festival any general event press, in keeping with our protest of the way we were treated, but we will be on-hand throughout to give the films and filmmakers their proper due and review. Additionally, after the festival, Film Threat will work with LAFF towards improving the event and press relations overall. The original article remains below, moving on:
“I say to all of you, I have been treated this day, with no respect.” – The Godfather III
Our job here at Film Threat is a relatively straightforward one. Watch tons of movies, indie and mainstream alike, and let people know what we think of them. Our words can both help or hinder, but in the cases of truly independent film, reviews like ours may be some of the only words ever written about a film. That is why film festivals are such a big part of our year, as that is where, if we want to see these indies with an audience or truly interact with the filmmakers, we have to go.
We don’t ask for much of a film festival, just the opportunity to do our jobs. Some festivals, like the recent CineVegas Film Festival or the SXSW Film Festival, get that. They know we’re there to see movies, they know we’re there to give filmmakers the attention they deserve and they LET US DO OUR JOB. They make sure our writers are accredited; they make sure we get access to screenings or screeners and by doing so we are able to do the bang-up festival coverage we’re capable of.
Other festivals are like micromanaging office tyrants. Hmmmm, want to see that movie? Yes, you need Press Pass Blue P, stamped by John, who’s not here right now. Oh, right, interview a filmmaker? Yeah, sorry, he’s in the gift suite right now and you’re not someone we allow near filmmakers. It is in this lesser category that the Los Angeles Film Festival falls.
You’d think the Los Angeles Film Festival would be a slam dunk for us. We’ve got a number of local writers ready to go, headquarters is here in LA, pretty much all we have to do is leave our house or apartments and we’re at a screening. And yet, each year is a complete hassle for us to cover the festival. Why? Because there has not been one visit to the LAFF press office that hasn’t resulted in some issue. I should’ve known better too, because during my days at the 2007 CineVegas last week I had a number of conversations with other outlets’ writers (and a few publicists) about how poorly they were being treated by the LAFF press office already. Still, hope, maybe this was our year to have a smooth press office experience.
Not so. After two days of gibberish that’s best left to a technical manual on “he said, she said” arguing then recounted blow-by-blow here, the basic breakdown is this: we were given one fewer press pass than assigned writers (it happens). One of those writers was Zack Haddad, and when I requested that he definitely get one of the press passes, he was accredited… and then the next day said accreditation was pulled from him.
Now, sometimes I think the world has it in for my buddy Zack. Having the last name “Haddad” means every trip to the airport is met with obnoxious, intrusive and unnecessary security checks. You’d think he’d get a break when it came to a film festival, but once again it’s “uh, we don’t think so” for poor Zack. But why? Why turn down a writer, hand-picked by myself to cover the festival with all the gusto with which he covered AFI and Sundance, especially after you already said “yes”? It’s disrespectful to Zack, disrespectful to Film Threat and, I’ll say it, disrespectful to me (because you’re saying “hey, you don’t know your job well enough to assign a quality writer so we’ll pick one for you and you’re going to let us.”)
I like to think of myself as an easy guy to deal with. My history with the Seattle International and Slamdance film festivals makes me extremely respectful of the insanity that goes into pulling off a successful fest. At the same time, that bit of insider knowledge also means that you can’t pull bullshit with me, because I know how a film festival works. Unfortunately, this was bullshit. Chandan Kaur, head of publicity for LAFF, explained the situation to me that she could not accredit Zack, because, she said, she can’t accredit an intern.
Because of an out-dated staff listing on our site, written a month after Zack joined Film Threat almost a year ago, she was denying him the press pass. Despite my explanation that he wasn’t an intern, that the listing was out-dated (and has since been fixed) and that he was a writer who had covered festivals and press screenings like a champ for us, she wouldn’t budge. Said it wouldn’t look good to all the publicists or other press outlets she denied if they checked up on Zack and saw he was an intern (he’s not) when she had turned away their “real” writers.
Here’s where I call bullshit. If Zack had never written a word for our site, and she pulled this rationale, you get no argument from me. Had it not been the Editor-in-Chief of Film Threat talking to her about who he had chosen to cover the festival, you’d get no argument from me. Had the SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL (huh, heard of that, it’s kind of a big deal) not given Zack a press credential, you’d get no argument from me. The reality is that, publicist-wise, more people in Los Angeles know Zack’s name from press screenings as a Film Threat writer then they ever knew of him as an intern. Press-wise? Listen, I’ll put Film Threat’s 22 years of covering independent film and filmmakers against anyone that wants to complain about us getting a pass, and if that other outlet has done more than we have, well, Hell, give them whatever they want. I’ll campaign for them too, brothers-in-arms, because we all know this limited pass nonsense for established outlets is a joke. It’s not like every press pass holder from every outlet attends every movie at the same time. If you think the press will outnumber the paying festival-goers, hold press screenings like Sundance, keep us separate.
Unfortunately, for whatever reason, there was just no way in Hell Chandan was going to let Zack have a pass. So I had a decision to make. Without Zack covering as planned, the coverage wouldn’t be as complete, period. On top of that, why is every year such a ridiculous hassle with this festival!?! Is it worth it for us to jump through hoops just so they can act like we didn’t cover them when next year comes around? And what about next year, are they going to tell me after I fill out all the paperwork that I can have a pass, but not for anyone I assigned to the festival? WHAT IS THE POINT!?!
Screw it, I’d rather not cover the 2007 Los Angeles Film Festival at all then bow down to some silly “yes-no” flip-flop bullshit decision in the press office. If we’re so dispensable, then they can go without our coverage. Any non-profit corporation that can afford to pay their executive director Dawn Hudson $265,000 a year is obviously too big to care about the independent voice in film criticism anyway. Think about it, if they’re so concerned about independent film and the independent filmmaker as they claim to be, we’d be hearing a lot more about the other films playing the festival as opposed to “The Transformers” premiere (which is taking up 4 theaters and denying some film a screening time). Los Angeles Film Festival, Congrats! You’ve truly gone LA!
To the filmmakers with films in the 2007 Los Angeles Film Festival, this is not about you, and the last thing we want to do is hurt you. Therefore, if you’ve got screeners of your film and want it reviewed, send it in to us and we’ll take care of you. If you really want us to see your film with an audience at the festival, hook us up with hard tickets, we won’t be attending the festival or utilizing our passes in any way otherwise. And if you think it’s bullshit that Zack got the shaft, that we get hassled by our home festival every year, let the press office know that you want Film Threat there to cover. Because they could give a s**t about any of us, and it ultimately only ever hurts you.
– Mark Bell, Editor-in-Protest