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Dallas International Film Festival gaining steam and standing

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By Jackie Wright

They call it “Big D” and there is a reason for it.  The Dallas International Film Festival with its “Star Awards” closing weekend is just a reminder that “they do it big in Texas.”   The Dallas Film Society led by Lynn McBee, Chairman of the Board of Directors and Lee Papert, President & CEO, pulled out all the stops as it honored Laura Linney, Bernie Pollack, Eric Pleskow, and Gabourey Sidibe with “Dallas Star Awards”, last Friday kicking off the concluding weekend.  In addition, The Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF) screened more than 180 films from 27 countries during its sixth annual event, April 12-22.

Lynn McBee Thanks Crowd & Says Good Night at Dallas International Film Festival

From the Festival Village at Mockingbird Station to the strategic use of venues such as historic Majestic Theater, the Hotel Palomar, Texas Theater, Nasher Sculpture Center, it was a stylish artistic cultural experience graciously infused with southern comfort and hospitality.

Covering the event in conjunction with San Francisco based LaHitz Media, this reporter was reminded of director and filmmaker Jacquie Taliaferro’s constant refrain about “jobs and money” generated by the film and entertainment industry and the need to cultivate commerce in communities of color as films and entertainment are created.

In Texas, the motion picture and television industry is responsible for 41,269 direct jobs and $1.5 billion in wages in Texas, including both production and distribution-related jobs. Over 7,200 of the jobs are production-related,” according to the Motion Picture Association of America.

Talking it up with a young lady working at the Angelika Theater, delighted to see all the activity generated by the DIFF, was a reminder of the impact of the film industry in providing basic employment at theaters across the nation.

James Faust and Gabourey Sidibe Q&A

The DIFF gave me the occasion to talk to the future with the first time employee, Shanqua L. and also learn more about Lee Roy and Tandy Mitchell of Cinemark; a company founded by Mitchell built with the philosophy of preferring people over profits that now generates billions of dollars.   The Mitchells were feted at the opening ceremony, April 12 at the Majestic Theatre, with the entire festival being dedicated in their honor.

The glitz and glam of the film industry permeated the DIFF in a sense, but the theme kept coming back to the dollars to make sense of it all for me.  As Dallas Film Society Artistic Director James Faust interviewed Gabourey Sidibe on Saturday, the question of workflow came up and the drought actors sometimes experience.

“I don’t believe you should wait for work,” said Sidibe. “I think we should create work that’s why I am writing a script now.” Her response received a thunderous wave of applause from the audience that had just seen “Precious.”  Sidibe also talked about her strong inclination for the comedic and her enjoyment in working with Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick and an overall great cast of Tower Heist.

Sidibe’s Q&A segued into her “Big C” colleague Laura Linney’s remarks before the screening of the independent film “You Can Count On Me” that stars Linney.  Gordon Smith of Altair IV Productions put together a short but powerful retrospective of her outstanding work.

From blond bombshell to mousy brown brunette, from brown eyes to blue eyes, Smith did a masterful job of capturing poignant clips of Linney’s essence as an actress.  His video montage included 2004 “Kinsey” with Linney  (Clara Bracken McMillen) restrained and tortured pouring her heart out to her husband Alfred (Liam Neeson) about why she did not act on her impulses to have sex outside of their marriage.

Linney should have won the Oscar for that role, no disrespect to Cate Blanchett and Aviator.   Smith’s clip choice is still playing over and over in my mind to the point that I’ll be hitting for a DVD of “Kinsey” in the very near future.

After the montage, Linney talked about the heart of the industry, the creativity and the suffering that sometimes comes with filmmaking.  Linney described being on a set in Upstate New York for 23 days making a film with a paltry budget of $1.2 million with nowhere to sit.  “We wound up sweeping out an old chicken coop in order to have somewhere to sit after days of acting.  So much for the glamour of show business,” she said.

The Dallas International Film Festival had close to 1,000 volunteers.  Among them was Lisa R. Covington, who owns an events management company.   Family members Damita Teemac and Adanna Teemac made it a family affair as they all volunteered for several days.

All the volunteers I spoke with, from those who staffed the volunteer lounge, to the pressroom, to logistics, said they would sign up again next year.  And who knows the proximity of service, may yield paid positions next year for some like Lisa Covington who has a strong work ethic and believes in “giving back to community.”

In addition to DIFF’s 25th Anniversary screening of “Robocop,” in collaboration with the Oak Cliff Film Festival with Angie Bolling and Peter Weller on the Red Carpet Saturday night, there were many unique collaborations and supporters of the festival including The Texas Black Film Festival.  TBFF screened films, “Wolf” directed by Ya’Ke Smith and LUV by Sheldon Candis.  The cast of LUV includes Common, Michael Rainey Jr., Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton, and Michael Kenneth Williams.

“Wolf” with cast: Mikala Gibson, Shelton Jolivett, Jordan Cooper, Eugene Lee and Irma Hall, received the TBFF’’s Best Texas Film Award. Director Smith has also received the Director’s Guild of America Student Film Award, an HBO Short Film Award and a Black Reel Award, among others.

DIFF was enjoyable, delightful, insightful and emotionally taxing given some of the films, but the importance of the bottom line was ever present for me, thinking of LaHitz’ Taliaferro’s insistence on evaluating jobs and commerce generation.  Hundreds of people came out for DIFF and some even from other states reinforcing tourism and commerce.

One of the most interesting things said about money matters were Ed Neumeier’s comments posted by Troy Randall Smith: “These young filmmakers are great. Hollywood is spending $250 million to chase $1 billion, but the real future of film is going to come from places like Dallas.”

For a look at more details about the winners and other awards visit the Dallas Film Society at  For San Francisco Bay Area art connoisseurs, the DIFF fit in between the Oakland International Film Festival held April 5-6, The San Francisco International Film Festival, now through May 3 and in advance of the Cannes International Film Festival, May 16-27, and the San Francisco Black Film Festival, June 15-17.   Keep that in mind for your plans in 2013!  “See you at the movies.”

Jackie Wright is the president of San Francisco-based Wright Enterprises, a public relations firm serving the corporate, non-profit and government sectors.

A seasoned media and public relations professional, the former Associated Press Award-winning broadcast journalist, Wright has 20 years of experience with a specialty in crisis communications and media training.

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