It’s a film festival. Not a bar. But some people… you know how it is?
If you love short films, this is an amazing banquet of talent. If you love parties, there’s one every single night. If you want to network, there’s plenty of that too, but maybe during another film’s screening isn’t the best time?
Call me weird, but I’m one of those people who doesn’t go to the movies to listen to other people’s conversations. In fact I dislike listening to them so much that I almost never go with anyone to movies, in case they try to talk to me during the film.
So I am at the Palm Springs International Shortsfest. I decided to attend, to check out what made it in, since they are only 2 hours from LA and have swimming pools and really cheap hotels. And I’m glad I did. One of the best shorts I’ve seen is a really touching documentary called, Joanna, a Polish film directed by Aneta Kopacz , about a woman with cancer’s long farewell to her boy, and his to her. Sounds more depressing than it is – it’s actually very life affirming. I loved the film, but I kept getting taken out of it because, behind me, two old men were having an ongoing conversation.
I am guessing from the tone that their conversation wasn’t even about the movie. It seemed tedious. Maybe they were recommending each other golf courses, or plastic surgeons, or retirement villages. All I know is that they were ruining the film for everybody around them, and they didn’t care. In fact, they seemed to be having fun doing it.
You all know how it goes – there’s a hierarchy of ways to get people to shut the hell up during films. I and others tried them all.
Tactic 1 – Turn and look: This, they noticed, but completely ignored.
Tactic 2 – Turn and stare: This time, I did it for longer, and received a smirk in response. I wasn’t the only one, but they seemed to be enjoying the attention they got!
Tactic 3 – Turn, look and “Shhhht”!: This wasn’t me. The woman behind me cracked first. This caused them to laugh and keep talking.
Tactic 4 – Polite desperation: “Can you be quiet, please or go outside, guys?” This was me. The response was to first drop to a quieter voice, and gradually increase in volume until the end of the film.
As the titles rolled, I attempted tactic 5.
Tactic 5 – Public shaming part I: “Would you guys not start another conversation, please?” This really amused them, and a few people around me agreed with me. The old boys laughed mockingly, but shut up for the remainder of the screening.
Unfortunately, the best film had already been ruined. The others were mostly interesting – the best of the rest being the Lion’s Mouth Opens, which I’d already seen at Sundance. Only one film felt like it didn’t belong – a 17-minute-long schmooze-fest about a local celeb photographer called Michael Childers, who while worth honoring has to be the only reason they programmed the ‘radio with pictures’ documentary full of shots of the interviewer grinning at Childers and Childers talking about how famous he and his friends are. Local is lekker, as we say in South Africa. But this film stood out by not fitting into the line-up except to get local bums on seats. I watched in silence, distracting myself by hoping that the two noisy old guys would leave before the Q&A so that I wouldn’t have to see their smug faces again.
And what do you know? Not only did they not have the sense to leave, but when the presenter asked, at the end of the screening, for all those involved in all the films and present to stand, the two old men who’d been talking through vastly superior films by fellow film-makers stood to celebrate their achievement in Michael Childers: Hollywood in the Desert Sky. I don’t know what their role was. All I know is that I couldn’t believe they had the gonads to identify themselves.
So this was when I had to raise my hand and out them for their rudeness to the entire theater. Ordinary rich trash out for a bit of culture after too many mimosas at breakfast? No problem. Idiocy is expected. But going to a film festival as a filmmaker and then disrupting another artist’s screening to a paying audience has to be the most disrespectful, and amateurish thing you can do. This would have been a good time for them to apologize.
But their response to me and others who vocally supported me? A sarcastic comment: “Ooooh. Such a purist”.
I had to leave, because staying there would have driven me insane. Yes, I’m a purist. I love movies. I won’t apologize for this, and I paid #12 for my ticket and came all the way to Palm Springs. I don’t care who you think you are or if you’re famous in Palm Springs – you simply have no right to ruin another filmmaker’s screening for me.
I hoped for a chance to see Joanna again without them there, but sadly, it only screened once. Look out for it at other festivals. Even disruptive chatter didn’t prevent it moving me to tears and laughter and I know it’ll be showing all over the world this year.
Michael Childers: Hollywood Under a Desert Sky