This has been a whirlwind. My last few nights in Los Angeles I felt there were angels all around me - the out of town strangers who bought me dinner, the people next to me on the plane who gave me cookies. After months of struggling with re-cutting the film and the financial burden that was overwhelming coupled with that decision, I start seeing signs everywhere that this decision is supported. Our original cut (which I am considering calling the director's cut) was accepted into the Rochester Deaf Film Festival and the Philadelphia Film Festival, acting as sneak preview/work in progress screenings.
I arrived in Rochester at 1:00 AM and found the festival director had fallen asleep in the car at the airport while waiting to pick me up. I knocked on the window to make sure it was her, knowing a hearing person would have woken up, then tried calling her cell phone to see if that would work. Nothing. Bingo - it was her. Leaving little choice, I gently rocked the car to wake her up. I startled the wits out of her, which embarrassed both of us upon our first face-to-face meeting in the middle of the night. She has done an amazing job putting this festival together, and I was honored that she drove out so late to personally greet me.
We drove to RIT and I stayed in the deaf-friendly NTID dorm housing. I love my door flasher! My colleague/intern/friend Julia Dameron was already there. We chatted for at least an hour, both excited about being there for the festival. The next day was filled with filmmaker workshops and a very cool reception at a unique artist space. I met filmmakers from around the world - Israel, Amsterdam, South Africa who were at the festival with their films. I was honored to be one of the few hearing filmmakers there.
Our screening on Saturday had a great turnout considering that we couldn't do any advertising because of our sneak preview status. I was filming the day's events which I later turned into a short video journey of our festivals. My original plan was to have a deaf team of filmmakers/editors to do this with me, but we don't have any funding so I am doing it myself. Hopefully I will meet a motivated filmmaker soon to join me. It was OK to hand the camera over to various friends as I jumped in front of the camera to explain what was going on. A bit awkward - I need to figure this out. After the film Robert DeMayo, Julia and I went out with friends and other filmmakers to an Irish bar and had a chance to have fun. I had a great conversation with Ryan Commerson, a filmmaker working with Wayne Betts who is currently screening his master's thesis around the country.
The next day I took an 11-hour Amtrak ride to Boston to visit my sister Rachel. It was wonderful - reading EAT PRAY LOVE on the train having a day to relax. My second night in Boston I got a call from my new editor telling me that there was a problem burning our new cut for submission to the Los Angeles Film Festival. The deadline was the following day, and her computer had crashed. Being 3,000 miles away didn't help. It was very stressful, especially since I didn't see the final submission cut, the Fedex tracking number didn't register and I was once again waking up with panic attacks. Are we ever going to have a world premiere? After several frantic phone calls between the two of us, she found a helpful friend who came in to save the day. Hurray!
After a short stay with family, I arrived in Philadelphia a few days later. The entire festival staff and volunteers were extremely friendly and helpful and made me feel incredibly welcome. I went to the filmmakers reception, which had fantastic food and drinks, but I had a hard time mixing. This usually isn't a problem for me. Maybe it is coming from the warmth closeness of the deaf film festival and having a hard time swinging back into the hearing world.
Our first screening was at the International House. I was completely bowled over to see an entire clan from AZTI (Arizona Total Immersion sign language program) come out - Joan Hanna, Tom Driscoll and so many others. They were all wearing "I love you" handshaped headbands with Robert's photo stapled to the top. I absolutely adore these people, and felt truly honored that they came all this way to see the film. I looked over, and another surprise was in front of me: my NTD buddies Frank Dattolo and Camille Jeter!! I haven't seen them in years, and it was one of the best surprises ever. They were responsible along with Robert for planting the seed back in 1996 that I wanted to do a film on deaf entertainers.
The audience was packed. They laughed and cried in all of the right places, and at the end of the film stamped their feet sending echoes like an earthquake. It was one of the highest compliments I could have received. My dad and Renee were in the audience and told me later that they had never experienced anything like it. We went out to celebrate at Pod sushi restaurant with our own private room. Robert loved the buttons on the wall that you could punch to change the color of the room.
We had a second screening the next day at the huge Prince Theater. I wasn't sure what kind of turnout we would get since I plan on coming back to Philadelphia with the official screening. I was impressed that we had an audience. Robert was so inspiring and eloquent at the Q&A after the screening - I was glad that we got it on film (thanks, Robin Robin.)
The next day Robert and I were filming pick-up shots for the new cut when the festival called. "There is an awards ceremony tonight that we want you to be at. We can change your flight and put you up at the hotel for another night. We really think you should be there - wink wink." I was floored. This was totally unexpected, since we were supposed to be out of competition. I was too nervous about having this win somehow affect our world premiere status which I have been working so hard to protect. But my gut said I should celebrate this win, so Robert and I finished our filming, quickly changed and headed to the reception. The award ceremony was surreal - back at the Prince Theater where we were the day before. The theater was packed with about 800 people who were there for the awards and the closing night film Lymelife. I graciously received an over sized wrestling belt with BEST FEATURE FILM that the festival made for the awards. All I could think was, "How am I going to get this through security at the airport?" The enormity of the prize and the meaning behind it didn't hit me until after I got home to a sea of congratulatory emails and phone calls.
I still feel like our journey hasn't even begun yet until we have an official screening of the final cut and work towards that golden prize of a distribution deal. Luckily we have enough booking requests to carry this film independently. I return to finish up the final cut, continue to try to raise funding for post production on this new cut and try to catch up on sleep.