One of the chief myths among those who don’t bother to read or follow with care what those of us in the blogosphere who try to write seriously actually do is that bloggers are primarily basement-dwelling knuckleheads who sit down and spew forth whatever floats off the top of their head, like cheap foam off of an even cheaper beer. I would never suggest that those sites don’t exist—I know that they do. What I also know to be true is that there are discerning readers out there to match up with those of us who fancy ourselves discerning writers, and in the absence of clever marketing or sometimes even rudimentary networking skills, we depend on discerning readers to figure out for themselves—by simply paying attention and using their good judgment—which ones of us are worth reading and following and which are not. And I believe that the worst way to encourage people to pay attention to what you’re writing is to blast off a bunch of unedited opinion fodder and other id-colored filler on a daily basis and call it a post. I’ve been guilty of this at times myself, and believe me, those are the posts that will never make it into Volume One of The Collected Works of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule.
All of which is just a roundabout way of saying that though this blog has been quiet for over a week now—an unusual period of dormancy, even judged by my recently down-shifted rate of production—it’s not because there’s nothing going on. As per usual, and for the benefit of dispirited apocalyptoes like Richard Schickel, the stuff I’m trying to marshal together is not the kind of stuff I feel comfortable devoting 50-100 words to, tossing into a knapsack and throwing it into the slow lane of the Information Superhighway. No, I’m not writing the21st century’s answers to What is Cinema?, but I am trying to maintain a fair degree of interest and integrity and, yes, entertainment value in what it is I am writing, and to do that takes time, something it seems I have distressingly little of lately. I’m currently on a bit of a retreat in a locale of mystery and ambience, and even though today I have devoted myself to an entire day of writing I’ve spent the last hour and a half trying to find a place where I can access the Internet without jumping through an everlasting series of administrative hoops or having to commit myself to a two-year contract for a wireless phone service that I don’t need. And it turns out that even in paradise it’s sometimes hard to find a quiet table with access to an electrical socket. But there is still a morning and an afternoon’s worth of restful writing to be done without worry of a deadline or too many ambient distractions. It’s the kind of world in which I can almost never find a space to write in this these days without getting up or staying up into extreme hours of the morning or night, a strategy against which my soon-to-be-50-year-old body is beginning to rebel. I’m just grateful that even though I have been away for a week and a half, you, hopefully, will still be there and we can continue on with this little exchange of ours.
To get things started, some film festival news. A month or so ago I got together with an Internet pal, Matthew Kiernan, who blogs at Headquarters 10 and was until recently involved with programming the Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas. We had never met before, he was in Los Angeles hanging out on the weekend of his 40th birthday and he invited me to the AFI for a screening he was hosting of John Frankenheimer’s 52 Pick-up. Meeting Matthew was one of those great benefits that comes from five years of blogging and “getting to know people” on the Internet—every once in a while circumstances arise and you actually get to meet one of your virtual acquaintances in the flesh. I’ve been lucky in that almost every time it’s happened to me it’s been a happy and enjoyable occasion, and meeting Matthew was one of the primo privileges in this arena that I’ve yet experienced. We both arrived early and got to spend some time before the screening and after shooting the shit, and I ended up supremely sorry that it has taken so long for us to get together.
Matthew has moved on from Fantastic Fest, but fans of that scene’s outstanding variety of offerings need not worry—he’s centrally involved as festival director in another conceptually exciting event which is coming up this month in Asheville, North Carolina. Billed as the first-ever film festival devoted to the explosive fury and relentless forward motion of modern action cinema and the filmmakers, stunt people, fight choreographers and technicians who make it possible, ActionFest is the brainchild of Carolina Cinemas founder/Magnolia Pictures co-founder Bill Banowsky and action director-producer Aaron Norris (Missing in Action III, Walker, Texas Ranger) and it promises four days (April 15-18) of celluloid heaven for fans of adrenaline-fueled cinema. (The full list of films scheduled can be found here).
Matthew was very excited to tell me that the festival will kick off with the world premiere of Centurion, the latest from cult favorite Neil Marshall (The Descent) on Thursday, April 15. Based on the legendary battle between Rome's famed Ninth Legion and ferocious Picts of Northern England in 117 AD, Centurion stars Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds, 300, Hunger), Dominic West (300, The Wire) and Bond-girl Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace). Centurion will open in theaters nationwide this summer, but the word of mouth—will it be a masterpiece a la The Descent, a strong effort like Marshall’s Dog Soldiers, or a derivative muddle like the director’s last picture, the George Miller-“influenced” Doomsday-- will begin in Asheville, North Carolina at ActionFest.
