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Wednesday, March 16, 2011
“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well you just might get what you need.”
The Rolling Stones
At some point in the not-too-distant past (I can’t exactly remember when or even find that old post), I recommended a then brand-new documentary called “Official Rejection.” The post was based on seeing the film's snappy and intriguing trailer, but came with the caveat that I had not yet actually seen the entire film.
This gaping hole in my movie-viewing resume was recently filled, so I can now add a few figurative exclamation points to that early recommendation: This is one terrific film.
I could try to get cute with the usual “I laughed, I cried, I wet my pants” kind of drivel, but that’s not quite true – I did not cry, nor did I wet my pants while watching Official Rejection. I did laugh, however – a lot – but as the film progressed, the prevailing emotion that welled up from within was a profound sense of empathy for the filmmakers profiled in this wonderful documentary. Unlike so many movies-about-movies, Official Rejection opens well after the drama of actually shooting a film has played out. Rather, it begins at the point where all the artistically creative work is over and done -- that magical moment when the filmmaker finally sallies forth to offer the world a completed movie ready to be screened in a thousand theaters.
In a truly just world, this would be a day of triumphant exultation, the jumping-off point for an artist to engage an audience, and -- with a little luck -- kick off a successful career. In that bright, clean, and highly fictional world of our dreams, important film festivals would accept every worthy entry without prejudice, ego involvement, or the unseen web of back-door connections that make the decidedly grubby real world go 'round.
But in this, and so many other ways, ours is not a just world.
Official Rejection follows the travails of Scott Storm and Paul Osborne as they strive to enter their newly-completed feature Ten ‘til Noon on the festival circuit -- Sundance, Slamdance, Tribeca, and all the others.... right on down to the Phoenix, Riverside, and the San Fernando Film Festivals. Accompanied by the commentaries of several festival circuit veterans who know the pain of that quest all too well, theirs is a grueling odyssey of endless frustration and dogged endurance, a vertiginous plunge through the looking glass of what ought-to-be into the utterly unreal Alice-in-Wonderland world of what really is -- a Bizzaro Planet of film festivals where up is down, down is up, and the hapless filmmaker is so often sent helplessly spinning through space.
If you thought making a film was the hard part -- writing a decent script, scrounging up the money, assembling a cast and crew, filming on a shoestring, then enduring the quiet ordeal of editing and the entire post-production process -- think again. It turns out that's the easy part, the fun part. The really hard, ugly, slit-your-wrists-depressing part comes much later, when your only goal in life is to put that movie up on screen for an audience.
After watching this film, I have a tremendous respect for these guys -- what they willingly put themselves through in the quest to get their movie seen by an audience was fucking brutal -- but they did it, and keep on doing it, because making movies is what they really want to do in life. In chronicling their journey to Hell* and back, Official Rejection delineates the hard but unavoidable truth staring all would-be indie filmmakers in the face:
"When the shooting stops, the war begins."
Everybody out there contemplating a dashingly romantic career as an independent filmmaker (ahem -- that would be just about all of you film students...) seriously owes it to him/herself to see this funny, poignant, and sobering-but-ultimately-hopeful documentary. Anyone interested in the process of making movies will certainly enjoy it -- indeed, anybody who just likes to watch a good movie will have a great time with this one.
A good film is a good film, regardless of genre, and this is one very good film.
It's on Netflix. Do yourself a favor and add it to your queue.
* Actually it was Chicago. But don’t get angry, good people of the Windy Second City – just watch the film and you’ll see what I mean...