Ten Years in the USA

This week marks the tenth anniversary of my permanent arrival in the United States of America. What a long, strange journey it has been: like all of life, there have been ups and downs, highs and lows, and moments to remember in both directions. After the jump, you’ll find ten such memories, some personal and others global, to mark my decade as an American citizen…

1. November 2000: Arriving in the US.
The biggest leap in my life: quit my job, sell my house and pack up all my possessions to move over five thousand miles to live with a woman I’d only spent brief periods with. Was I insane? But on arrival, Chris told me that VNV Nation were playing in Phoenix the following day. It was not just one of the best concerts of my life, but in hindsight, a positive omen that my faith in true love would be rewarded.

2. September 2001: 9/11
This was the Kennedy assassination of our generation: everyone remembers where they were. We were hosting a film-maker whose movie we had screened at a local college the previous night. He and we watched as events unfolded through the day, but what sticks in my memory is going out for dinner that evening, to the appropriately-named Streets of New York. We were the only people in there. Phoenix and the restaurant were more deserted than I’ve ever seen them.

3. July 2002: Married Bliss
Having proposed to Chris after the Diamondbacks won the World Series the previous November, the wedding took place – by order of my parents – back in Scotland. The ceremony was in Aberdeen, at King’s College Chapel, with a busload of family having come through from Forres; we then took the bus back for the reception at Brodie Castle, and then honeymooned for two weeks in Europe. It was utterly unforgettable. But let’s not do it again, okay?

4. October 2004: Home Invasion
This was simply weird. Very late at night, we hear a banging down the corridor, as someone goes into our daughter’s room. At first, we thought it was one of her friends, but turns out to be some drunk woman, who had gone into the wrong house – we had left the front-door unlocked. And now she wouldn’t leave. We ended up having to call the police, who took her away to dry out. I guess, in the same category, there was my mid-night encounter with a Palo Verde beetle, which I saw on the floor of the kitchen and mistook for a bag of beads. The phrase “I can’t believe I picked the fucker up!” has now entered house legend.

5. April 2006: Life Begins at Forty
I turned forty and Chris decided to throw a comedy roast for me; we’d been putting on a lot of stand-up shows, and so she had easy access to a lot of comedians. You haven’t lived until you’ve been sat on a stage and been mercilessly ripped a new one, both live and “by satellite”, though I did get to fire back at the end, and think I gave as good as I got. The event also featured a set by The Strand, who supported VNV Nation for #1, who played a one-off cover of Trash City.

6. August 2006: My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult
No, not the band (though we did see them at the Mason Jar in 2002).  I mean our association with convicted serial-killer Dale Hausner: admittedly, we knew his brother much better, but had actually done Dale’s website for him – I was working for Go Daddy at the time. And then Dale got arrested. The shock of the news was only exceeded by the speed with which my employer escorted me off the premises, subsequently dismissing me, after I came forward voluntarily, and told them what had happened. Fuck Bob Parsons.

7. March 2007: Up the Ying Yang
Trash City Entertainment has hosted many fabulous, highly-successful events. But who remembers those? The one that sticks in my mind was putting on The Ying Yang Twins at The Sets in Tempe: a monstrous fiasco which left us several thousand dollars out of pocket and, in hindsight, should have sent us running and screaming rather than taking it on. The first rule of event-planning is stick to what you know. And we don’t know crap, about rap. Lesson learned.

8. August 2008: Pheel the Phear
On the other hand, we do know about horror movies, which may be why this was a far greater success! It wasn’t our first Phoenix Fear Film Festival – but it was our first “proper” one, as the original took place in an art gallery, which required us to spent some hours taping garbage bags on the windows, to get it dark enough to show films! Tn contrast, the second took place at Chandler Cinemas, a “proper” venue, and so represented the fulfillment of a lifelong ambition.

9. June 2010: Getting Press Ganged.
The Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team have become an increasing  part of my life here, since the won the World Series in 2001. But I never thought I’d end up covering their games from the press-box at Chase Field. But that’s what happened, as I guested there, in an online chat for Fox Sports Arizona. The whole “You’re not supposed to cheer in the press-box” thing proved harder to do than I thought, but it’s amazing what a fit of coughing can cover up…

10. November 2010: Another Moving Experience.
I end my decade here much as it began – by moving. Chris and I have just taken occupancy of our first home. It’s not the first we’ve lived in together, but it is the first we have bought together, and it’s surprising what a significant difference that makes. This move was less stressful than last time – November rather than June, and also felt like a positive move, being to a bigger place we own, rather than a smaller rental.

