Monday, April 22, 2013

A true audience

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go to Dubuque, Iowa. My short film, EMIT, was an official selection in the Julien Dubuque Film Festival, and I was invited to be a part of the 4-day festivities.

On the filmmaker red carpet at the Launch Party event

As a filmmaker from Los Angeles, I didn't really know what to expect - from Iowa, from the festival, but most importantly, from the audience. I wasn't sure a midwestern audience would really click with a film as weird and eerie as mine. My fear was that perhaps they would lack the imagination necessary to truly appreciate a film like EMIT. And I am incredibly humbled to report, it was quite the opposite. It was not the audience, but yours truly, who lacked the imagination. I gave into ignorance, and let stereotypes dictate possible outcomes. My misconception was shattered, when all three of my screenings were packed. Not only that, my film got a rousing round of applause each time, and I was welcomed to the forefront for filmmaker Q & A sessions after (and everyone stayed).

It was at these Q&A sessions that I realized something beautiful. Unlike Los Angeles, or New York, which are considered "Industry towns" -- where audiences are used to (if not programmed) watching movies to tear them down... to criticize them... or to find some kernel of imperfection -- in this small town in Iowa, my movie was watched and welcomed for its merits. Nobody came into the screening with any set expectation.

But most refreshing for me, were the questions I was asked. Mostly, in "film towns" you're asked questions about the budget, or schedule, or how did you get your movie made, where did you get the money, how did the VFX work etc. Very specific and craft driven questions. However, at all three screenings, the questions I was asked in Dubuque, were about the story, the characters, the themes. Some asked me what had inspired me to make this movie? Others compared it to The Twilight Zone (a comparison that absolutely floored me - high praise in my book).

Thus I wanted to take a moment to thank every person that came out to a screening of the short films, or who stopped me in the streets to say - "we liked your film". It was a very eye-opening experience, and has taught me not to ever judge an audience.

As filmmakers, we make our movies in almost a vacuum -- writing it on our laptops, producing them in some locations that aren't accessible to the general public, editing and finishing them in small rooms. So when a film's done, it's great to see it take on a life of its own.

And so, as my film travels from Dubuque, Iowa, to Athens, Greece, Newport Beach, California, and London, England, I'm going to hope that it connects with each audience... and I know that no two screenings will ever be the same.

~J S Mayank

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