September 30, 2002
By Matt Proietti

 
 

ARROWHEAD FILM FEST - LONG REVIEW

The Lake Arrowhead Celebration of Film kicked off Friday, Sept. 27, with a big dinner. I was impressed because it had about 3 times as many people as I expected. Over 150 people were there.

Alyson and Del know this, but the Lake Arrowhead area is just full of really nice people. Lots of professional people who retired here, plus people who decided to leave the rat race for a better life. Everyone is very encouraging when someone tries to do something new (like write a short movie, for instance).

So Vee and I get to the hotel where the dinner is (and where Aly got married, by the way) and the film fest staff is just so excited that a filmmaker (me) is there. I thought they were kidding at first, but they weren't. Sometimes I think they should call this place Stepford Lake, but it turns out that being treated kindly is very nice.

Sometimes this area seems so small that you're sure everyone knows what you've been up to. I've really only plugged "We've Got Johnny" with my closest friends, but one of my pals wrote a story about our project in the local paper the other month, so I've had people mention that from time to time.

The film fest is in its third year, but the folks who started it moved to Northern California and a whole new batch of people stepped forward to make it happen. They have a good idea, too, which is to feature classic movies as well as new ones, which is something I haven't see in our festival travels of late. Many movies have been shot in the Lake Arrowhead area over the years, and the planners set a perfect mood by showing a silent picture from way back when. Vee was enthralled with that, while I went over to the bar, where I saw the first movie star of the night.

Christopher McDonald ("Quiz Show," "Happy Gilmore," "Thelma and Louise" and a zillion others) was in front of me. He lives up here fulltime (or almost fulltime for the amount of times I've seen him). I was stoked that he would take time out of his schedule to attend this event. I cracked up when the bartender, after serving his drink, asked: "Can I shake your hand? I've seen all of your movies." The wise ass Bay Stater in me wanted to say, "Oh, really? Name 'em, buddy!" But I live in Stepford...I mean, Lake Arrowhead...and behaved myself. (By the way, Christopher did shake his hand). I walked up, ordered my standard Manhattan on the rocks and told the bartender he could shake my hand, too. He told me to go screw myself.

I mingled way more here than at the Temecula and Big Bear fests, but mainly because I knew several dozen people who were there. Vee and I chatted with two of our co-workers for about 20 mintues, when one of them noticed my festival pass said "Filmmaker" on it. He asked, "How did you get that one?" I thought he was joking at first because I had plugged the fest and "Johnny" at our weekly staff meeting. They weren't kidding, though. They weren't at that meeting and hadn't seen the story in the local paper. I told them about our project, and they seemed very impressed, as does everyone who hasn't actually seen the movie yet.

I returned to our table and met my second movie star of the night, Vincent Spano, who was very personable but who I didn't recognize. (Sorry, Vince). The emcee introduced the most important people there, including Christopher, Vince and keynote speaker June Lockhart ("Lost in Space," "Lassie," etc.), who spent much of her youth in Lake Arrowhead. As they were introducing everyone who was important, I whispered to Vee that I hoped that they didn't introduce me.

"What an ego!" she said.

As soon as she said that they started to introduce the individual filmmakers who were present. When they got to "We've Got Johnny," they said something like "Screenwriter/Co-Producer Matt Proietti" and the loudest applause yet filled the room.

"So, have you lived here long, Matt?" said Vince with perfect timing.

I downed a second Manhattan as June Lockhart shared her memories of her youth in Lake Arrowhead. She is adorable and her speech was a perfect kick-off to the revamped festival.

On Saturday morning, I went to my office and quickly designed a legal-size publicity poster for "Johnny." I just opened up the Los Angeles Times and copied an ad that I saw in there. Having no quotes from reviewers, I made them up.

"POSSIBLY THE BEST MOCKUMENTARY EVER MADE ABOUT JOHNNY APPLESEED," reads one attributed to me.

"ALYSON RIDLON LIGHTS UP THE SCREEN AND ALWAYS ATE HER VEGETABLES," is attributed to Vee.

It features the photo of Aly interviewing me as the mayor above the great "Johnny" logo and web site promo. Standard-looking credits are below that. I made 10 copies on the color copier at my office and posted them at the theaters and in a coffee shop my friend owns.

"Johnny" showed Sunday night. It was scheduled to go at 6:40 p.m., so they introduce me to talk about the movie. The theater sat 70 people and I think every seat was taken. I knew a third to half the folks there, so I wasn't really nervous. The lights dim, the movie starts -- and the picture is all squiggly. My gut starts to hurt. They stop it after 15 seconds and my friend, Lee of the festival staff, runs down to me.

"Is this a Super VHS copy?" he asked.

"Yes. That's what you told me to give you."

A worried look appeared on Lee's face.

"We don't have a Super VHS player."

A worried look appeared on my face. Then a young man runs up with sweat beads the size of olives on his forehead. He is the projectionist.

"We don't have a Super VHS player," he said.

"That's what I understand."

