Film Festivals Pivot Online, Leaving Production Workers Stranded

These interviews happened spring 2020. They have been edited for clarity.

2020 has brought an onslaught of layoffs to gig workers. Film festival programmers and directors host public webinars to demystify what’s next for the industry. Absent of an in-person, communal experience, online film festivals attempt to connect filmmakers and film audiences but cannot replace the opportunity to hire event workers. Although programming teams embrace this pivot, film festival production employees (box office managers, production coordinators, venue managers, volunteer coordinators) get the short end of the stick as public gatherings and the safe return of movie theaters is unknown.

As a film festival production worker myself, I spoke to two female film festival workers and recent college graduates based in New Jersey, Orli Spierer and Amanda Adams, about their current outlook on the future of film festivals.

CS: When did you start working in film festivals?

OS: I started working in film festivals in fall 2018 after graduating from college (Northwestern University), but I also attended and volunteered at a few festivals during college.

AA: I started working for festivals in 2017, interning my senior year of college (Montclair State University) at Montclair Film Festival and I have been returning every year since.

CS: What film festivals do you usually work at/return to?

OS: I have worked at the Chicago International Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival twice, Tribeca Film Festival once, and I was supposed to work at SF Film (San Francisco International Film Festival) prior to the pandemic.

AA:  I work at the Montclair Film Festival and the Philadelphia Film Festival. Montclair for 3 years so far and Philadelphia for 2 years.

CS: What areas of film festival production do you work in and what are your duties?

OS: I usually work in volunteer management and ticketing. As a Volunteer Manager, I recruit and work with volunteers who do everything from checking tickets to ushering patrons. No non-profit film festival would be possible without the generous help of volunteers. They are film-lovers and students, volunteering their time, often in exchange for vouchers to see films at the festival, a chance to meet other film lovers, and access to other perks. Ticketing is a bit more straightforwardwe sell tickets to the films. This can include ticket packages, advance tickets, day-of tickets, and will call pick-up for online sales.

AA: I am usually the Production Coordinator or work as Assistant of Venue Operations, meaning that I take care of all the back end work to set venues up with signage and any other equipment or resources. Sometimes I manage a staff of interns and sometimes I’m needed to jump in as House Manager, the person in charge of managing the people coming in and out of the theater.

CS: What motivated you to start working at film festivals?

OS: I’ve always loved film and I studied film in college thinking I wanted to become a screenwriter or get otherwise involved in film production. During college I realized that I didn’t love being on set or have any desire to move to LA. The summer before my junior year of college I did a film program in Jerusalem, Israel and we got to attend the Jerusalem Film Festival. I absolutely loved the film festival experience and wanted to get involved in festivals any way that I could after that great experience. I volunteered at SXSW the following spring, which reaffirmed that I wanted to get on the festival circuit.

AA: I was a Film major in college who also worked at a theater and was passionate about live events. Putting the two together just made sense.

CS: In a regular year, if anything, what do you have to do to supplement your festival income? 

OS: I’ve been at this for less than two years, but for a little over a year I’ve been doing some part-time, remote work for a Chicago based small humor branding agency. I also worked at a music festival for three months last summer.

AA:  I worked retail for a little while. Recently I was a box office associate at a local theatre and I do production assistance work for an event production company and whatever shoots I can get on in Philadelphia.

CS: Has COVID-19 delayed work or cancelled it? Both?

OS: Yup. Both. SF Film was cancelled and all of our contracts were cut short. Other festivals I had been hoping to work for after SF Film have also been cancelled, and I’m not exactly optimistic that things will be back to normal by the fall festival season.

AA: Oh yes. I lost my steady job (in retail), an upcoming festival gig and a freelance event production gig all at once.

CS: How do you think film festivals will be different now that many of them have tested online release options?

OS: I’m not sure. I think and hope the online releases are just a temporary solution while traveling and gathering in person is not possible or safe. I don’t see festivals continuing to host screenings online once it is safe to travel and sit in a packed theater again because that ruins a lot of what’s special about festivals.

AA: I think we don’t know what the world is going to be in a few months and festivals are trying to adapt. There are festivals that functioned entirely online before this and I think that larger festivals will just be making that change to keep their content going.