Of course, like all new houses, it’s a work in progress – and, I suspect, one that will take well into the second decade to complete. What else will the next ten years provide? Looking at the list above,  I think it would be pointless to try and predict! But whatever it is, I’m ready…

4th Phoenix Film Festival

Harkins Cine Capri, April 1st-4th, 2004

As predicted last year, the fourth Phoenix Film Festival found a new home in 2004 – the good news is, the venue was now only 15 minutes from TC Towers. The bad news…well, regular readers will know why the Harkins Cine Capri is not our favourite cinema. Add to this that organizers were now in bed with the Evil Empire of Ticketmaster when it came to selling festival passes – meaning patrons were the ones getting screwed – and the omens weren’t good.

From our standpoint, the timing could have been better. We had foreign friends visiting, and Friday night was spent with them at a baseball game. Then Chris came down with what felt like a 24-hour version of SARS, taking her out on Saturday afternoon and evening. This is why we only got to see four films over the festival, even though it was now extended by an extra day. Hence, we can’t fairly give out the TC Awards, as we’ve done for the past three years; we apologise, and promise to do better next year.

Looking through the program was also a bit disappointing. The opening night – described as the “largest independent film premiere in Arizona history” – starred those icons of indie cinema… Macauley Culkin and Mandy Moore. The closing night starred Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore. Half the others felt like an episode of Where Are They Now?, including Jennifer Beals, Kevin Sorbo and Brian Austin Green, while global cinema was represented by precisely one non-English language feature.

Culkin prepares to
pop a wheelie…

As for genre entries, the closest was i died, a real-time movie filmed from a ghost’s point of view. This was initially on our watch-list, but the reports from the first screening were unanimously dire, with a huge number of walkouts. The organizers can’t blame a lack of submissions: I know that The Great American Snuff Film was rejected despite, I strongly suspect, being superior to i died. Wussy “slice of life” dramas were, of course, present in abundance, though Phoenix is hardly alone there; what film festival ever shows horror or cult flicks any respect?

Let’s give praise where it’s due however; while we may disagree on genres, when it comes to specific movies, the selection committee showed excellent taste. The hit-rate among the films we saw was much better than last year, with only one falling a little below expectations. The others were all thoroughly enjoyable, and two will certainly be candidates for the year-end TC top ten.

The post-Superbowl Puritan backlash seemed to have hit proceedings. While useful information, such as the running time, was not listed in the program, each movie had notes on its content: language, violence (broken down into fights, gunshots and blood), sexual situations and – heaven forbid! – drinking. Let’s be honest: if you’re concerned about consumption of alcohol in movies by adults, you need to get a freakin’ life. The information was not even 100% accurate: I was pleasantly surprised by the cheerily gratuitous strip-club sequence in You Got Nothin’, about which the program said zilch. Dozens of Amish attendees were carried screaming out of the theatre, but otherwise, civilization as we know it in Arizona seems to have survived.

…as does Fonda.

From an organizational point of view, there seemed to be few problems, with films starting on time and smooth entrances and exits for audiences. The tribute to Peter Fonda was, however, embarrassingly gremlin-plagued, with a number of technical issues which should have been sorted out beforehand. And whoever arranged for a loud rock band to play just outside during proceedings, should be strapped to the back of a truck and taken for a long drag. [As a side note, it might be worth stopping people from going into screenings after the film has begun; the weekend-pass system seems to encourage irritatingly late arrivals] Other celebrities in attendance included Russell Means, Michael Tolkin and John Landis – his latest film is entitled Slasher, but is actually a documentary about a car-salesman, which is kinda sad.

All criticism aside: we love the Phoenix Film Festival. It keeps getting bigger – 10,000 attendees in 2004, up from seven thousand last year – but the people involved continue to treat all of them, whether paid, press or professionals, as if it’s an honour to have them there. While the volunteers deserve particular credit for their unfailing good humour, everyone involved with the festival is great, and are probably the main reason why the city and Arizona can justly be proud of this event. Now, put us on the selection committee, and it’ll be perfect… ๐Ÿ˜‰

Visit the Phoenix Film Festival website.

