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The “Other” Venice Film Festival

The “Other” Venice Film Festival


Venice California was one man's dream of a place to resemble Venice, Italy. In 1900 Abbot Kinney founded Venice, California. At first Venice was a romantic network of canals but Kinney's idea never really worked, and with the arrival of cars and freeways to LA, the canals were abandoned. In the 1960s Venice, California became a low rent district on the ocean that attracted artists and young radicals from across the nation.

Always slightly on the margin, the artists who gravitated there were experimental and a bit irreverent. Venice Beach is the kind of place which tends to write it's own history and in an effort to represent the filmmakers and films that reflect that spirit Venice residents Gary Ellenberg and AJ Peralta founded The “Other” Venice Film Festival (OVFF). “We don’t take ourselves too seriously. There aren’t search lights in the air, and there’s no red carpet.” cofounder AJ Peralta explains.

This weekend marked the third anniversary of the festival and highlights included:

- “Champion” a film by Joe Eckhardt about the life of Danny Trejo who overcame addiction and prison to become a successful actor

- a screening of “I Hate You”, produced by and starring Shannyn Sossamon.

- a screening of “The Masque Of Red Death” followed by an presentation of the local maverick Abbot award to the warped godfather of independent film Roger Corman
- the introduction of a new genre of film : “cineclash” as Ewan Telford’s “APOCALYPSE OZ” screened to a sold out audience at Switch Studios.

ROGER CORMAN

"Corman has trained more up-and-coming filmmakers right here in Venice than any film school in town," says Other Venice Film Festival cofounder Gary Ellenberg. Known for his thrift, vision, kitschy showmanship and lightning speed in filmmaking, Corman forged the business and production model that was to be copied by legions of aspiring independent filmmakers. Corman's name echoes through Hollywood, and his Venice studio has been like an alma mater for many actors and filmmakers who were to go on to become big stars, including Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Sylvester Stallone, Sandra Bullock and Robert DeNiro.

The Interviews:

Roger Corman, Abbot Award recipient:

You made successful cost effective independent films long before the current independent film business was established in fact you may be the most prolific film producer ever. A great deal of your early productions capitalized on the drive in as a venue- there are very few of them still around-what do you think lead to the demise of the American drive in?

Well, two things actually; first of all the actual experience wasn’t that good. Drive-ins had poor sound and image quality but more importantly it was real estate values. Drive –ins were built on cheap land along major thoroughfares in the 40’s , 50’s and 60’s. In the 70’s and 80’s this was exactly the way the cities expanded and the owners simply cashed in their properties.

Do you think new portable media devices will provide an opportunity for indie filmmakers to get their films to market?

Yes. There is probably going to be an increase in opportunities for producers as the industry goes digital and particularly Hi Def, although some of the ways these images will be shown will not be hi quality.

Has the publics fascination with DVDs started to wane?

No, not specifically. It’s the same in every medium whether we are talking about film, television DVD or sporting events. The internet and gaming have encroached on the window of time we have to be entertained and ratings and box office are dropping as a result. So all entertainment is falling off , not just DVD’s.

With CGI getting less and less expensive and more talented kids graduating from computer art schools every year- CGI is no longer carries the big price tag it once did will we see CGI making its way into low budget directors hands soon?

Well, I’ve already done this with “Dyna Croc” and we just started pre-production on a fully CGI feature “Cyclops” We haven’t decided on a software package yet, but we will be announcing our choice soon.

So many of your early productions were shot in VENICE-how did you choose it as a location?

Well, back in the 70’s we began producing 15 features per year and we decided shooting in a studio was more efficient. We bought the old Hammond Lumber Yard on Main street built our studio there and banked on real estate prices increasing as the area gentrified. Also Venice attracted a lot of artists and we hoped to utilize the community in our productions, it worked out very well.

Corman says that young filmmakers can learn lots from his business practices and filmmaking techniques, but he also points out that it's a changing world and a changing market.

"When I began, pretty much every film got a theatrical release," says Corman. "Now, it's the exception for a low budget film to get a theatrical release. That's one less revenue stream."

"Now, the money is made from a DVD release or from cable. It takes part of the thrill out of it for me," Corman laments.

In a profession of trying to guess what people's tastes will dictate, Corman's aim was overwhelmingly accurate.

"Making any film is risk, but I made sure to take calculated risks," says Corman, who continues to forge away in the film business at age 79. "Early on, in my first five years, I was 100 percent right. Now I'm right 75 percent of the time."

