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.)
My latest documentary short film, My Enemy, My Brother is slated to have its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. My Enemy, My Brother. Then we’ll be flying back to Toronto for the Canadian premiere at the Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival in Toronto. We’re slated to screen with the one-hour documentary Warriors of the North on April 24, April 26 and May 1 at the Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival. Screening details, and tickets here.
I’m excited to be speaking with Michael Hoolboom, Martyn Burke, and NOW Magazine’s Susan G. Cole as a part of the Pages Unbound Festival. We’ll be talking about storytelling in fiction and in film, as a part of the Storytellers: Literature and Film program. You can join us Friday May 8th at the Randolph Theatre in Toronto. Click here for more details, including ticket information.
Marc Glassman of POV Magazine encouraged me to write about my experience filming undercover with North Korean defectors during the making of a documentary called The Defector: Escape From North Korea. It was wonderful to work with him on the personal essay and the result was an extended piece called Lessons Learned Undercover. The essay was selected into The Best Canadian Essays Anthology which will be launched February 2, 2015. Come on out on a cold night and hear readings by Priscila Uppal, Christopher Doda, myself, and other contributors to The Best Canadian Essays Anthology.
Monday Feb 2nd at 7pm (readings at 7:30pm)
Monarch Tavern, 12 Clinton Street, Toronto
Refreshments and revelry‒no admission charge
“The Family China is rich with layers, a dark undercurrent beneath language both simple and haunting. Shin has the skilled ability to evoke whatever landscape she wishes, to bring the reader there and make them feel as if they really know that world. She takes the reader behind the scenes, behind each poem. Shin lures readers further into the world she created and leaves them breathless.”
The Family China, winner of the Anne Green Award, was also shortlisted for two more awards, most recently the ReLit Award, which will announce winners shortly.
Canada’s ReLit Award–founded to acknowledge the best new work released by independent publishers–may not come with a purse, but it brings a welcome, back-to-the-books focus to the craft. -Amazon.com
The book was also shortlisted for the Acorn-Plantos Award for People’s Poetry at the end of 2014.