Official festival awards

  • Best Feature Film: Break a Leg
  • Best Director: Philip Angelotti Jr., You Got Nothinโ€™
  • Best Screenplay: Philip Angelotti Jr., You Got Nothinโ€™
  • Best Ensemble: Black Cloud
  • Best Documentary: Up For Grabs
  • Audience Ballot Award: Black Cloud

Festival reviews

3rd Phoenix Film Festival

AMC Arizona Center, April 11th-13th, 2003

It seems that the Arizona Center and the Arizona Film Festival are going in opposite directions. While the latter goes from strength to strength, the entire second floor of the Center has now been cleared of retail, to make way for an upcoming change into office space – yeah, like that’s something which downtown Phoenix desperately lacks. [Readers outside Arizona, please ladle sarcasm onto that phrase with a bucket] It’s probably significant that the last time we were at the Center was…hey, for last year’s film festival. A change of venue might be required soon, given the mausoleum-like atmosphere generated by most of the place.

Or maybe the air of gloom and doom was caused by the films – for no readily apparent reason, this year’s selections seemed largely downbeat and depressing. Not that this was in any way a reflection on their quality – in only one case did we feel like we wasted our time, even if we frequently came out with a strong desire to slit our wrists.

How much is that doggie in the window?
Shelter Dogs

This time round, we really don’t expect the TC Awards to match up with the festival ones. We only saw three of the ten films in competition, because most of the others just didn’t appeal. Here are a sample of the program descriptions that sank our interest, and sent us scurrying off to other movies:

* The Journey: “Eric Saperston set out in a VW bus with a couple of friends, on an odyssey that would take them across America, and into their own and each other’s souls”.
*Melvin Goes to Dinner: “A casual dinner…turns into an all-night confessional where secrets, skeletons and existential beliefs get passed around the table.”
*Shelter Dogs: [Documentary] “If you have a soul of any kind, bring tissue to this movie.”
*Totally Blonde: “In this comedic relationship film, Meg Peters can’t seem to find Mr. Right. That is, until she gets a bottle of blonde hair dye…”

I find it sad to see indie films getting inspiration from Reese Witherspoon studio pics. Maybe it’s just us. Going by the descriptions, entries also subscribed to the view that talk was cheap. While true (thus a significant saving on a low budget), it’s a philosophy uncomfortably close to that of daytime soap-opera. Resorting to talking heads is a disappointingly safe approach, when film-makers could use their independence to explore bleeding-edge cinema.

On the plus side, there was an greatly-increased quota of films from outside America. Although the official entries were all from the US or Canada, there were also movies from Spain, Australia, the UK, Japan, the Czech Republic, Mexico and China, giving a welcome global flavour. Unfortunately, the attendance at the ones we saw was disappointing, perhaps partly due to the brief coverage in the festival literature. The opposite was true of the short film programs: the two we checked out were both standing-room only, with people sitting on the floor for one of them.

The pope of trash,
John Waters

Celebs in attendance included James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross) and Edward Burns, director and star of Confidence, which opened the festival. John Waters was also in attendance to perform his one-man show, The World is Trash – nice title – and going by the queues waiting to get into that, it was a popular attraction. Brian O’Halloran also made a return appearance, to present the awards ceremony and present a late-night screening of Clerks. Our son saw Lindsey Crouse at Paradise Valley Mall over the weekend, but don’t think she was actually in attendance at the event. ๐Ÿ™‚

Despite the disappointing selection of films in competition, the renegades outside made up for it, and The Hard Word is certainly an early contender for a top 10 slot come the year end. While the event may be getting bigger, kudos are still in order for the friendly, informal atmosphere, and nothing happened this year to change its position as our favourite film festival, even putting home-town bias aside – though I admit having such a fine event 30 minutes drive away is not exactly a deterrent! The queue begins here for Phoenix 2004…

Visit the Phoenix Film Festival website.