Ewan Telford, Director “Apocalypse Oz”:

What was the spark for such an ambitious film?

Many films share the same archetypal structures, but it occurred to me one day that Apocalypse Now and The Wizard of Oz are unusually similar – not just in their architecture, but in many details as well. I thought it a worthwhile experiment to hybridize their screenplays and create a third story for a bright, vulgar, modern film.

How did you tackle the structure of the film when you started drafting the script?

The overall structure was latent in the original scripts, so first of all I drew parallels between characters, which were fairly straightforward – Dorothy is Willard, The Wizard is Kurtz and so forth. Some roles and motivations didn’t necessarily co-relate easily so I reshaped them, principally through the manipulation of existing dialogue. There were practical issues too – we didn’t want the burden of a dog on the shoot and no-one likes Toto, so we had Dorothy do him in early.

What is cineclash?

The term is inspired by the reggae ‘soundclashes’ in which DJs would square off against each other. Cineclash is essentially the practice of fusing two disparate but complimentary film texts to form a third that stands on its own as something quite different, then shooting it. There are two rules – a/ that plot and characters are strict hybrids and b/ that all dialogue comes from one film or the other, many lines drawing on both. I find most dialogue can be interpreted in all sorts of different ways, according to context.

Do you have any qualms about intellectual property issues or tinkering with other peoples’ work – particularly two of the most cherished and classic films?

Not in the least. Firstly, these two ‘classics’ are themselves based on existing classic texts and, arguably, compromise and insult their sources. Coppola and Milius don’t even bother to credit Conrad which is indicative of their attitude to the idea of originality and the collective free-flow of ideas. Credit your sources at least! Secondly, does Apocalypse Oz offer any new perspective on those films? Yes, it does. I think we should feel free to be cheeky and irreverent with our ‘classics’, question them. My film is not a remake, it is something quite new and screenplays are not inviolate - after all, they are not the film, they are a road map at most. F*ck it, paint a moustache on Judy Garland. The people that get upset about this sort of thing are rarely the artists and, for the most part, I don’t believe that notions of intellectual property and especially copyright law exist in the service of creatives or creativity. They have a different function altogether.

How creative did you get in post production?

No more than in the average film I’d say, but that’s still a lot! We didn’t want or need anything very flashy or ostentatious. There are three or four digital effects shots in there, the most grand and labour intensive being the tornado. We did put a lot of time and thought into the edit, though and into the colour correction. They were very important for us. Then there was music and sound design, which were again very important, especially since both Apocalypse Now and The Wizard of Oz have such distinctive and evocative scores.

What’s next for you Ewan?

Apocalypse Oz the feature! Investors please form an orderly queue!

“Apocalypse OZ” can be seen next at the Mendocino Film Festival. More information on this new genre is available at the website at www.apocalypseoz.com

Danny Trejo/Joe Eckhardt , “Champion”

Danny Trejo, star of Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn,
Con-Air, Reindeer Games, Spy Kids,
and many more was featured in the opening night comedy short “The People In The Wall”. He also brought his award winning biographical documentary “Champion” to OVFF 2006.

Congratulations on completing “Champion” guys this is a great film- Danny, when you speak about your uncle Gilbert your emotions just pour right through the lens…

Hey, I’m glad you mentioned that. My uncle Gilbert was the most important guy in my life. I think when you’re a kid you’re drawn toward the negative, he was a great guy, but if I had looked up to my uncle Rudy things would have been different. Gilbert died of a drug overdose you know?

Joe, how did you and Danny first meet?

We met on a Val Kilmer film and later in August of 2005 I was shooting my documentary on Latino’s in Hollywood “Yo Soy” .I interviewed Danny and realized this guy needed his own story. Danny just wanted a 15 minute film to show to schools and prisons where he lectures-that was the start of “Champion” Danny will be on location and he will find out where the local Juvenile hall or school is and go do his thing.

Danny was it tough to fit the production of CHAMPION into your busy schedule?

That’s all Joes doing. Joe pieced it together around my schedule. The interviewer is Joe’s wife Cecily. He put it all together.

Joe, one of the best scenes in ”Champion” is the moment that Danny revisits his old cell at San Quentin, how did you get access?

Well we called San Quentin, told them about the project; they know Danny because he was an inmate. We bought uniforms for the prison baseball team The San Quentin Giants and we got access. Danny fought the idea of keeping that scene in but it really shows his humanity. I’m glad it’s in there.