CS: Have you used this down time to learn any new skills or pivot into new areas?

OS: Not yet, but I’ve begun to think about looking for more remote writing work, since it’s unclear when festivals will be able to resume safely.

AA: I’ve screened almost 200 films for two festivals. As well as volunteering and doing a bunch of back end work for a nonprofit called Invisible Hands, that delivers food to elderly and immunocompromised people in the tri state area. I also started a podcast where I recap my favorite T.V. show.

Favorite Movies, TV, and Plays Viewed in 2019

In 2019, I made it a priority to seek out female directors and theater that prioritized race and diverse storytelling. I think I was successful. Here are my favorite things from this year.

Feature Films

A few films that I didn’t get to see yet but would likely be on this list Monos, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Knives and Skin, and Swallow.

Viewed in theater:

Greener Grass (2019) – directed by Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe
  1. Parasite (2019)
  2. Greener Grass (2019)
  3. Honey Boy (2019)
  4. The Irishman (2019)
  5. Knives Out (2019)
  6. Uncut Gems (2019)
  7. Rocketman (2019)
  8. A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood (2019)
  9. Charlie Says (2018) – Montclair Film Festival
  10. The Farewell (2019)
  11. Good Boys (2019)

Viewed on Netflix:

Jenny Slate- Stage Fright (2019) – directed by Gillian Robespierre
  1. Obvious Child (2014)
  2. Princess Cyd (2017)
  3. Edge of Seventeen (2016)
  4. Shirkers (2018)
  5. Private Life (2018)
  6. Cam (2018)
  7. My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)
  8. Swiss Army Man (2016)
  9. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)
  10. Jenny Slate – Stage Fright (2019)
  11. Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold (2017)
  12. John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch (2019)
Princess Cyd (2017) – directed by Stephen Cone

Viewed on Amazon Prime:

The World of Us (2016) – directed by Yoon Ga-eun
  1. The World of Us (2016)
  2. Saving Face (2004)
  3. Leave No Trace (2018)
Leave No Trace (2018) – directed by Debra Granik

Viewed on Hulu*, DVD**, Mubi:

Plus One (2019) – dir. Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer
  1. Plus One (2019)*
  2. Paris, Texas (1984) **
  3. Mommy (2014) **
  4. But I’m A Cheerleader (1999)
  5. Ask Dr. Ruth (2019)*
Ask Dr. Ruth (2019) – dir. Ryan White

Short Films

All of these films are available on Vimeo or YouTube.

Now You Know (2019) – dir. Molly Gills
  1. The Arrival (2017)
  2. Verde (2018)
  3. Pre-Drink (2019)
  4. The Big Shave (1967)
  5. Now You Know (2019)
  6. sometimes I think about dying (2019)
  7. Hot and Tasty (2019)
  8. Nevada (2019)
  9. East of The River (2019)
  10. How does it start (2019)

Television

I don’t get to watch much television and I sometimes have trouble committing to a show, especially since I spend most of my days on sets. Here are some shows that I found clever and thought provoking.

Tuca and Berte (2019) – created by Lisa Hanawalt
  1. Fleabag (Amazon)
  2. Sex Education (Netflix)
  3. Alone Together (Hulu)
  4. Undone (Amazon)
  5. Tuca and Bertie (Netflix)
  6. Daria (Hulu)
  7. Killing Eve (Hulu)
  8. Dollface (Hulu)
  9. Pen15 (Hulu)
Sex Education (2019) – created by Laurie Nunn

Plays

I didn’t see enough plays this year because they’re expensive!!! But all these plays featured a black cast.

BLKS
Directed by Robert O’Hara
Written by Aziza Barnes
  1. MCC’s BLKS
  2. Ensemble Studio Theater’s Behind the Sheet
  3. Theater for a New Audience’s Fairview
  4. Playwrights Horizons’ A Strange Loop (minus the fever dream portion)
Behind the Sheet
Directed by Colette Robert
Written by Charly Evon Simpson

Part 1: Films Directed by Women to Watch During Women’s History Month

Do you feel like you haven’t been doing enough for Women’s History Month? Or do you feel kind of powerless and unsure of how you, specifically, can support Women’s History Month? I know it is already the 10th. But I have compiled a list of films directed by women that you can stream. This post features films found on Amazon Prime.