But as you might expect from a film festival with kinetic action as its central theme, it’s not all going to be sitting around in a darkened theater (though there will be a lot of that and, I suspect, some sampling of wares from the local breweries). Stuntman Kinnie Gibson will be on hand for a demonstration of his famous Flying Rocket Belt, a feat of bravery and technology that's been featured at the Olympics, the Super Bowl and the Daytona 500. And Chuck Norris, who will be on hand as part of the jury selecting competitive winners from the festival slate, will also close the festival on Sunday by receiving ActionFest’s first annual Lifetime Action Achievement Award. Norris, who has starred in terrific low-budget action hits like Good Guys Wear Black, Code of Silence, Silent Rage, The Octagon and one of my favorites (recently acquired on DVD), the 1977 trucker epic Breaker! Breaker! says though he’s thrilled to receive the accolades from the people who enjoy his films and the genre with which he is most closely associated, the honor is primarily his in being associated with ActionFest in any way. “I am honored and privileged to receive an award from ActionFest and to be part of the creation of the first action film festival,” the star said recently,” especially one which has been founded in the spirit of giving." Norris feels his greatest accomplishment is not his films or his hit TV show, but instead the KickStart Kids Foundation which he conceived in 1992 as a way to commit to helping inner city kids by building strong moral character through martial arts. Taught in middle schools nationwide, over 63,000 kids have graduated from the program since its inception, with over 6,500 students currently enrolled in the program. In honor of Norris's appearance at ActionFest, all profits of this year's festival will be donated to the Kickstart Kids Foundation.
Matthew also emphasized to me how lucky he felt to be able to bring ActionFest to Asheville, North Carolina, which was recently voted one of America's Top 25 Arts Destinations by American Style magazine as well as the "New Freak Capital of the U.S." by Rolling Stone. (Matthew feels, and I’d have to agree, that those two rankings covered a majority of the important bases for any self-respecting film festival.) The action unspools exclusively at The Carolina Asheville, part of the Carolina Cinemas chain founded by Banowsky, former CEO of Landmark Theaters. The newly renovated theater features 14 screens with state-of-the-art digital and 35mm projection, plush seating, a bar stocked with over 15 local beers on tap, and sofas and loveseats in four of the auditoriums. So it looks like things are pretty much all set for the inaugural edition of what is likely to become one of the country’s premier genre-oriented film festivals, and with someone who loves genre film as much as Matthew directing the show I have no doubt ActionFest will kick and chop and slice its way to the top of any continent-hopping film fan’s must-visit list on an annual basis with great, bloody, diesel-fueled haste.
Tickets for ActionFest are on sale right now. Individual show tickets are $10, and festival badges are also available. Badges and tickets can be secured by clicking here. You can also follow ActionFest on Twitter at @actionfest or become a Facebook fan by registering here, and you can check out the festival schedule here.
Achtung, Floridians! I am beyond happy to report Peet Gelderblom’s terrific short film Out of Sync is finally making its way out into the world on the festival circuit. First stop, The Palm Beach international Film Festival in Palm Beach, Florida, where Peet has landed among a roster of films that looks to be worthy and lively company indeed. Through Peet’s eyes I’ve been able to witness some of the real-world difficulty of getting a film made and then in front of people to be experienced, evaluated and simply enjoyed. It ain’t easy, but it is satisfying to see a good friend begin the process of introducing his fine work to a larger audience which will, with any justice, lead to even greater exposure and recognition of Peet’s unusual visual talent and sensitivity. All the best to you, Peet, and Out of Sync, a movie that just seems to get richer each time I see it. (The Palm Beach International Film Festival runs from April 22-26.)
I got an excited e-mail from good friend Ali Arikan recently. Ali was alerting me to his imminent arrival from Turkey, but unlike his visit to Los Angeles et al last year, where we got to meet face-to-face over breakfast at Barney’s, Ali’s U.S. adventure this year will take him to Chicago, Illinois. That’s where he has been invited, by none other than Roger Ebert, to appear at this year’s edition of EbertFest as part of a panel devoted to, as Ali relates it, “the global web of film-lovers and how the internet has brought cineastes together.” The panel, comprised of participants in an earlier series of video reviews on Ebert’s web site from a list of “Foreign Correspondents” (of which Ali was one), is likely to be as lively and engaged as Ali himself. And true to his spirit of camaraderie, Ali was just as excited to tell me about his being able to arrive in Chicago a few days early and do some high-grade hanging out with the likes of Jim Emerson, who will also be attending, before the festivities begin in earnest on April 21. Gentlemen, I envy you! But I also can’t wait to consume the reportage from the event, which should be even more fun than usual to absorb this year!
Finally, a little closer to my home, the Turner Classic Movies Hollywood Film Festival raises its many velvet curtains beginning April 22 and concluding April 25, and at the risk of jinxing myself, I have hopes of obtaining some actually press credentials in order to cover the event up close this year. All appendages are crossed in the hopes that I can finally succeed on this front, where I have so often been denied in the past. This time around I have had the good fortune to have affiliated myself with a kindred force in the blogosphere that may (I hope) at last lend me the extra edge of credibility needed to get that little laminated press card to hang around my neck which will allow me a little closer inspection of the inaugural edition of this already pretty spectacular-looking festival. Even if I don’t make it into the official press corps, I hope to keep you up to date on the big events even from behind the velvet rope. Stay tuned.