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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July '64 at the Little

I headed to The Little (240 East Ave.) to see July '64 for a second time. It's an interesting view of what happened (in detail) on three nights in July, 1964. The flash point — shortsightedly referred to as the "cause of the riots" — was when police attempted to arrest an intoxicated man. Friends of the man had it set in their minds that they'd take care of him and keep him out of trouble; police had it set in their minds that he was to be arrested.

Taking one step back, this is an indication that the police were not trusted — they were not welcome in the neighborhood as protectors and more likely considered thuggish oppressors. Take another step back and you'll find that the blacks were forced to live in the 3rd Ward and 7th Ward of the city (if I remember correctly): if they applied for housing in other areas, they were either rejected or their application ignored, so college students and day laborers alike were crammed into crowded housing. Take another step back and you'll see that blacks were similarly dismissed for positions in the cornerstone companies like Kodak and Bausch and Lomb — unless they were willing to work as janitors.

So now you have a situation where you have to put up higher and higher walls to keep the "dangerous element" in the 3rd and 7th Wards contained in their prison. At some point they revolt, though, and July 1964 was a taste of that.

Filmmakers Carvin Eison and Chris Christopher were on hand to answer questions. They said they wanted to compare the situation to today and see if things have changed so they had The Center for Governmental Research (CGR) (1 South Washington St.) perform a study. The results were, well, frightening: the social and economic conditions in the two Wards compared to the City of Rochester in 1964 are almost exactly replicated when comparing the City of Rochester to the County of Monroe today. As "zero tolerance" efforts escalate, as relatively well-off people move to the suburbs and take industry with them, and as suburbanites soak in the belief that the city is a dangerous urban wasteland, conditions are ripe for another revolution.

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