American Honey (2016) Directed by Andrea Arnold

An trouble, unappreciated teenager runs away with a traveling sales crew who drive across the American Midwest selling subscriptions door to door.

Awakenings (1990) Directed by Penny Marshall

Dr. Malcolm Sayer, a shy research physician, uses an experimental drug to “awaken” the catatonic victims of a rare disease. Leonard is the first patient to receive the controversial treatment. His awakening, filled with awe and enthusiasm, proves a rebirth for Sayer too, as the exuberant patient reveals life’s simple but unutterably sweet pleasures to the introverted doctor.

Fits and Starts (2016) Directed by Laura Terruso

A struggling writer can’t seem to escape his wife’s literary success. When a road trip to a publisher’s salon takes an unexpected turn, he has to face his own creative shortcomings and find a way to regain control of his life and work.

Generation Wealth (2018) Directed by Lauren Greenfield

Lauren Greenfield’s postcard from the edge of the American Empire captures a portrait of a materialistic, workaholic, image-obsessed culture. Simultaneously autobiographical and historical essay, the film bears witness to the global boom-bust economy, the corrupted American Dream, and the personal costs of late stage capitalism, narcissism, and greed. 

Lady Bird (2017) Directed by Greta Gerwig

A warm, affecting comedy about a high school senior who must navigate a loving but turbulent relationship with her strong-willed mother over the course of her senior year of high school.

Leave No Trace (2018) Directed by Debra Granik

Will and his daughter, Thom, have lived off the grid for years until both are put into traditional housing. After clashing with new surroundings, they embark on a journey home.

Motherland (2017) Directed by Ramona Diaz

Taking us into the heart of the planet’s busiest maternity hospital, this cinematic experience drops the viewer like an unseen outsider into the hospital’s stream of activity. At first, the subjects are strangers. As the film continues, it becomes absorbingly intimate, rendering the women at the heart of the story increasingly familiar.

Jinn (2018) Directed by Nijla Mumin

Seventeen year-old Summer explores conversion to the Muslim faith and is particularly drawn to teachings around the “Jinn,” supernatural beings. When Summer meets fellow Muslim, Tahir, their budding attraction causes a conflict between desire and piety. This film feels like an American Girl novel.

Landline (2017) Directed by Gillian Robespierre

Set in 1990’s Manhattan, when sisters Dana and Ali suspect their father is having an affair, cracks in their family façade begin to surface. The two sisters bond as they discover the reality of love while trying to uncover the truth about their father without their mother knowing. I could watch this film on repeat for eternity.

Madeline’s Madeline (2018) Directed by Josephine Decker

Madeline has become a part of a prestigious physical theater troupe. When the workshop’s ambitious director pushes the teenager to weave her rich interior world and troubled history with her mother into their art, the lines between performance and reality begin to blur. This film explores how hard it is to define relationships with others and ourselves.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2012) Directed by Lynne Ramsay

Kevin’s mother struggles to love her strange child, despite the increasingly dangerous things he says and does as he grows up. But Kevin is just getting started, and his final act will be tragic and leave his mother to pick up the pieces.

The World Of Us (2016) Directed by Yoon Ga-Eun

Set in South Korea, two young friends, Sun and Jia, go through the ups and downs of youth. Sun is a transfer student who befriends Jia and they quickly bond. Their friendship is tested once bullies make them choose alliances.

