Buffalo Finds The End Of The Internet
On Saturday, Ewan and I debuted our film, The End Of The Internet, before an art-house audience at the Buffalo International Film Festival.
It was an unusual comedy we presented, which takes viewers to a pretty dark place. As we’re showing our film for the first time in front of a festival audience, and we’re getting to that pivotal moment in the story which hinges on an explosive bodily reaction, I’m in my seat wondering if the audience will see it for the lofty and ironically poetic statement that it’s intended to be or will we instead be faced with an unbearable silence. It was therefore quite reassuring to hear the audience respond with uncomfortable giggling.
As filmmakers, we go to festivals not just to talk about our film, but to start conversations about topics that are bigger than what any film can cover. So it was genuinely satisfying to share The End Of The Internet with a theatrical audience and then connect directly with them after the screening. As much as I get a kick out of hearing people laugh in response to the comic moments in our story, I love talking about issues that the film raises during the Q & A, as well as listening to other points of view from the audience. It all adds depth to the dialogue.
That exchange between audience and artist is incredibly enriching, and Buffalo did a great job of facilitating that during the festival. It was worth traveling there just for that.
As festivals go, BIFF was tremendous. There was a fun buzz all around town, while the festival organizers were supportive and earnestly focused on the filmmaker’s experience. From top to bottom, the festival team went out of their way to look after their filmmakers.
There were many provocative films and several premieres in the festival line-up. I was impressed that Terrence Malick presented The Seventh Fire, a documentary about gangs on Indian reservations. Sex & Broadcasting about WMFU (one of my favorite radio stations) also caught my eye. Pseudonym, a French thriller set within online culture, definitely intrigued; I loved the formalist film essay by Roberta Friedman and Grahame Weinbren entitled Straight from Birtha; and, of course, our film, The End Of The Internet, a fable about accidentally discovering the meaning of life in a very unusual place.
Furthermore, when a festival like Buffalo has such a sublime venue like the newly restored North Park Theater, then there’s another reason to get excited. It is such a grand and beautiful movie palace, the kind of space that transports us back to the primacy of big screen cinema. Filmmakers dream of sharing their work here.
In many ways, the Buffalo International Film Festival reminds me of the Mill Valley Film Festival. Though Mill Valley has been around for almost forty years — while Buffalo will first celebrate its tenth anniversary next year — there are many interesting parallels. They both speak to devoted audiences of film enthusiasts and highlight their film line-up more than the film industry itself. They are each intimate get-togethers, that are accessible and informal, which place an emphasis on fostering encounters between the filmmakers and their audiences. And, as they’re both located in major metropolitan areas, it’s impressive that they each still maintain a friendly, small-town atmosphere.
This is the first year that the Buffalo International Film Festival has a new director, in Ray Guarnieri, following the death of its founder and longtime leader, Ed Summer. BIFF’s new leadership team has an opportunity to redefine the festival’s purpose as well as its promise to its audience and filmmaker community.
It has certainly already expanded the scope as well as the scale of the festival.
It was a pleasant surprise to see movies in many different parts of town and a great way to be introduced to the city of Buffalo. It allowed us to notice that people who live in Buffalo love living in Buffalo, and they love to share that with travelers. Time after time, we met Buffaloans who were excited that we were there to see their city, especially as first time visitors. The civic pride is pretty remarkable.
Over the same weekend as the festival, Buffalo hosted its first Comicon, and, of course, we had to go. We brought custom printed whoopie cushions, handing them out to conference attendees in their full costume-enhanced splendor. It was amazing to see how much joy such a simple prop provides. We gave them to the staff at a popular bar in Allentown, and they used them to play pranks on their customers all evening. If you see The End Of The Internet, then the whoopie cushions make perfect sense (but I don’t want to give away too much).
Buffalo reminds me both of Portland, Oregon and Detroit. Their once alluring downtowns are in the midst of dramatic revitalizations while each city also has beautiful neighborhoods with elegant tree-lined boulevards. Alas, like Portland and Detroit, Buffalo also has neighborhoods that have long been in decline though some of them are finally coming back.
Small pockets of creative entrepreneurial activity and start-up culture can be found in areas like Five Points. There, you’ll come across a vibrant bakery with a cafe that’s only a few years old, sitting next to an urban garden, and a new wine shop across the street, that are all very close to empty lots, deteriorated homes and subsidized housing. I’m curious how that neighborhood is going to change over the years, and whether or not it will develop in a way that brings more opportunities and prosperity to those who live there right now.
Speaking of transformation, it will be fascinating to see where the Buffalo International Film Festival decides to go, in terms of the future of its programming. Will it focus on specific areas of interest and cultivate its own areas of expertise? They’re already taking steps in that regard through their focus on women in film, which they can build on in many constructive ways.
Both Ewan and I were, of course, pleased that we could participate in this year’s edition of the festival, particularly since it was a year of transition. During the opening reception on Thursday night, we witnessed a very touching tribute to original founder, Ed Summer, in what became an ad hoc memorial, with many heartfelt comments from the audience. It revealed to us how much this man was loved by the Buffalo film community, and I felt fortunate to have been there for that.
We’re also happy to be there in the first year that Ray Guarnieri, Tilke Hill, and John Fink are at the helm of the festival, as they steer BIFF in a new direction. They took every opportunity to express an interest in how we were experiencing their festival and I can only assume that the three of them offered all of the filmmakers the same hospitality, which bodes really well for the future of this festival. It’s the personal touch that really matters.