Joe, How much of this documentary was improvised?

All of it, it’s all improvised. We just had an outline of the crossroads in Danny’s life; there was no script or anything. Postproduction was an intensive 7-month process. I took all the transcripts and edited it together in WORD. I made it flow then matched the footage to the text.

Danny, after so many years as an actor, as a producer with ANIMAL FACTORY, and filmmaker what are you working on now?

We’re off to London with Champion then I’ve got “Jack Law’ coming out next. Actually I co produced Animal Factory with Eddie Bunker. I liked it because it had a positive ending. In real life, you know, most times Willem Dafoes character wouldn’t let go of that kid, but this was different. You know that line “If you want a murderer call 976 – MEXICAN? They got that from me, that’s my line. (laughs)

Danny, do you have any advice for young kids trying to get their first break?

Yeah, I do “I’d rather shoot for the moon and miss than aim for the gutter and make it’

Thank you Danny and Joe congratulations on your success with “Champion”.

Festival Founders AJ Peralta & Gary Ellenberg

Why did you found OVFF and how has OVFF evolved since its inception?

The festival's inception is a happy accident, an idea between a
couple friends. Making the idea a reality required us to put some
organization and heart behind it to put on the best show possible.
Venice has always been a town of DIY-ers - and we've tried to run with
that spirit.

What do you base your decision on when choosing selections in your programming?

We try to select films that represent the energy and diversity of
Venice. At one level, we try to include as many local Venetian
filmmakers as possible in our programming. And more broadly, we try to seek out the best and most entertaining content we can find - films that we think will interest the local community.

Is there any particularly impressive event that you remember from the
past years of OVFF?

I am impressed (and amazed) that we sell out our screenings - not
that the programming isn't great and the community isn't interested -
but that all the elements come together in a neat package. We try to
put together interesting elements - such as an experimental
architecture show on the future of Venice redevelopment in The
Electric Lodge (our main venue and one of two completely 'green'
performance spaces in the world) at the same time slot we are
featuring upcoming talent in our short film series. Where else in LA
can you find the LA deputy Mayor, a bunch of independent creatives and a punk band getting ready to rock the audience?!

What can first time visitors expect ?

First time visitors should come expecting a very approachable event with lots of programming to choose from. Many guests come to see one thing and end up staying for something completely unexpected. Again,
we're not heavy on the idea of a red carpet and the celebrity aura.
While there is a sense of glamour, it is also about community and
creatives - and we try to toss them all into the same blender.

What were you doing during the festival?

During the festival we are mad trying to make sure everything runs
smoothly and that everyone has a great time. Our success so far is
rooted in the community supporting us, volunteers making it happen,
the audience spreading the good word. So, we try to deliver an
entertaining and approachable experience for all. So bouncing back and
forth between our two venues, moderating Q&A sessions, working out
guest list details, chatting with audience, introducing filmmakers to
each other, handling little technical issues, keeping the website
updated daily on programming and ticket availability, and all the
other craziness is just part of the day

Ambience

OVFF 2006 featured plenty of late-night after-parties, , art exhibits and music by local bands and fulfilled the Venice mandate of unique art and community vibes. Portions of the fest’s ticket sales will be awarded to one local filmmaker to help them complete his or her project. The best place to kick-it during the fest was the parking lot outside of the Electric Lodge off of Abbot Kinney, where festival attendees and participants such as Chris Mulkey lean against beach cruisers and enjoy the hang-time. Switch Studios, the festival’s other screen venue offered up bean bag chairs in its screen room and monkeys in its chandelier and the owner, Matt Danzinger, is an indie filmmaker himself.

Local maverick, actor Chris Mulkey—who was recently nominated by the LA Weekly for a best acting nod for his work in the play “Flags”—will hosted panels that served as standout moments for participants and attendees at previous Other Venice Film Festivals. Memorable past moments include 2004’s relaxed give and take between Tony Bill, Mulkey and Camryn Manheim, for instance. And 2005, when skateboarder Tony Alva’s frankness demonstrated why he can easily rivet a room even when sandwiched between film director Catherine Hardwick and writer/former skateboarder Stacy Peralta.

As diverse and vibrant as Venice Beach itself, OVFF is a unique experience that continues to blossom here in the home of the independent and the avant garde.

Article by Dane Allan Smith
Photo’s courtesy of OVFF, J.Eckhardt and Desiree Asher

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