DID YOU READ

A film festival judge takes us behind the scenes of how awards are dolled out

The Sarasota Film Festival

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By Jordan Hoffman

At some point in mid-February one of the many publicists I deal with on a regular basis in New York asked if I was planning on going to the Sarasota Film Festival in April. If I had my druthers, I’d go, I said. I love film festivals. You watch movies all day and eat prosciutto-wrapped asparagus all night. But it didn’t look like it was in the cards.

My superpower, however, is getting publicists to think I am far more important than I actually am. Seriously, if it were an Olympic event I’d be a five-time medalist. I was soon offered a position on one of the three juries at this prestigious fest, which meant a couple of days down in Florida on someone else’s dime. Who was I to say no?

I’ve been on a festival jury before (2011 Fantastic Fest) and I have been a working critic for five years, but what the folks making the offer may not have known was that, in a previous life, I was (and hope to one day be again) an independent filmmaker. Two of my films have gone off to various corners of the Earth and each came back with their fair share of laurel wreaths for the poster. Did it make me rich and famous? No. But it kept me from hitting rock bottom a few times, as family members and girlfriends could remind me that, hey, at least we won that audience award up in Rhode Island.

Considering that I’d been “on the other side,” I was going to take my job as a juror very seriously. There were nine films in my section, a division dedicated to low budget and, in some cases, first time films. Five of the films were being sent to me on DVD, the remainder I’d see down during fest.

When the package came I popped ’em without doing any research. The first film I watched was called “In Our Nature,” and when the opening credits ran I was surprised to see some known Hollywood actors. Jena Malone (whom I’ve been fond of since “Contact”) and Gabrielle Union play opposite Zach Gilford and John Slattery.

The movie is awful. It’s everything you worry an independent movie is going to be. A bunch of whiners go up to a cabin in the woods to sit around and talk their feelings to one another. The camera doesn’t move, the scenes are endless and I immediately regretted saying yes to being on the jury. What if the other 8 movies were this bad?

The next movie I put it was called “Richard’s Wedding.” It starts with two people walking down a street in Brooklyn just yapping. The scene doesn’t end, but they’re being a little funny. It has a neo-Seinfeld vibe. Then I notice that some of zings get really good. Still there’s hardly anything resembling a plot and the camera and sound work make it seem like this flick cost 89 cents to make, but I find myself laughing out loud quite a bit, then really starting to like the characters.

“Richard’s Wedding” soon presents itself as something of a three-act play. In the first act, a man and a women walk to an apartment to meet up with others before going to a wedding. In the second act they hang out at the apartment and rib one another and drink. In the third act they all go to the park where the wedding is, of course, a disaster.

Something odd happened when they got to that apartment, however. When the actor opened the door my skin got cold. I KNOW that guy! The actor playing the douchey rich guy was actually someone I worked with for two years back in the early aughts. We both worked part time at a horrible place and made fun of our dipshit boss. In fact, he even showed up for one quick line of dialogue in my first film.

I was devastated. Clearly this was a conflict of interest, no? I mean, I would be rooting for my friend, right? But the thing is, I was really digging “Richard’s Wedding” on its own merits – and I haven’t seen this actor in at least five years. I pressed on.

The third film was called “Welcome to Pine Hill” and it grabbed me from the first scene. It is a moody and evocative film about an African-American from Brooklyn trying to sever the ties to his criminal past by working a boring job in Manhattan. He discovers he has inoperable cancer and decides he must settle his old debts before he can find peace.

Wow, I just made the movie sound really maudlin, and I swear it is anything but. It is artfully shot and understated – and loaded with natural performances and finely observed set pieces. I’m instantly smitten with this film and don’t see how anything else could top it.

Then I see the next film and think, hey, this one is pretty good, too. It is called “The Unspeakable Act,” and my mind is somewhat blown. The titular act is incest, but this is no exploitation film. It’s like Eric Rohmer’s “The Green Ray” meets Whit Stillman’s “Damsels in Distress.” It has mannered, almost surreal dialogue and is shot with bright colors in one of those gorgeous Victorian Brooklyn homes like in “Sophie’s Choice.” It is one of the most steadfastly true to its own peculiar vision things I’ve seen in quite a long time.

I get a return of the queasy feeling again when I realize that the director, Dan Sallit, is someone else I know. He, at least, I haven’t seen since around 1997, but way back when I met him when I was working for an independent producer in New York.

The last film I watch on DVD called “See Girl Run” also has some known stars, Robin Tunney and Adam Scott, and it might even be worse than “In Our Nature.” And I really like Adam Scott, so this was particularly annoying.

A few days later I fly down to Sarasota and immediately proceed to get my ass kissed by volunteers and filmmakers who see the word “jury” on my badge. I’m a married man and don’t get out that much, so this was a very gratifying experience.

