September 19, 2002
By Matt Proietti

 
 

TEMECULA FILM FESTIVAL - LONG REVIEW

Thursday, Sept. 19 - My wife (Vee) and I drove the 60 or so miles from our home in Lake Arrowhead to Temecula, arriving just before the 7 p.m. screening of "We've Got Johnny," the first of three at this festival.

Following the so-so response of the audience in Big Bear the previous week, I wondered how we would do. Would "Johnny" amuse people, or confuse them? I tried not to care too much because we had reservations at an Embassy Suites hotel, where the booze is free during a nightly "manager's reception." Suckers.

So we get to the theater/shopping complex that is home to the film fest and we went to this little building to register. The clerk we met was somewhat gruff because the air conditioning unit had gone out. Little buckets and cups were spread along the floor, catching drips from the problematic AC system. Vee wandered away to see what stores were nearby.

"What's your movie's name?" the lady said.

"'We've Got Johnny,'" I said quietly, as if everyone in the room had seen the Big Bear screening.

A woman from the back of the room said, "I saw that! I loved it!" Suddenly, the clouds parted and everything was sunny. I looked around for Vee, who was nowhere to be seen. Damn it!

"Could you say that again when my wife returns?" I said and everyone chuckled because I am a dork with a huge forehead.

Vee soon returned and we received the passes that allow us access to all of the festival's screenings and events. They hang from a necklace-type thing around your neck and say, "Filmmaker." The folks here went to the extent to list the movie's name with which each person is affiliated, so with one look someone can see the movie's name and know you're to blame. Yikes.

We wandered into the theater where "Johnny" was scheduled to play with five other shorts. The festival has six theaters playing features, documentaries, animated stuff and shorts from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. for four days.

The Big Bear folks put "Johnny" with a bunch of morose shorts, which I hoped wouldn't happen again here. It didn't. Everything was funny or, at least, off-kilter.

"Johnny" played second in the batch, following "The Eyeglasses," a 15-minute film from Russia that looked better than its story was.

Before the movies started, a young man read the credits to each of the movies. No one said anything in regards to "The Eyeglasses," so when he started talking about "Johnny," I didn't introduce myself as the screenwriter/co-producer. That was a faux pas because every other filmmaker there stood up to let the masses (well, about 40 people) praise them -- even before their movies were screened.

"The Eyeglasses" proved to be a great segue for "Johnny." It was offbeat and well made. The theater itself was perfect. The sound was amazing and the picture was clear.

As we know, "Johnny" starts off a bit slow and there usually is no audible reaction for the first minute or more. No different here.

The laughs came as soon as Sue starts her rant about Johnny Appleseed and starts reciting her apple facts, and the laughs continued throughout the entire movie. Lots of applause at the end.

"This is one of the top 50 moments in my life," I whispered to Vee in the dark, and not just because she had her hand in my lap either. Hey Now!

The biggest laughs were probably for the "Bitch" stuff, but also for Steve Fluet's Johnny Appleseed jig, Del's cameo with the "Johnny 3:16" sign, and the rants by Dario and Anna Maria (who I love a little more with every viewing). There were just a lot of laughs at everything.

The crowd was into the story, but the big difference was the clarity of the picture and, particularly, the sound .

There was an audible groan at the "schlong" reference from a woman next to me with her kids!

Movies that followed "Johnny" were:

  • Killing Michael Bay - a very funny 15-minute story about two nerdy digital filmmakers who kidnap the director of "Pearl Harbor" because his type of movie is ruining American cinema. Check out killingmichaelbay.com.
  • The Taste of Victory - a cat and mouse game of speed and skill between a mysterious woman driver and a drifter. It looked good, but the story lacked a little something, (mainly, a point).
  • Phreakers - a well done 15-minute movie about two amateur phone scanners who tap into local frequencies to listen in on their neighbors. It was a good, fairly ambitious start for these young filmmakers. Check out phreakersthemovie.com.

