Georgia’s Own Sundance?

I got home last night about 3:00 am. I had spent the day in Rome, GA, at the Rome International Film Festival. Although the festival had started in Dahlonega a couple of years prior, this was the first year in Rome. If my take is any indication, this will be the first of many years in Rome and could be the beginning of a new national institution.

The film makers, directors, producers and actors, came from all over. And they’re serious artists. If you missed this festival, read it & weep. Looking over the films I missed, I was in a serious funk today. Why didn’t I go for all three days? Next year I will. Actually, I’ll stay in Rome, because the films go on to 2 – 3 am each night. There are over 100 films shown in 4 different Rome theatres. Jake Jacobson, who organized the festival has done a monumental job bringing together some of the finest independent film talent on the planet. He looked at over 300 top entries and settled for the hundred that appeared at the festival. Directors and producers where in the audience for most of the films and chatted with the audience before and after each showing.

Some highlights for me: “All or Nothing”, directed by Gabrielle Bloch. The director, fresh out of film school, travels to Moscow to do a documentary on the new Russia. She stayed with her father, an early geek type who worked for companies like Kodak and IBM. He had gotten the opportunity to design and implement computer networking systems in the new Russia. When we see him in the film, he’s become a superstar in Russia, a VIP with wealth, luxury apartment, and a full blown mid-life crisis that takes him to karaoke and disco clubs every night. In the film, it quickly seems doubtful that he’s in any hurry to get back to his wife and family in the States, even though his three year contract was supposed to be up shortly. Bloch combines the comedy of Dad’s Mid-Life Crisis with everyday encounters with real Russians on the Moscow streets. There’s the gypsy kid who somehow is always on the sidewalk in her path crawling for food. He grabs her legs and nearly pulls off her pants daily to induce the guilt that nets him a few rubles. As she passes by you see him giving the money to his family amid high fives and laughter. There’s the sandwich vendor who cusses Gabrielle out because she doesn’t have correct change in a reverse sign of the New Russian capitalism: “the customer is always wrong”.

At the end, Dad does make it back to New York, and was present with his daughter, the director, at the screening in Rome. He not only produced her film, but set up a private party at the Havana Cigar Emporium later that night. The party was quite interesting, complete with a three piece jazz band (which was playing some pretty good music). At one point the music changed drastically to some sleezy song you’d hear at a wedding reception in the seventies. A singer was doing something like “you light up my life” or “the most beautiful girl in the world. Sure enough, it was the Dad, doing his karaoke thing and beaming in the attention. We applauded wildly.

Another film, which I had heard was a short, and who’s title I forget, was seeming like anything but a short after an hour or so. It was about nuclear contamination in New Mexico from the atomic bomb tests of the fifties and uranium mining. It was about how the federal government has basically said, “go fxxx yourself” when asked about cleaning it up. I feel bad panning this film because the subject matter is so serious. The research done by the director and her team was exhaustive. But at a film festival, after an hour of depressing news about one of my favorite spots in the US, we were exhausted ourselves. We sent a scout next door to where they were showing “Bluegrass Journey”. The scout came back with frantic news: “Hurry before it’s over!!”. The theatre showing Bluegrass Journey was packed, but we found some seats up front. Since I live almost in “Bluegrass Country”, I initially dismissed wanting to see this film figuring it would be some kind of homegrown-not-real-professional thing. Wrong. Not only was the cinematography incredible, but the sound was too. It covered various bluegrass festivals, held in hotels and outdoors, where hundreds of musicians come together to jam. They jam everywhere; in buses, in hotel rooms, in the hallways between hotel rooms…..And the music is unbelievable. You don’t have to be a bluegrass fan to go nuts over this film. I could’ve watched for hours, but we only caught the 20 minutes at the end.

Another film I saw, Finding Home, was easily the slickest and most “Hollywood-looking” of the few films I saw. That makes sense because the director is from Hollywood and was past known for such masterpieces at “Don’t go Near the Park”, “Malibu High” and “Young Warriers”. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of them. According the the director, they were a series of bad action or horror films. He had an awakening when his wife and partner developed a brain tumor, and asked himself if, when his life was over, he wanted to be known for bad action films, or for trying to create art. In the end, his wife recovered, and the re-energized duo has gone about trying to create art.

They succeeded with “Finding Home”, a story about a young woman facing the dark parts of her childhood, filmed at an island off the Maine coast. The cinematography was breathtaking, the soundtrack was breathtaking, and the film itself was very well done. As art, I’d give it a resounding “Great First Try”. This pair is on the right track, and I look forward to their future projects.

Okay, so all and all? I didn’t want to drive home. And I’m pissed about all the films I missed. That won’t happen next year, when I camp out in some cheap Rome motel and do the whole festival. Way to go Georgia!