I quickly confess to the fest director that I kinda-sorta know some of the people involved in some of the films. I expect to be sent back to New York on a bus. I’m told, however, to just be fair, and be a professional, and let everyone else on the jury know.

I meet my two fellow jurors. One is an old friend, Keith Uhlich of Time Out New York, whose tastes often align with mine, and a fella I don’t know named Michael Dunaway from Paste Magazine. (After fifteen minutes, however, I feel like I’ve known him for years. He may be the most gregarious person I’ve met.) We were three not at all angry men.

On my own I see Kris wife-of-Joe Swanberg’s “Empire Builder.” Another story about people going up to a cabin in the woods, but this one stars the current low budget it-girl Kate Lyn Sheil, and that alone makes it stand out. It is a really emotionally reserved and subtle film about marital infidelity, but it doesn’t get too hysterical. How could it have time, it is only 72 minutes? I like the movie a great deal, but I’m not bananas for it.

After this came a real joy, Jonathan Lisecki’s “Gayby.” The premise may not jump out as the most original idea in the world – gay man and straight woman decide to have a kid, shenanigans ensue – but the writing is really hilarious and the extended supporting cast is simply fantastic. We jurors watch this as a group and everyone has a good time.

After this came another Kate Lyn Sheil vehicle, “Sun Don’t Shine.” This time she’s on the lam with her boyfriend after stabbing her husband. Even though there’s a lot more stuff going on in it, I find myself more intrigued by “Empire Buildier.” But, really, it shouldn’t be a contest. Oh, wait! Actually, it IS a contest! And I’m the judge! Pressure!

The last film we saw was called. . . um. . .oh, crap I can’t remember the name. And I can barely remember the movie. Hold on, let me look it up again. Ah, it was called “Leave Me Like You Found Me.” It’s about people walking around the woods being mad at each other.

So we’d seen our nine films. (And I snuck in two other ones not in our category, too.) Then we had to hammer it out. Where best to decide? Brunch!

The nine jurors (three panels each with three people) gathered and the head of the festival (the esteemed Tom Hall) quietly observed the discussion, fingers poised over an iPad ready to take the names of the winner.

The only rule was that we pick at least one winner. We could give jury prizes, too, but we should restrict it to only two. So this meant we could honor three films.

From my point of view, I wanted to give the awards to the movies I liked best, but also the ones that could really benefit from an additional laurel leaf on the poster.

I really loved “Welcome to Pine Hill,” and it won the best film at Slamdance. An additional award would make it seem like a mandate, and, hopefully, help the film get distribution. “The Unspeakable Act,” however, is a really challenging film, and this was its debut. An award first out of the gate could help this uncompromising film get programmed elsewhere. Then there was “Gayby” and “Richard’s Wedding,” both very funny and crowdpleasing.

Of the three groups there, we were the first to reach a decision that everyone could sign-off on. I’d like to believe that it is because we picked the right winners.

It would be unfair to my fellow jurors to lift the veil back too far, but we came up with a compromise we could live with. “The Unspeakable Act” is a movie that is intense and unique and wholly original. It would win best film. We all loved “Welcome to Pine Hill” (though, I may have been its strongest booster) and felt a special jury prize was in order. Much of what makes that film so memorable is its lead role, so we gave a prize for performance to its lead actor Shannon Harper. Next we wanted to award something for writing, and, at the end of the day, we felt we had to salute the zing-tastic “Richard’s Wedding.” We felt a little guilty about leaving “Gayby” out to dry, but just a few days later it landed a distribution deal, so I think it may have all worked out in the end.

So that’s how the sausage gets made. I left out all the stuff about the parties that included Mexican wrestlers, the Flying Wallendas and David Carr, but to experience an extended weekend at a place as welcoming and enriching as the Sarasota Film Festival is really something you need to do on your own. I also recommend wearing the coveted purple lanyard because it can get you in ANYWHERE.

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GIF Giving

The Funniest Gifs From the Maron Season Premiere

Watch the Maron season premiere now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Last night, Marc Maron returned in all his haggard glory in the darkly hilarious season premiere of Maron. In case you’re not caught up, Marc has fallen into a downward spiral of drugs and addiction, having lost his house, his podcast, his cats, and the ability to say he doesn’t live in a storage unit. And only someone like Marc can make the situation laugh-out-loud funny.