Second Showing Summary:

"Johnny" showed with "The Eyeglasses" and "Killing Michael Bay" at 3 p.m. Friday.

Before we went in, I saw one of the guys who made "Phreakers." I told him I enjoyed it and was the "writer of the Johnny Appleseed movie."

"Oh, man, that was great!" he said. "You should turn that into a feature-length mockumentary."

Vee and I skipped "The Eyeglasses" and went to an adjacent theater to see "Tomato and Eggs," a 5-minute movie about a traditional Japanese mother and wife struggling to understand America's effect on her distant husband and their contemporary American daughters.

We caught the very end of "The Eyeglasses" and I was immediately concerned because the sound was WAY down from the night before and the audience was about half the size.

The response for "Johnny" was OK. "Killing Michael Bay" suffered the same fate. It drew the best laughs the previous night, but response this time was fairly tame. We should have had the sound cranked up.

Saturday -- A "Free" Day

No "Johnny" showings today, so we spent much of the day watching other movies.

  • Surprise - a short about a guy who is psychic (but only knows things "two minutes ahead of time") whose latest girlfriend dumps him in a diner because she is sick of him telling her what's going to happen next. This was a better premise than movie.
  • Taste of Dirt - a short about intolerance, racism and schoolyard bullies. Oh, boy, was it bad. I think it was a student thing, so maybe it was done by students who take the short bus to school.
  • Postcards from Paradise Park - a feature about a New York City advertising executive who loses his wife, then his job and settles in at a trailer park full of eclectic characters. Pretty good flick. I saw the star in the men's room and he pissed for a really long time! I was going to greet him, but I got tired of waiting for his stream to run out.
  • Repossessed - a short which stars JoBeth Williams (she of "Big Chill" and "Poltergeist" fame) as a real estate agent hosting an open house at a haunted house. It won one of the major awards in Big Bear, and it was good, but it wasn't the best short here.
  • That honor would probably go to Ubuntu's Wound - a 32-minute movie about a black South African who flees his country in fear of his life after his wife is killed by a white secret police officer, only to bump into the man 17 years later while living in Los Angeles.

Big shindig

That night we attended the Black Tie Awards Gala, which was a nice event. It was outdoors and the weather was just perfect. I wore a suit, thinking only a few people would actually be in black tie. Actually, only a few wore suits. Oops.

My personal highlight was seeing Sean Astin ("Rudy," Sam Gamgee in "Fellowship of the Ring"), who was there to receive an award in place of his mom, Patty Duke, who couldn't make it because she was hurt at her ranch in Idaho. He gave a nice talk about the importance of movies in general. We left right after eating because we had to get up early to take advantage of free hot air balloon rides the festival had arranged. We didn't see musician Billy Preston or Shatner get their awards. Hell, we didn't even see them.

Ballooning

This alone was worth all of the work doing "Johnny." We flew on a free 45-minute flight over the Temecula vineyards right at sunrise Sunday. Six of us went up with the pilot. We had never done this before and enjoyed it big time. I told the lead dude I would like to "become a member of the 400-foot-high club," but he said that he was married.

Final screening

Our group of six showings was the first batch of movies shown on the festival's final day, so I expected a huge crowd. There was only about 10 people in the theater, though, 5 minutes beforehand. I went out to the lobby to greet some friends who had come to see "Johnny" on the big screen. When I returned to the theater, I was stunned to see that about 50 people were now in there.

The sound level was fine for "The Eyeglasses," but "Johnny" started off way too low so I ran out to tell a festival worker (as did a guy from "Killing Michael Bay," which was to follow "Johnny" again. They finally got it loud enough about 4 minutes into it. Until then, there had been some laughter but then people started really enjoying it. HUGE laughs for Flu and "Johnny 3:16." Good laughs for all of Sue's stuff, Dante and Anna Maria. The best reaction yet to Professor McIntosh's statement about Johnny being loved "for bringing alcohol to the frontier." Utter silence at "schlong." The applause at the end was freakin' loud!

We left before they presented any awards, so I don't know what was named the best short.

Matt

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