A big week for coming up for film screenings.
One other person read my book of poetry, The Family China, and gave it a generous review in Canadian Literature. Leah liked how the “jagged seams” are exposed, the words picked clean, and narrative smashed and reassembled in challenging new ways.” Thank you Leah for your reading it ; ) and for your incisive review… if you’re interested in reading her review you can click here for the entire piece.
I’m very excited about two huge launches for my latest documentary project, ‘My Enemy, My Brother’ today.
You can now watch the short film here, courtesy of The New York Times Opinion Op-Docs. The short has premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival, and the upcoming Sheffield Doc/Fest, and I’m very excited to share it with everyone.
Additionally, the open forum web series has now launched at myenemymybrother.com. I’ll be sharing the latest footage from ongoing film shoots, as well as taking you behind the scenes, where you are invited to join the conversation and tell your stories.
Going forward to finish the feature film, we hope to raise $25,000 in order to return to Iraq with Najah as he searches for his missing wife and son. Check out the Indiegogo here. Any dollar you can spare towards this film will go a long way and will be greatly appreciated!
I’m looking forward to speaking at the Pages Unbound festival tonight at 7:00pm at the Randolph Theatre. NOW Magazine‘s Susan G. Cole will be moderating the panel that’s part of the ‘Storytellers: Literature and Film’ program. I’ll be speaking alongside Martyn Burke, and Mike Hoolboom and can’t wait to see their work. More on the event here.
A wonderful piece in Maclean’s by Nancy Macdonald about Najah Aboud and Zahed Haftlang, the two men featured in My Enemy, My Brother, my current documentary film which recently premiered at Hot Docs and the Tribeca Film Festival.
Bad things happen to you when you show up for a festival without having read the emails the festival organizers sent you, without having booked a hotel, or printed out your schedule, or even drawn up a schedule really. If for some reason you’re ever this disorganized (which I’m usually not, not ever, really) then you might end up at a reception desk hearing that your hotel room bathroom is ‘down the hall,’ which is like hearing ‘there’s no elevator’ or ‘our coffee machine is broken.’ There’s only 2 ways to react: freak out on everyone and everything right on up to senior management; or, quietly think you misheard the nice gentleman and hope for the best.
I hoped for the best when I checked into one of the Tribeca Film Festival recommended hotels: The Jane. It looked cool, and I had convinced my writer friend Anar Ali to come along – we’d share a room, we’d have a lot of fun, and my co-producer Melanie Horkan from Australia was already checked in there.
The hotel was quaint alright, like walking into the Grand Budapest Hotel – which in our minds was a good thing.
It was not at all digital, and not great with numbers, but had a really nice personality.
And we loved the stuffed peacocks perched on the walls, the chandeliers, the grand fusty, dusty, velvety ballroom.
Things took a turn for the worse though when we walked into our room, well, poked our heads in because we couldn’t fit much more. Maybe I have a Big Head, or maybe it was a Small Room. Or maybe it was the Tiniest Room in the Universe. I couldn’t believe how puny the place was, I had to send a selfie to 100 people including my Jewish Prince husband who texted back “I thought you said the room was 3′x10′ not 2’x10’.”
That’s us. (Even traumatized, people will smile for a camera, fact.) Anar and I were like, ‘Okay, so we’re here. Let’s dump our stuff for now and figure things out later, right?’ We threw out the garbage bin (took up too much floor space) and stacked our suitcases, bags, jackets and towels and my 5 pairs of shoes around the perimeter (the room was only perimeter, all margin… as kids of immigrants we fit right in as we’re used to marginalization, at least we weren’t in a boat.) Before our stacked luggage could fall on us we slammed the door on the so-called ‘room’ and fled.
We had to register at the festival, get our lanyards, meet with Melanie, figure out what we were doing next. I had secured us all tickets to see James Franco’s new film, Adderall Diaries (based on a best-selling memoir) because Melanie and I are developing a doc called Smart Drugs – about cognitive enhancement drugs like Adderall or Modafinil which supposedly help you concentrate and improve your memory, etc. They’re widely used these days and we wanted to explore the pros and cons, and delve into the culture of bio-hacking. So basically we were going to attend the premiere of James Franco’s new film for research, not because we wanted to Instagram selfies of ourselves with James, or to cop a feel or shit like that.
