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Monthly Archives: October 2014

Shorts Showcase Awards Ceremony
Palm Springs, California
By Laura P. Valtorta

Palm Springs, California, October 24, 2014. I knew I was in the desert when I saw a big bird in the hotel parking lot. A Road Runner!! It was about a foot long from crest to tail feathers. It was looking for bugs and scraps, I guess.
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That’s the way I feel about my visit to Palm Springs. Without the company of Marco, I’m scrounging for smiles and scraps of conversation. I do this by joining tour groups and taking the breathtaking tram ride to the top of one of the mountains surrounding Palm Springs. The desert is rocky and dry. Even in October the temperature soars to 90 degrees F in the afternoons. Atop the mountain, 6,516 feet high, it was about 65 degrees and dotted with pine trees that produce huge cones.

My cab driver from the Agua Caliente resort to the tram was a lady from Iran who has lived here for 20 years. “This desert is beautiful,” she said, “and the people are starting to discover it.”

The Shorts Showcase awards ceremony was interesting and filled with a Hollywood-type movie crowd: cinematographers and animation specialists who work for large studios in LA but have branched out to make their own short films. I sat next to a young woman who produced “Modern Love.” I was there with my narrative short – “Disability.” We were both finalists for awards. “Disability” won second place for most votes for a comedy. Unfortunately the second place awards were not announced on stage – but they did show clips from all the finalists. I received a certificate that will be framed once I get back to South Carolina.

The Shorts Showcase, which puts on a bimonthly program for the local PBS station – KVCR – in Palm Springs, has just received a contract to broadcast nationally! Congratulations to Leanna Bonamici and Cheryl Blythe, who run the Shorts Showcase. This means that “Disability” will probably be broadcast nationally.

I received compliments about Einab Weingarten, the lovely actress who stars in “Disability.”

WWW.SHORTSSHOWCASE.COM. Go there, and continue to watch great short films.

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Oaxaca Film Festival – Impressions of Mexico
By Laura P. Valtorta

Mexico City, Benito Jaurez Airport, October 12, 2014. Oaxaca is a good place to discover Mexico for the first time, because it is part small mountain town, part tourist destination, part ex-pat village. We found Americans and Europeans at every turn, and not just connected with the festival.

The women in Mexico dress well, not fancily, in a way that I appreciate: colorful skirts, black T-shirts, hair natural and braided. They wear flats – a few teeter-totter shoes. No spandex. Good taste. I didn’t bring the right attire for Saturday’s Award Ceremony. Next year I’ll pack some fancy pants or a dress.

Marco and I had good luck with food. A restaurant named “Comala” sponsored the film festival and was a good choice for the big lunch that locals eat around 3 p.m. We paid 80 pesos for a “comida corrida,” including drink (a kind of fruit tea – no dangerous water!), delicious taco soup, and some shredded pork tortillas. The windows were open; I wore long pants to avoid the gnats.
My favorite sandwich/dessert/coffee place was called “Café La Antigua,” at Reforma 401. I had delicious hot biscuits, marmalade, tea, and chocolate. Marco tried out the potato and manchego cheese sandwich, which was served with four sauces – muy picante.

The best food in Oaxaca is the pastries and bread. The bread is moist and soft, often filled with cheese or chocolate. Pig-rolls “cochons” taste wonderful with tea, hot chocolate, or the local coffee.

Do NOT drink the water! Do NOT brush your teeth in it!

I wanted one of the local wool rugs, the size of a doormat. After seeing high prices near Santo Domingo, we ended up purchasing one for ¼ of the price from a guy with a backpack. As always, Marco was an expert at bargaining.

We made the trip to Monte Alban, an ancient village of the Zapotecs. This is obligatory: Marco’s type of thing. A bunch of loud Americans ruined the visit at the site, but the bus ride up the mountain, past small houses and nice shade trees, was fascinating. My favorite tourist activities were the film festival walking tour with Gordon (an American who lives in Oaxaca) and our private visit to Santo Domingo (incredible wood carvings on the celing). Gordon normally leads mountain climbers from village to village, but he was an excellent guide to the pueblo of Oaxaca. We learned about Benito Jaurez (local boy turned President of Mexico), the local strikes and political unrest that we had witnessed, and the history of the natural red dye that used to be made from plants and bugs in the region.

