Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Debriefing: PolyCultures' world premiere at the 33rd CIFF

Well, we've had a week to relax, recover, and reflect on the premiere of PolyCultures at the Cleveland International Film Festival. I think overall we can say it was a big success! We went into it expecting to have two showings, and two more were added due to audience demand, in addition to a preview screening courtesy of Great Lakes Brewing Company. We didn't win the award we were up for, but we estimate 1000 people saw the movie in those five theaters.

It was an intense week for us! Tom and I were there before every showing coordinating technical aspects of the playback, and we joined Brad before and after each showing to introduce the movie and then answer any questions from the audience. Tom and I joined Pat Conway (co-owner of GLBC) and Maurice Small (City Fresh Action Hero) for a Film Forum after the official premiere on Wednesday, which was moderated by Dee Perry (WVIZ). That was fun (especially Pat's quip about the bottled water, "Why did they give us this light beer?"), as was the panel on editing a movie at CSU that I was honored to join. I say "honored" because I learned a ton from the veteran filmmakers who composed the rest of the panel... probably more than someone speaking on a panel should be learning ;-)

It was incredible talking with so many people about PolyCultures, seeing new faces and old. A huge group of my parents' friends, most of whom are long-time Clevelanders, came out on Wednesday night, and it was a unique feeling for me to share with them my present take on this region. I had entertaining and inspiring interactions with Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman (who's in the movie and a huge advocate of urban gardening) and Warren Taylor, self-described "Dairy Evangelist" and owner of Snowville Creamery near Athens, Ohio, which was sponsoring one of the showings and promoting all-natural milk.

I also got a chance to check out some great movies playing at the fest. Two really stood out: ...an Alternative to Slitting Your Wrist and Alexander the Last. Alternative is by Cleveland-native Owen Lowery, who stared down suicide and then spent a year doing all the things he always wanted to do with his life, regardless of how dangerous, silly, or emotionally painful they might be. I thought it was brilliantly edited and took an incredible amount of courage for him to put out there. To write Alexander, Joe Swanberg rented a one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment and brought the cast of eight to live there for a month and collaboratively improvise and write the script. Consequently, the acting is spot-on - it just feels incredibly real throughout. It's an exploration of fidelity in several types of relationships, and it was also was edited with a lot of style. I'm not sure at this stage in my film career I could earnestly call myself a colleague of theirs, but it was fantastic to see these young filmmakers (Owen is 26 and Joe is 27) doing such great work and being there to share it in person. Kudos, gents!

So, what kind of feedback did we get on PolyCultures? Well, overwhelmingly what we heard was positive... but of course it was a fairly choir-y audience, and anyway most people who don't like something probably choose not to risk an awkward interaction by expressing that to its creators. But we did solicit earnest feedback from a lot of people after the showings, and with the help of E4S's Lilia and Victoria we conducted some post-screening surveys - plus there are the reviews posted to the right. Basically, people thought it was well done and enjoyable, but they tended to feel it was a little too long... though most found it hard to say which parts should be cut. Some felt the narrative structure wasn't focused enough. Some felt the production values were kinda shoddy, which in some cases is plainly true, but we also had really bad audio issues to contend with in three of the showings, apparently due to blown speakers - so that was a bummer for everyone. Despite that, most people seemed to feel the main messages and the heart of the stories came through.

So, what's next? Well, I think we're going to give ourselves the month of April to revise the present cut and shorten it to 90 minutes (down from 100) - so if you saw it and you have any feedback you haven't had a chance to share, now is the time! We're working out a licensing structure, so the movie can essentially be rented by organizations who wish to show it publicly (such as non-profits with related causes) - more than a dozen have approached us about this so far, so that's encouraging. Also, this will enable schools and corporations to use it for educational purposes. We're going to create some packaging and make DVDs available for sale in the near future. We'll wait until we have the revised cut to distribute, so our goal is to have all these things available at the start of May - check back here for details. We also got some good recommendations on other film festivals to submit to, so that's in the works as well... hopefully we'll be able to travel to some to present the movie and garner national feedback. Also, there's interest in editing the movie down to an hour so it can be broadcast on TV (such as PBS), and that's something we'll probably consider down the road. So that's what's next for PolyCultures... we're also hoping to work with more food- and sustainability-oriented organizations on new projects as the growing season gets underway - let us know if you're interested!

It may sound cliché, but there would be no PolyCultures without the support of the community. Period. Thanks for reading and for being a part of this thing!

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