I mention that I have a mini DV copy at home and a regular VHS copy at a friend's home. I dash home to get my tape, while Lee apologizes to the audience profusely and the projectionist sweats profusely. They put on a documentary, "The Channel," about swimmers conquering the English Channel. I think this is a better -- but not perfect -- lead-in to "Johnny."

My friend delivered her VHS copy to the theater about 3 minutes after I return with my DV one. I told the projectionist to make sure the movie volume is LOUD. I breathed a sigh of relief and my stomach ache disappeared. I thought of something funny to say as they got the movie ready.

"I have bad news. You are going to see 'We've Got Johnny.'"

Ha ha ha. Bolstered by the response, I decide to keep going.

"If I couldn't find a tape, I was going to perform a mime version of it for you."

Ha ha ha. Vee gives me a look that means, "Quit while you're ahead, Shecky." So I do.

So they show "Johnny" and, boy, was the volume loud. The picture was fine. It was being projected up from some contraption in the aisle (like one of those 3-lamp things used on old big screen TVs), so it was wider at the top than the bottom. The response was great, though.

June Lockhart, Christopher McDonald and Vincent Spano were all there. Big laughs throughout, but tops to "Johnny 3:16," Chuck with ax, Chuck at the small cabin, Flu, Shrub and Sue, particularly when the moon is out and she's still droning on. Vincent thought Aly was great.

Lee told me later that June Lockhart said we should copy it on to 35 mm "and submit it to the academy." I didn't know what he meant until he explained she meant the academy (as in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). So now I am worried about Ms. Lockhart's mental health.

We had some folks over for pizza and beer. They heaped praise on me and told me to pass on their congratulations to everyone involved in it. Vee had bought me a cardboard Hollywood Walk of Hame star with my name on it, and our friends gave me a little fake trophy that bears slight resemblance to an Oscar.

The festival had packaged all of the shorts and documentaries together, going from 2 to about 8:30 p.m. for only $10. A wicked good deal.

I went back about 4 p.m., so I missed the Academy Award-winning short, "The Accountant," which opened up the long package of movies.

The first movie I saw was "Barrier Device," made by UCLA student Grace Lee. It was a very good with some funny moments in it. The "barrier device" in the title refers to the female condom study being done by a researcher. Grace was at the movie to introduce it.

Next up was "Holiday on the Moon," which I saw a couple of years ago on the internet. It was made by Lake Arrowhead native Sam Bozzo and stars Matthew Glave (Drew Barrymore's fiance in "The Wedding Singer") as a clockmaker. It is a very surreal movie, which Sam said when he introduced it, saying something along the lines that the audience might like it "if you like Terry Gilliam." Very clever movie, though it makes me worry about the other ideas floating around in Sam's head.

This was followed by "America's Favorite Pastime," which was written in July and taped in three days in August in the Midwest. This was probably the movie most like "Johnny," but it was a bit too sacharin for me. It even starred a young businesswoman from New York City who returns to her hometown. Her father is selling the unsuccessful minor league baseball team he owns to a stereotypically evil rich guy who is going to make all sorts of changes. Her high school sweetheart is the team's mascot, a bear, and uses his paw to stop a foul ball from beaning her in the head. This movie would have been better if it was treated as a comedy or a drama; it's pretty hokey the way it was done. I wanted to see that ball bash her skull in!

Next up was "Bean Cake," which I read about last winter in the L.A. Times after it was nominated for an Academy Award for best short. Done by a USC student who used to live in Japan (he is not Japanese). Set in 1933 Japan, it's a story about a little boy who transfers to a new school gets in a whole lot of trouble with his new teacher when he says his mother's bean cake pastries -- not the country's emperor -- is the most important thing to him in the world. Excellent movie.

Then I saw "Hairy," which is about an alien who looks like a wig and who crash lands on earth. He ends up on the bald head of a plumber, who falls in love with a lady at a beauty shop. This had a lot of good laughs in it, especially when the alien gets jealous when it is threatened by the man's feelings for the woman.

Next up was "Stubble Trouble," a clever, short animated piece about a caveman who can't get any attention from women because of his constant whiskers. Everyone but me was laughing. I am a hairy dude and identified with the little guy's pain.

Based on my experience in Big Bear, I was concerned with the prelude to "Johnny." It was a 30-minute or so documentary made by a Turkish-American woman whose grandparents are returning to Turkey after spending three years living with their doctor son (the director's father) in California. While there were a few laughs in it, the movie was a downer because it focused on the impending death of an old woman. It was interesting, though.

The last two shorts I saw were done by Vincent Spano. Both were excellent. "Tony & Bobby" was written by his friend in a style evocative (but funnier, I think) style as Abbott and Costello's famous "Who's on First" routine. The title characters are a couple of low-level mobsters (drivers) who bump into each other while waiting for their bosses outside an office building or restaurant. It all centers on the crazy nicknames used. This has been done before (a hilarious "Good Fellas" skit on Saturday Night Live comest to mind), but this was great, too. Then Vincent showed a silent movie that was just perfect. I forget the name, though.

Matt

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