Festival Reviews

TC Awards

  • Best Film: The Hard Word
  • Best Actor: Kelly Harms, The Happy Couple
  • Best Actress: Maya Zapata, Streeters
  • Best Director: Zhu Wen, Seafood
  • Best Supp. Actor: Peter Stormare, The Movie Hero
  • Best Supp. Actress: Rachel Griffiths, The Hard Word
  • Best Script: Scott Roberts, The Hard Word

Official Festival Awards

  • Best Short Film:
  • Best Feature Film: Melvin Goes to Dinner
  • Best Director: John Carlos Frey, The Gatekeeper
  • Best Screenplay: Chris Philpott, The Happy Couple
  • Best Ensemble: Melvin Goes to Dinner
  • Arizona Filmmaker Award: Wayne Dickmann, The Sum of One
  • [Our reaction: You have got to be kidding…]
  • Audience Ballot Award: The Gatekeeper
  • Best Student Short

2nd Phoenix Film Festival: AMC Arizona Center, April 5th-7th, 2002

It’s spring, and a young man’s thoughts inevitably turn to…spending all day in the dark. Yep, it’s film fest time again, with Arizona’s own Phoenix Film Festival, back for its second year. For some reason, they invited us back too. Guess we’re not trying hard enough. ๐Ÿ™‚

Things were slightly different from last year; fewer films, I think, but more chances to see them, which works fine for us harried acolytes who are making (inevitably futile) attempts to see everything. The staggered start times were a bit of a mixed blessing – while it does reduce the crush to get in when you don’t have three films beginning simultaneously, it occasionally led to perilous rushing between screens. Still, some things were the same as last year. The venue for one, though the Arizona Center seemed a good deal more…well, vacant than last year, exemplified by a food court where two-thirds of the units are unoccupied.

Not much better luck in the cinema, where the concession stands seemed wildly unprepared for people actually wanting snacks at 11am in the morning. We felt particularly bad about forcing the director of Jane White is Sick and Twisted to chase after us, waving a press-pack, as we sprinted off in search of something edible. Hopefully, he’ll understand that man cannot live by popcorn alone.

Sarah Graham Hayes from Dead Dogs Lie
Pic by Dennis Yeandle

Was delighted to see the punctuality of the festival remained as eccentric as ever – this is not an event for the fastidious clock-watcher, shall we say. Some of this was self-inflicted by the organisers: if you schedule a 100 minute film for noon, it’s a bit optimistic to have the next begin at 1:30pm! As a result, events started anywhere up to 45 minutes late, but the great thing is…no-one minded – all the more time to chat. And, as last year, without exception, people were more than happy to hang round and talk, a delightful change from bigger events where guests get bussed in, and escorted out. Mind you, could have done without the house lights coming up four separate times in the middle of one poor movie – it’s not like we were having sex or anything.

We crammed in seven films in a day and a half. It would have been eight, but an accident on Highway 51 delayed our arrival – just one of several oddities that weekend, including my receipt of a summons for jury service (dammit, you have to be a U.S. citizen, so no Twelve Angry Men role for me). Also caught the high-school short film program, which was a wide mix between the unexpected – Taken Away featured martial arts choreography worthy of a Hong Kong movie – and the…well, let’s just say a couple of the makers probably took time out from writing bad poetry in their bedrooms.

The regular features were, almost without exception, impressive. It’s immensely sad to realise the hard part is no longer making a movie, it’s giving anyone else the chance to see it. I have no doubt at all that if films like Drop Dead Roses or Dead Dogs Lie got to open in 3,000 screens across the continent, they would royally kick the arse of Van Wilder. That they get no such opportunity is unutterably sad – check out last year’s report, and see how few of 2001’s movies got any distribution. The organisers did get one foreign language film into this year’s festival, something I’d like to see more of – if chances to see low-budget English-language movies are thin on the ground, for overseas ones they’re effectively zero.

Maybe next year they’ll even expand it out beyond a weekend – with 300 submissions this year, there’s clearly a demand for a festival like this, and personally, I’m perhaps better equipped for stamina than a sprint (I always seem to end up wanting to lie down in a well-lit room for a while, having had quite enough of darkened ones). This is probably just me being greedy though; why have a weekend of fun when you can get a whole week?