To All The Boys I Loved Before Review

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is infecting women of all ages with butterflies and infectious smiles. This film accomplishes more than putting an Asian woman protagonist in the leading role. Similar to the way Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade leaves audiences reeling after realizing, transitioning at any point of your life is painful. While dealing with the reality that you have not become the version of yourself, a younger you expected you to be. But somehow we use that to motivate us. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before particularly shows how important it is to be seen for who you’ve always been. There should not have to be a large transformation of weight loss (Insatiable), revenge (Jennifer’s Body, Easy A), or a makeover (She’s All That, Princess Diaries, Clueless). We have been waiting for a rom-com in the lighthearted, empowering realm of Amanda Bynes teen comedies from the early 2000’s. At the end of the day, Lara Jean is not changing herself but venturing into the unknown, for the contract promises of her fake relationship with Peter (someone who becomes attracted to her because he sees her how she sees herself), but also to uncover the facets of her identity. Even her father says, her new social habits have brought out a side of her he’s never seen before. At the New Year’s Eve dining scene, he even says that he is so happy that Peter was able to bring out a side of her that she previously only revealed to her family. That’s the goal for an introvert like Lara Jean. Although, introverts are satisfied and recharged after being alone, when they let their hair down instead of up, they want to know someone else sees them. Their little quirks. Their favorite things. Their cultural identifiers like Korean smoothies and driving anxiety.
Lara Jean has a controlled cultural identity and stereotypes aren’t part of her world. At one point in the movie, Lara Jean is watching Sixteen Candles with Peter, the least annoying lax bro to ever exist and her kid sister, Kitty. They point out how Long Duk Dong’s character is racist and how woke we are in 2018.The inclusion of a gay, black male character, Lucas, also exemplifies being seen how one wants to be seen and not have to live a fantasy. One facet of the Asian-American identity that would have been nice to have been included in the film is if one of her suitors was an Asian boy. Asian males in America are seen as weak and that is due to the media and the lack of visibility of those relationships. One of Ali Wong’s opening jokes for her Baby Cobra Netflix special is, “I heard a rumor that all of the Asians in this city have congregated in this theater tonight. Thank you for coming with your white boyfriends.” As mixed race relationships become more prevalent in America, it is important that efforts are made to invalidate stereotypes. Since Crazy Rich Asians came out the same weekend, maybe the argument isn’t even valid since two respective Asian-American female experiences were released the same weekend. The power of having many perspectives is you don’t have to rely on one film to cover all experiences or to make you feel seen. Screen Shot 2019-02-15 at 8.32.13 PM.png

Lonely Hearts Book Club: January

Screen Shot 2019-01-01 at 7.30.20 PM.pngEverything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

368 pages

I finished my first book of 2019. I’m going to aim to finish two books a month.

This novel follows two first generation, Chinese-American sisters: Miranda and Lucia Bok. When we first meet them as young adults and their mother is dying of lung cancer. The older sister, Miranda handles all the matters involving the mother’s estate and health. It’s clear that she is the stable foundation holding the small, quiet family together.

What’s captivating about this tale, that spans twenty years, is Miranda and Lucia are two sisters I have definitely passed while galavanting around New York. They are two people I could see sitting in silence across from me in a subway car, both with tear-streaked cheeks, and know they are sisters who have just had the same fight for the thousandth time.

Everything Here Is Beautiful follows all the characters involved with Lucia’s mental illness, which is a cross diagnosis between schizophrenic disorder and bipolar disorder. Lucia is a sporadic, impulsive “journalist” of savant-like intelligence whose interests in people and activities fluctuate between electric bass, Vietnam, one-armed Israelis, and Ecuadorean illegal immigrants.

Although the story is told from the viewpoints of all the main characters, what Lee has ultimately written about is the brunt of the oldest sister, Miranda. Her anxiety and well-being rests in whether Lucia takes her medicine or not. Miranda has been Lucia’s second mother since their own mother would get flustered in Tennessee with Lucia, when they first immigrated to America. Eventually, Miranda is able to convince herself that Lucia is Lucia’s responsibility and chases her own happiness by moving to Switzerland with her husband. But Miranda’s own joy walks a tightrope as Lucia’s unpredictability keeps her up at night. Miranda’s life is like a scavenger hunt of meaning as the world passes around her and her friends have babies until one day, a catastrophic but liberating event happens…and she’s free.

Lee has captured all the difficulty and sacrifice that comes with simply trying to, “live your life.”

