By Linda Shortman
Faced with an empty nest in the early 2000s, someone posed this question to me, “What is your dream vacation?” Thinking about my growing love of independent film, my answer was to attend Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Facing the reality that Sundance was a pipe-dream, I searched for local film festivals.
Newport International Film Festival, here in RI, was looking for volunteers. I had experience working on events so I submitted an application. I thought that I wanted to work in the office and the first day I felt helpful. The second day, the volunteer coordinator was worried that she didn’t have someone to work the transportation desk. I didn’t know what it entailed, but I told her I could do it if she needed me there more than in the office. Working the transportation desk meant coordinating rides for filmmakers and talent to and from the train station and airport and around town. It was right up my alley and I was behind the scenes in the film world. Helping creators of film was my job and I was thrilled. At first I worked dispatch, but as I got to know Newport better I would drive.
Sitting in a car with the likes of Tina Fey, Christopher Guest, Dianne Ladd, Duncan Jones, and many more was heady stuff. There is something very grounded in the conversations that take place in the car. These people were friendly, and excited to be sharing their work at our festival.
Later that year The Tribeca Film Festival was created. I also submitted to volunteer there. The first year I couldn’t make the schedule work, and the next year I decided to be an attendee. It was fun to be an audience member at one festival and a worker bee at the other. It gave so many new layers to my film experience. I saw more films at Tribeca, but Newport was an up-close experience that I truly cherish.
Here are a handful of films I enjoyed throughout the 2000s at film festivals, and the folks I met along the way.
This Alexander Payne film about Harvey Pekar introduced me to a style of dark humor I enjoy very much. The story bounces in and out of reality which adds layers to the tale. The work of Paul Giamatti is brilliant telling the story of this comic book artist.
This family story involves struggle and a lot of love. Life transitions are the subjects of the drama. A new neighbor is very supportive. Allison Janney and Anthony LaPaglia have great chemistry on screen.
Waiting to see the thriller, The Tenant, I learned to sit behind the VIP reserved row. This film was an interesting drama and the director, David Green, Dylan McDermott, and Snoop Dog conducted the Q & A. I was called on to ask a question and I asked how a cool chase scene had been filmed. The director laughed and told me to ask the guy sitting in front of me, the Director of Photography. Pretty cool.
When I choose films, I am often attracted by the cast. When the names Gandolfini, Dern, Travolta, Hayek, and Leto came up in one film, I chose that film. Lonely Hearts is based on the true story of serial killers in the ‘40s. This story is gritty and gruesome. Writer/director Todd Robinson is actually the grandson of one of the detectives.
The film Evening made a stir when it was shot in RI with an all-star cast. When they decided to premiere the film at Newport Film Festival we were very excited to think what celebrities would attend. Claire Danes, Mamie Gummer, James Schamus, and Jeff Sharp showed up the day of the premiere. I picked up Sharp at the train station and met a smart, funny producer who had many nice things to say about making the film in RI. After the film I drove James Schamus and his entourage to the gala. He was making jokes about being a studio head and did not take himself too seriously. This was a very special night in Newport.
The concept of a man walking a tightrope is terrifying to me, especially if the tightrope is strung between the Twin Towers in NYC in the ‘70s. I was asked to be an usher for the film. After tearing tickets, I took a seat in the lobby to wait for the film to end. Every time I was asked, “don’t you want to watch the film?” I just replied, “nope.” During the film the very charming subject, Philippe Petit, arrived and I started to warm to the concept. After the film, I stood in on the Q & A and Petit convinced me that I should see the film. This is a fascinating documentary.
My daughter joined me at Tribeca Film Festival for the screening of Moon. It was a great sci-fi film about survival and isolation. The director, Duncan Jones, and Sam Rockwell conducted a very entertaining Q & A after the film. A month later, I learned that Moon would be screening at Newport Film Festival. I picked up Mr. Jones at the train station and drove him to and from the film’s screening. He is a sincere, smart, hardworking film maker who was squiring his film around the country like a champ. He dubbed me “Lovely Linda” and I was sure to pass along all of the comments from the audience as they came out of the theater.