The above photo is from my spec music video password: BRMC

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Perfectly Imperfect

I’m sitting outside a café in Forli, Italy, eating dinner when a small city bus drives by, barely fitting through the narrow medieval-sized street.  In fact, as the bus slips by, it is no more than a couple feet from the edge of my café table.

As I look up, I notice that the chubby bus driver is leaning out of the window and inspecting people’s dinner plates as the vehicle drives by.  He glances back and forth at each of the tables for a moment, checking out the scope of that night’s dinner menu.  Grinning, the driver then wipes the sweat off of his mustache and continues on.

A similar spatial situation in Rome

In the US, I feel like I never see this kind of absurd real-life humor that only occurs when humanity is forced into imperfect close-quarters.  In general, the US is too new, too organized and, other than a few major cities, too spread out to shove this kind of human ridiculousness in your face.

I believe the modern term is called, “suburbia”.  “Neutered space” can sometimes feel more appropriate.  Modern suburbia (and modern cities) employ perfect street grids, perfect lawns, and are in fact perfect at keeping people away.  As a result, we remove ourselves from the rest of humanity in the name of safety and convenience.

In fact, I would argue that this neutered space also makes us miss out on the humor and surprises that come from a lack of organization.

To steal a slogan from the Hallmark Corporation, what we miss is “Perfectly Imperfect” moments.  Granted, I’m sure each of us encounters something poetically perfect in our daily lives that arises from chance.  However, what I’m arguing is that the likelihood of encountering such unexpected moments diminishes when everything is planned and organized.  Serendipity is killed and charming surprises are made rare.

In places like New York or San Francisco, you are shoved in with the rest of humanity so, in a sense, you are forced into imperfect situations more often.  You encounter life, because you’re forced to be around it, whether on the city street, or in the subway.

Again, I’m generalizing a lot here obviously.  But I think you get the idea.

I guess the question for each individual is, what do you value more?  A perfect lawn with a life planned out in advance?  Or life unexpected, where you find charm in the rough edges and small inconveniences?

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here, just a question of whatever level of uncertainty (and sometimes unpleasantness) is indeed right for you.

I would argue though that the bolder you are, the greater the payoff.

Personally, I take delight in the unexpected and if I ever were to see that chubby bus driver again, I’d give him a high-five along with a classic American, “Fuck yeah”.

Despite his weirdness, he’s made my life more interesting… and perhaps yours if you’re reading this.

And yes Mr. Bus Driver, the pasta alla carbonara was to die for.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Unknown Award

A plaza in Forli, Italy

The good news is that I won an award at a film festival.

The bad news is that I don’t know what the award is for.

In October I traveled to Forli in northern Italy for the Sedicicorto Film Festival.  I was honored and delighted to take part in the festival and have my film play alongside many other amazing films.  The caliber of the short films that play in many European festivals (even the smaller festivals) is much higher than in the United States.  In fact, I’ve been to major festivals in the US, from Palm Springs to Tribeca, and frankly, many of the films they select to play makes me sometimes question their selection criteria.

Thus, when I was at the award show for the Sedicicorto Film Festival in Italy, I was somewhat relieved that I wouldn’t have to go on stage and make an award speech.  There was no way I was going to win anything-- my film simply wasn’t up to par to many of the films playing at the festival.

I guess they thought otherwise...

The cool thing about winning an award in a foreign country is that it is validation that you can entertain people around the world-- that your talents are international.  The bad thing about winning an award in a foreign country is that you need to make a speech in a country where you don’t speak a word of the native language.

In classic Italian tradition, the event was hosted by glamorous men and women dressed as if they were attending the Academy Awards.  However, the event itself was spoken in Italian only and thus many of the international filmmakers, including myself, had no idea of what was going on.

Well-dressed Italians making the rest of the world look bad

One by one the hosts began to give out awards…  And one by one, Italian filmmakers went up on stage and confidently joked to the audience in Italian.  People clapped and laughed while the hosts looked ridiculously perfect in their stylish clothing.

Meanwhile, the rest of us still didn’t have any idea of what was happening.

Then one of my fellow English-speaking filmmakers won an award.  She had to go up on stage and say a few words.  She was absolutely delighted… but also confused.  And I thought, whew, good thing I wouldn’t have to go up.

Then I heard my name.

“Blah blah blah [in Italian], John Dion!"

Now my worst nightmare is the moment that I think my name is called, I walk on stage… And then everyone looks at me CONFUSED. (Similar to what happens to Ben Stiller in Zoolander).

And what if there had been another “John Dion” in the audience… WHAT IF!?!?  Or what if I had mistakenly heard my name.  I had a random run-in with another “Dion” months ago on a Paris bridge, so my fears, despite their improbability, were in fact quite possible.

So I cautiously walk on stage, thinking, I hope to God this is really me otherwise I’m going to shit in my pantsSHIT IN MY PANTS.  Again, let me remind you that everything, EVERYTHING, other than my name, is being spoken in Italian.  And I’m sitting next to people who don’t speak a word of Italian either.

As I walk on stage, the woman host turns to me and rattles off a couple sentences in Italian.  She then smiles and shoves the microphone in my face.

A few seconds pass while I stare into the crowd and blinding lights...


Then a translator whispers into my ear a few seconds too late, “Tell us something about your film”.

I begin to make up some stuff, which in retrospect was actually pretty good and indeed relevant.  I talk for about half a minute… after which the translator translates into Italian for the audience.

Unfortunately, the translated version is much shorter.

I stand there thinking, I’m pretty sure I said more than that...

Then I looked down.

The award says “Special Mention”...

But “Special Mention” for what?

I was too embarrassed to ask the festival staff what the award was for.  They had done such a wonderful job with the festival and treated us filmmakers with courtesy, patience, and kindness.  And I also had a blast spending time with fellow filmmakers from all over the world that weekend.  The opportunity to spend time with people from around the world is rare, and the fact that the festival helped with much of the accommodation and travel expenses made this entirely possible.

I didn’t want to make them feel bad, so I didn’t ask.  AND, other than the fact that we didn’t know what the hell was going on during the entire awards show, the festival as a whole was run smoothly from our perspective.  Furthermore, the city of Forli and the region were very accommodating and hospitable, much more than in Rome.  In fact, I highly recommend the region to anyone visiting Italy, the area has much to be proud of.

Afterwards I asked fellow filmmakers who spoke Italian if they could tell me what the award was for.  One by one, each person laughed and explained to me what it was, shouting, "Trust me!" as they slapped me on the back.

Yet each answer was different...

So I technically don’t know what the award is for, only that it is something in regard to comedy.  Funny, huh?

I guess the only thing left to do is be thankful and laugh.

But regardless, I also wanted to say, thank you Sedicicorto Film Festival, I had a wonderful time.  It was an honor and a privilege.

I hope that translates.

Author's Note:  Just to reiterate, this was a wonderful festival run by awesome people and this story was the only "hiccup" that I experienced at this world-class film festival.  In fact, I encourage international filmmakers to submit here and to check out the region of Emilia-Romagna.  If you think this story makes the festival look bad or is embarrassing then I think you're wrong.  It's the opposite.  My purpose was to share a funny real moment in promoting this festival.  Furthermore, film festivals in the US don't have the burden of translating into multiple languages and awkward situations are bound to occur in coordinating something as complex as an international film festival.  So wear your "scars" with pride Sedicicorto, I think that every one of us that was confused during the award show would gladly say we had a great time!  Plus, it's my fault that I didn't speak Italian in your country.

I for one, hope to return one day.