Favorite Films Viewed In 2018

(in alphabetical order)

1. Annihilation (2018)
2. Beatriz at Dinner (2017) 
3. Boogie Nights (1997) 
4. Columbus (2017) 
5. Crazy Rich Asians (2018) 
6. Eighth Grade (2018) 
7. The Eyes of My Mother (2016) 
8. The Favourite (2018) 
9. First Reformed (2018)
10. Frances Ha (2012) 
11. Girlhood (2014) 
12. God’s Own Country (2017)
13. Good Time (2017) 
14. Groundhog Day (1993) 
15. Happy As Lazarro (2018)
16. Hereditary (2018)
17. I Am Not A Witch (2018)
18. I, Tonya (2017)
19. Jackie (2016)
20. Landline (2017)
21. A Star Is Born (2018)
22. Pariah (2011)
23. Raw (2016)
24. Runaway Bride (1999)
25. Shoplifters (2018)
26. Thelma (2017)
27. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)
28. Tully (2018)
29. Widows (2018)
30. 13 Going On Thirty (2004)
Key for How It Was Viewed:
*Amazon Prime
*Cinema
*DVD
*Hulu
*Netflix

Link to my Letterboxd

MisterWives Debut Album Review

I saw MisterWives in concert the second time this past Sunday and a friend of mine brought up this review I wrote a few years ago…Let me know what you think!

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 12.26.15 PM.png

Our Own House Invites You in For a Dance Party & Heavy Dinner Conversation

Often in pop music, horns are sorry attempts at adding “culture” or making an intentional effort at being different than other songs on the radio. But indie-pop band, MisterWives, (a play on words attributing to the band’s members of four men and one female, lead singer Mandy Lee) feature a saxophone and trumpet, accompanied by Mandy Lee roaring vocals, to create multi-layered, infectious, effervescent, polychromatic anthems. Our Own House is not a “love” or a “break up” album.  “Our Own House” uses the metaphor of a house to illustrate two people who have promised to build a sturdy relationship together (We built our own house, own house/With our hands over our hearts/And we swore on that day/That it will never fall apart). Succeeding track “Not Your Way” is a feminist anthem whose lyrics juxtapose how far women have come (cast a vote, wear pants and prop up a gun) with the misogynist expectations still being combated (fill us up with plastic and cut us up and tie a bow). The second to last track “Vagabond” rings as an ode to loneliness with the lyric “pretending to not feel alone” ringing like a subconscious thought demanding attention. “Queens,” the last song on the LP and Mandy Lee’s hometown, paints a picture of a childhood lacking the best material possessions but one that provided a foundation and support system (but we always made it work/building castles out of dirt) is a somber but optimistic conclusion to the album. The chorus and bridge nostalgically layers vocals reminiscent of uplifting elders of a church service.

What’s your biggest pet peeve about how people write about your generation?

Those who clack away at Facebook statuses and cynical articles about millennials write to judge and parent. Millenials don’t need another parent because ours are down the hall job hunting, not for us but for themselves, in a market that doesn’t exist in or around our hometown anymore. Or they’re watching reality TV and simultaneously scrolling through Facebook as a sedative after working a fourteen hour day.

It’s important to understand that we too cannot afford to live in the town we grew up in (the one you raised your kids in) on our own yet we fervently desire a new hometown and a new chapter to call our own. Technology changes our world just as fast as yours and we also don’t understand how we can be lonely even though we have a device in our hand that allows hundreds of people we moderately know to “like” any thought, picture, achievement, or event we put onto social media. Being a millenial is a persistent feeling of not yet being an adult but definitely not a child. That’s why we turned adult into a verb. We know it’s something you do, not something you are.

“Adulting” became part of our lexicon when we realized that our lives consist of many immature adults who demand respect but never once show they are deserving of it. The millennial mentality is, “Respect is earned.” The “Me Me Me” Generation already knows  the value of hard work, we have been working on ourselves since our teachers began prematurely telling us, “it will look great for college.” We are selfish and thoughtful. Our “selfishness” consists of recovering from our childhood and past relationships instead of repressing our past so it does not fester into toxic behavior. All this hard work towards self-love helps us radiate and explore our identities so, we can vote for our interests with eyes towards the future and, equipped with an open mind to new solutions for old problems.

Society has breastfed us the illusion that, what has worked for our parents and previous generations will work for millennials. So writers, millennials don’t need a chore list, a better work ethic, or more discipline. We need help and advice, in the form of supplemental parenting. Millennials just want a physical, career, and personal place to call our own. We want to obtain more wealth, self-worth, and sense of purpose than our parents ever achieved. More than anything, we want the American Dream you advertised us.