We all ended up meeting up at the filmmakers’ lounge at Tribeca Institute, and though none of us really drink gin, Bombay Sapphire was the sponsor that night, so by the fourth double Gin Collins, Melanie who did have a schedule, checks her schedule and says, “Isn’t the James Franco movie tonight?”
“I have it down for Saturday,” says Anar.
I don’t have a schedule so I say nothing. None of us think to check the schedule online as we’re all from out of town and we’re not sure if our phones will connect with the wifi yadayada, so we mill about, talk to a wealthy Russian woman in sneakers, and some other non-filmmakers who I don’t know what they did or what they looked like, and check out some interactive projects in Storyscapes, which I don’t know what they did or what they looked like. I try just about every gin cocktail there to see if it’ll start tasting more like tequila, then call it a night.
I woke up the next morning, checked the Tribeca schedule online and banged my head on the top bunk. The Adderall Diaries premiere was the previous night, we missed it! We. Missed. James Franco. Cuz we were drinking in the filmmaker lounge. Meanwhile my friend Ginger texts me asking if I’ve had sex with him yet.
Then I get an email from a Tribeca organizer about a change in the red carpet protocol for tonight. Whaaat?!? You see, the whole reason we are down here is we have a short documentary premiering at the festival, My Enemy, My Brother which is a true story about two enemy soldiers who end up saving each other’s lives. Our doc was in a program with other short documentaries, and since when are there red carpets for short docs?! I hadn’t packed a dress, let alone a red carpet dress. I frantically searched through the email for a telephone contact number and called: “Is there really going to be a red carpet?… You’re sure?… So, will there photographers and everything at this red carpet?… Right… So is there a side entrance or something I could use?”
I had no outfit. I had two meetings that day before our screening and I had to shop. Anar, god bless her, offered up her dress, but that would mean she wouldn’t have a dress. I had to shop during the day in between meetings. Mind you, I like to shop, and I’m up for any kind of shopping challenge, but the gods must have smelled how desperate I was, everyone around me could; no matter where I cabbed to, there was nothing, nada zip. I ended up jerry-rigging a top and skirt and finally here is me my co-producer Mel in the cab on the way to our premiere. (Our faces did that thing again when the phone camera clicked –that’s us freaking not smiling.)
Sure enough, they had a step-and-repeat set up at the Regal Theatre. And yes there were photographers, that’s me cringing in front of them. There’s Mel.
And then all the photographers turned around…
Katie Holmes had arrived –turns out she had a short documentary in the program! If I had read my program book I would have known that she had a short doc called Eternal Princess, about Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci. Oh my god Katie. I love Nadia Comaneci.
So now we rush into the theatre and it’s a packed house, sold out. I try using the ‘I’m the filmmaker’ card, but no one budges. We scatter in the dark theatre and find seats just as the program starts.
Genea Gaudet’s Elder was a sweet, moving story of love between a Mennonite missionary and a member of his flock; two men fumbling into forbidden love before the word ‘homophobia’ existed. Andrew Jenks’ All American Family was illuminating, watching two brothers, deaf football players from a family where deafness goes back 4 generations. Unusual for film: there were chunks of pure silence as the main characters ‘talked’ to camera in sign language. There was a stirring locker room scene just before the main character leads his team to victory.
Speaking of victory, anyone who knows the name Nadia Comaneci remembers her as that 14 year old girl with her arms spread-eagled after a perfect 10.00 routine; that ineffable icon of perfection. Katie’s film revealed the life of the woman behind the icon, but even more intriguing for me personally was how watching the film took me back to my 8 year old self when the 1976 Olympics was on TV. I remembered the smell of our living room, the extra kitchen chair pulled up in front of the black and white TV, the humid summer air, my mom sitting on the sofa with curlers in her hair.
At the end of the screening, we all stood at the front, and Katie was thoughtful and lovely, we talked about docs versus narrative films, which is more satisfying?
After it all, we unwound with Jason Spingarn-Koff, Kathleen Lingo, Lindsay Crouse who not only presented our film at Tribeca, but took us out and feted us afterward at Odeon with oysters and wine, NY charm and stories good enough to almost make us forget about the bunk beds we were about to return to that night.
Next stop Hotdocs. At least I have my own bed in that town (Anar, come sleep over I miss you already.)