[Thanks once again to Golan and everyone else at the PFF for their help and assistance, the film-makers for unfailing friendliness, even in the face of…er, us, and co-editor Chris Fata for dealing with ACT tests, suffering through another bout of shaky-cam nausea, and being everything one could want. And she’s all mine, hahaha!]

Phoenix 2003? Hell, yeah! Can’t wait!
Visit the Phoenix Film Festival website.

Festival Reviews

TC Awards

  • Best Film: Dead Dogs Lie and Jane White is Sick and Twisted – tie
  • Best Actor: Eddie McGee, Drop Dead Roses
  • Best Actress: Kris Carr, Five Years
  • Best Ensemble: Tommy Flanagan, Gary Stretch, Sarah Graham Hayes, Dead Dogs Lie
  • Best Director: David Michael Latt, Jane White is Sick and Twisted
  • Best Supporting Actor: Chris Hardwick, Jane White is Sick and Twisted
  • Best Supporting Actress: Barbi Castelvi, Drop Dead Roses
  • Best Script: David Warfield, Ocean Park

7th Los Angeles Film Festival

Hollywood, Los Angeles, April 20-28, 2001

You know you’re in California when every piece of electrical apparatus, from automatic doors to lifts, has instructions on it detailing what to do when the power fails. Fortunately, the Los Angeles Film Festival was mercifully spared any of the rolling blackouts which been all too common in the state recently – the thought of projecting movies by pulling the film past a candle really doesn’t bear thinking about.

This year, the film was incorporated into part of the Independent Feature Project/West, a strangely named group looking after indie film-makers and cheerleading for their movies. One was left to contemplate the significance of the logo – as seen at the top. This portrays someone desperately pushing a film reel up a very steep slope, which is a good enough metaphor for the process of movie-making by all accounts. The fact that, at the top, there appears to be nothing but a precipice is presumably a good enough metaphor for the eventual fate of most non-studio product. Is that a Blockbuster video card lurking at the bottom?

This CD will self-destruct in 5 seconds

The nine day festival had over ninety films, but due to time constraints we could only sample a few, opting (as you might expect) for the ones that didn’t involve powerful coming-of-age sagas, poignant and sometimes hilarious stories about what happens when life moves on, or fresh takes on the subject of sex and the single girl. [All three could be found in the festival program] For what’s the point of being independent if you’re going to churn out the same kind of thing as a mediocre movie-of-the-week on a mainstream cable channel? Thanks, but we’ll pass.

Most of the screenings took place at the Directors’ Guild of America headquarters on Sunset Boulevard. Naturally, I took the chance to play at being Spielberg, striding into the building, barking loudly into a cellphone about weekend grosses and pay-for-play deals. I think my poor mother was very confused by the end of the conversation, but never mind. The screening rooms were fine, if a little spartan – I mean, no drinks-holders, and while they sold food in the foyer (this being California, it was sushi and cappucino rather than popcorn and Coke), they wouldn’t let you take anything into the screens. So much for the cinematic experience. Still, nothing that couldn’t be solved, thanks to a capacious hockey-shirt, capable of holding an entire picnic in its sleeves.

The LA Film School and the Laemmle Sunset 5 also provided venues, though we never got to the latter, presumably because it was playing the kind of fodder appropriate to its multiplex nature. The Film School was further along Sunset Boulevard, with the cinema tucked round the corner in a low-key manner inappropriate for anything to do with film schools, but we did discover a really decent BBQ joint up the street which helped keep those of us less keen on sushi nutritionally sustained.

The big buzzwords at the festival appeared to be “digital video”, with several of the screenings coming off this medium, yet looking barely inferior to regular projection. People like Bernard (Paperhouse) Rose are extremely enthusiastic about its possibilities, and with good packages available for just a few thousand dollars, it does seem to offer low-budget film-makers a great deal of flexibility and possibility. Disturbingly for those in the business, it may eventually also mean an end to the need for special lighting, cinematographers and a lot of the other paraphenalia traditionally associated with “movie making”. We script-writers, however, should be safe. ๐Ÿ™‚ For an example of the possibilities, check out www.filmisdead.com.

But enough of such technical issues! Film festivals are, after all, about the films. So, without further ado, I’ll point you in the direction of the reviews, while I keep on trying to discover how I can get a Trash City star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame…

Festival Reviews