Staying within Oaxaca at Hotel One (paper-thin walls but otherwise excellent for the price) it was difficult to imagine modern stores. One of the film venues, however, was Cinepolis, a multiplex cinema just outside the city. To arrive there, we needed to hop the hotel bus. It was in the middle of a bustling, modern mall. Every Oaxacan seemed to be there on Saturday

. Our festival film (the excellent Icelandic feature Days of Gray) was preceded by a political advertisement. The theme was “free public schools for all.” In the ad, a boy is turned away from school because his family has not paid their taxes. The mother goes berserk over this, and the boy gets to enter the school. Interesting politics in Oaxaca.

Oaxaca Film Festival – Day Three
By Laura P. Valtorta

Oaxaca, Mexico, October 10, 2014. My husband, Marco, is being dragged to film festivals, and he’s a pretty good sport about it. He and I have always wanted to visit Mexico. We will see the Zapotec village (Monte Alban) tomorrow, because of Marco.

PLANT LIFE. Sometimes the films get to him. Yesterday, during a string of documentaries, we learned that maguey – an agave-type plant – can be used to make construction materials, cloth, alcoholic beverages, skin-piercing materials, and cattle feed. Even though he is a City Boy, Marco acted patient and interested.

GOATS. Today, however, the goats got to him. We had just watched some disastrous shorts, including a Bad Santa story (British style), a basketball Mexican gang thriller, and a relationship saga that made you want to kill yourself. Marco started complaining loudly in Italian – “Che cos’e questa schifezza?” (What is this shit?), and I knew we were in trouble.

The feature film that followed had no plot whatsoever, but merely showed two girls – one living in Mexico City, and one living on a goat farm. There was no dialogue beyond some sentences about feeding and herding the goats. The City Girl was composing “house music” for people to dance to, badly. I wished many times for the goats to leap into the frame and replace the dancers.

Things were more intriguing on the farm — at least for me, because I am a Country Girl. Suddenly there was a close-up of the goats’ faces – twitching and listening with big ears – their faces more colorful and interesting than the humans.

“Tension,” said Marco in my ear. “The goats are upset.”

I couldn’t stop laughing, but I had to laugh silently, because maybe the filmmaker was sitting nearby. My head nearly exploded.

. Every time after that when the goats appeared, following each other, baaing, suckling, mounting trees to get at the leaves, Marco put his face close to me and glared, as if blaming ME for the goats. Neither one of us could quit laughing.

We drank Oaxacan chocolate afterwards, and Marco felt better.

Oaxaca Film Festival –Day One
By Laura P. Valtorta

Oaxaca, Mexico, October 8, 2014. There are hundreds of film festivals open to Americans these days. The Oaxaca Film Festival, in the mountains of central Mexico, is one of the best. I came here because my feature-length screenplay, Bermuda, was accepted. I arrived in town two days late. Today, alone, I was given the opportunity to pitch my screenplay four times, once in front of an audience (filmed pitch) and three times before studio executives who actually have money to make films. That, for me, makes this a successful festival. The last producer asked for additional material. All four pitches sessions allowed me time to practice telling my story. .

Everyone I spoke to today was interested to hear that the stage play version of this story was produced and directed this August in Columbia, SC by LeaSharn Hopkins, of New Life Productions. This is very much a South Carolina story, as well as a Mexican one.

The Oaxaca Film Festival is now in its fifth year. It strikes a fine balance between English speakers and Spanish speakers. Every session I’ve attended has accommodated both languages. Unfortunately I don’t speak any Spanish, but every presenter at the festival speaks good English. They also recognize that my name is Italian. They are good fellow Latins.

The atmosphere here is international Last night I saw two excellent independent films: a feature set in Mexico City (lLos Banistas), and a short filmed in Quebec

I noticed that the Oaxacan attitude is laid back. When Oaxacans speak English, they use a ton of good old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon swear words.

Filmmakers can enter the Oaxaca Film Festival using Film Freeway.

The day ended with a peaceful demonstration in the city center regarding those students who were apparently killed by police near Oaxaca. Many people marched. The police were there with machine guns. We were locked out of the festival for 20 minutes until the demonstration passed.

Afterwards, I noticed that the police tore down posters of the dead students that the marchers had pasted on the walls along the sidewalks.

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