The 360|365 Film Festival

I thought I'd take a minute and review The 360|365 Film Festival (formerly the Rochester High Falls International Film Festival). I already wrote about some of the films I'd enjoyed; I also had a chance to meet some filmmakers — albeit at a non-sanctioned event, which made it more personal and greatly enjoyable. I wanted to address the festival itself.

My short summary: no element of this year's festival is any better than it was in past years.

In 2001, a film festival started called the High Falls Film Festival. Its charter was to highlight women in filmmaking, and host it in Rochester as (nitpicking aside) the home of both motion picture film and of the women's rights movement. I don't recall which year, but the "women in filmmaking" was thrown by the wayside. [I almost forgot to add this:] Adding insult-to-injury, the festival further slaps women in the face by overlapping Mother's Day, forcing to people to choose whether to spend time with Mom or go watch movies. And (although the official full name is the 360|365 George Eastman House Film Festival) the attachment to Rochester has been removed (although thankfully the arguably worse "Rochester High Falls International Film Festival" moniker was dropped). Not to belabor the point, but "360|365" is merely a bad pun on "all year round", it's not memorable, and it doesn't lend itself to Internet connectivity (partly because it starts with a digit, and partly because it contains the vertical bar / "pipe" character). I would guess that with its accompanying logo, it would be an acceptable "B"-graded student project in graphic design.

Once again this year, the schedule was set up so films would overlap by minutes — a simple fix would have allowed patrons to view a film at one theater and have time to travel to another for the next picture. I realize that some prints are not available on certain days, but I'm talking about adjustments of 15 or 20 minutes. Many people rejoiced that there were multiple screenings (and I did take advantage of a second screening at one point). But this means there are fewer films in the festival. And by my gut instinct, I feel that there are more films this year that will either screen at the Dryden, the Little, or attain mainstream theatrical release than in any other year. As such, this film festival has become like thousands of others: acting as previews of coming attractions more than as a venue for that which would otherwise go unseen.

[Added]And then, of course there's Fifth Year Productions (130 E. Main St.) — as major sponsors, they produced the introductory video for each screening. Rather than (as in years past) an inspiring highlight reel of the festival's crop of movies, it was a commercial for Fifth Year Productions. I can only hope that the Fuscillo's become sponsors for an improvement in quality — this one was unentertaining, uninteresting, and just terrible all-around. Following the commercial was one of a series of short films with eggs portraying famous movie scenes. The humor came from the fact that it was eggs portraying famous movie scenes. They were groan-inducing (well, except for a few audience members who, apparently, live humorless lives.) The tie-in was that the egg was supposed to recall Rochester as the "birthplace of film". Perhaps the "birthplace of mixed metaphors", or more properly, "Rochester is where film lays an egg".

I had a discussion with another film-goer and regular attendee who complained that there are fewer "big stars" to draw crowds. While I think it's fun to contemplate hob-knobing with celebrities, it's an empty exercise. I think because of that past, hold-out events from past years have become intolerable: I used to enjoy the "Coffee With …" discussions, but they have become so over-attended that it's nearly impossible to make a connection with anyone there — I didn't even bother going this year. I liked the idea of celebrating Rochester as a big city / small city; when filmmakers come here, they might meet someone in industry to promote their career, but they should be prepared to make real human contact as well. I think this important facet is being drained from the festival.

The only thing solid is the films themselves and the people who make them — an element that has nothing to do with the festival itself. As much as I liked the films I saw, I think I liked even more meeting the new faces that came with them.

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A documentary about Hunter S. Thompson

I arrived at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) a bit early and was instructed to segregate myself around a barrier. On one side was the line of souls waiting to buy tickets for this night's screening Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. I stood on the other, alone — at least for the moment.

Since it was the first Friday in May, I was celebrating No Pants DayMySpace link. I was wearing a dress shirt, sport coat, black socks, Italian leather shoes, and black boxer shorts. A laminated pink card dangled around my neck. I had lazily acquired from a volunteer at the office of The Rochester High Falls International Film Festival (RHFIFF) at the last possible moment. It said "Press".

To be perfectly frank, I'm not a follower of Thompson — I had heard of his "gonzo journalism" style and had read little of his blunt, often insightful style but knew little else. I even had a crummy, expensive burger at his former haunt, Woody Creek Tavern (2858 Woody Creek Rd., Aspen, CO), and knew several people living in and around Aspen when his ashes were blown out of a cannon.

We shuffled in to the theater once it was emptied of its former contents. I sat in the back corner of the lower area as I often do to avoid having to confront any obnoxious audience member. I watched as each person found their place. Younger hipster sycophants drifted to the upper, more secluded level while their older counterparts avoided the stairs and stayed on the lower level. Each group was desperate to acquire vicariously what can truly only be done in person: to have an interesting life.

That said, the movie itself was fascinating and fantastic, covering a an engaging subject with lots of archival footage, great music, great editing … the whole deal. Afterward they revealed it would be given a mid-sized theatrical release around July 4.

But I was more interested in the concept of shooting big guns. It seemed like a great way to relieve stress or something … there really isn't another way to put it because shooting guns is like a core experience unto itself. Just like there isn't another way to explain what it's like to smash something with a hammer. I figure guns are the same kind of thing, only you get to do it from farther away.

And there's fire involved.

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Vito [Friscia] After [being a 9/11 first responder]

My first film at The Rochester High Falls International Film Festival (RHFIFF) was Vito After — the documentary about Vito Friscia and his battle with health issues following being a first-responder at the 9/11 attacks. It was a very nice film about the man and increased awareness of the scope of the problem: both in the cops' unwillingness to answer surveys honestly from their self-sufficient tough-guy personae (Friscia is shown marking "no affect on quality of life" despite a nagging cough), and in the mystified medical professionals who have been unable to decipher solid answers from the deluge of illness and conditions. During the question-and-answer, Friscia was there along with filmmaker Maria Pusateri. She said that the group shown doing the research was running out of money and the federal government was not supplying more — in fact, this was the only mention in the film or the Q-and-A of the government; the movie refreshingly doesn't target blame on any group as it's simply not really knowable who is "to blame".

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Coffee With … Beautiful Chaos

I headed out to Spot Coffee (200 East Ave.) this morning to catch the Coffee With … event of The Rochester High Falls International Film Festival (RHFIFF). This event is one of the most consistent winners in my book — I enjoy getting to sit down and talk with creative people. It's always semi-controlled chaos as it's never certain who (among the filmmakers) will show up and who (among the festival goers) will show up so it might be just a handful, or it could be hundreds.

This time it was in-between. The meeting area was the upper balcony at Spot and there were about 40 people there total of which there were (I think) about 8 filmmakers. It was crowded and challenging — but so personal. I got to chat with a bunch of people including Donald Pusateri who was having a ball at the festival as the husband of filmmaker Maria Pusateri (whom I also met later) — she made Vito After about her brother-in-law Vito Friscia and his battle with health issues following being a first-responder at the 9/11 attacks. I also got to meet Alex Miltsch, the president of Rochester Park Studios (789 Elmgrove Rd.) — hopefully they'll do well, even if it's a risky venture.

And — as certain as I am to run into festival director Catherine Wyler herself was Jerry Stoeffhaas, Deputy Director of The New York Governor's Office for Motion Picture and Television Development and Nora Brown, Assistant Director of The Rochester/Finger Lakes Film and Video Office.

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