Here are the 5 funniest GIFs from last night’s Maron premiere, which you can watch right now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

1. Dave Anthony, Professional Truth Teller.

Maron Not Okay


2. Storage locker etiquette is important.

Maron Storage Locker


3. We’re sure Chris Hardwick would love to have Marc back on Talking Dead.

Maron Dumb Show


4. We can’t unsee Dave in that apron.

Maron Shit Bucket


5. The first step is listening. Marc has a lot of steps to go.

Maron Shut Up

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The Reviews Are In

Critics Are Raving About the New Season of Maron

Watch the Maron season premiere right now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Last night saw the return of Marc Maron, more than a little worse for wear, in the pitch-black premiere of Maron’s fourth season. Having fallen back into addiction, Marc’s lost his house, his podcast, and even his cats, and is now residing in a storage unit.

Maron

Part two of the double-shot premiere found our favorite curmudgeon dealing with the assorted characters in the Clean Living Rehab Center. The season’s heavy themes and unflinching performances earned much praise from fans and critics.

Check out what people said about last night’s premiere of Maron. And in case you missed the premiere, you can watch it now on IFC.com and the IFC app

Joe Berkowitz of Co.Create: “For the first time ever, Maron has veered way off the course of its creator’s timeline — into a chaotic alternate reality — and it’s the boldest creative leap in the series’ run yet…This particular downward trajectory provides a window into a world where the actual Marc Maron ends up hitting rock bottom. This world turns out to offer darkly comic possibilities, such as a rehab facilitator trying to get an in-patient Maron to be a guest on his podcast.”

Jason Tabrys of Uproxx: “[Whether] this is the beginning of the end for Maron, or just the start of a new phase, the fourth season’s off to an intriguing start that should make for compelling viewing.”

Neil Genzlinger of The New York Times: “[The] premiere does effectively, yet comedically, show two truths of substance abuse: Addicts need enablers who fuel their problem, either deliberately or inadvertently, and most need someone to intervene to help them climb out of the pit.”

Vikram Murthi of AV Club: “By shifting the series’ premise from a man struggling to maintain success to a man desperately trying to get it back, Maron has found a whole new energy…Maron doesn’t bring Marc down to a low point just for kicks but to demonstrate what happens when people forget what’s important and succumb to their worst selves. The fourth season effectively channels the raw vitality of [the WTF podcast’s] early days, when Maron was trying to dig his way out of a hole by embracing the world around him instead of pushing it away. ‘I’m gonna be okay, right?’ Maron asks Dave at the clinic. ‘Or not,’ Dave replies honestly. ‘But you have to try.’ Maron’s entire career has been about trying, and Maron’s fourth season succeeds by placing that idea at its center.”

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Roommate Not Wanted

The 10 Worst Roommates In Pop Culture History

Find out how Marc deals with his new roommate on the season premiere of Maron available now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Last night’s season premiere of Maron found Marc’s disastrous downward spiral landing him in rehab with an annoying roommate who breaks into rhymes whenever he feels like it. Played in an inspired bit of casting by real life celebrity rapper Chet Hanks, Trey makes Marc’s life a living hell by taking his stuff and doing unspeakable things to his bed. Check out some other insufferable roommates from pop culture below, and be sure to catch up on the two-episode Maron season premiere on IFC.com and the IFC app to see how Marc deals with his new rapping bunkmate.

10. Scott Pilgrim, Scott Pilgrim Vs the World

Scott Pilgrim

Scott Pilgrim is the ultimate geek heroic fantasy. In that he’s living in a constructed fantasy world while ignoring all the people who have to deal with his failures. Saintly roommate Wallace Wells offers rent, food, and even his own bed to his eternally immature friend who rewards him by whining and leaving clothes on the floor.


9. Hooch, Turner & Hooch

Turner and Hooch

Nobody likes being forced to share their home. This goes double when you’re a police officer, the work is a murder investigation, and the unwelcome guest is a dog spraying more fluid than a leak in the Hoover Dam.


8. Floyd, True Romance

True Romance

Perfectly portrayed by Brad Pitt, Floyd is the worst kind of stoner roommate. He never answers the door, and barely moves from his position on the couch. Even worse, he rats out your pals’ location to a tough-looking stranger who comes to the door without a second thought. Not to “condescend” to you Floyd, but you’re kind of a tool. You probably never share that honey bear bong.


7. Gil and Brynn, Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids

Annie (Kristen Wiig) is already at a low point when her roommates Gil (Matt Lucas) and Brynn (Rebel Wilson) ask her to move out. To make matters worse, the tattoo-obsessed Brynn isn’t even Annie’s roommate — her brother has been letting her stay rent free so she can wear Annie’s clothes and read her journal.


6. Eddie, Friends

You might remember Eddie (played by the always reliably deadpan Adam Goldberg) as Chandler’s roommate who moved in after Joey moved into his own place with his big time soap opera money. Eddie proved to be a complete psycho, accusing Chandler of sleeping with his ex-girlfriend Tilly and watching his new roomie while he sleeps. In the end, Chandler tells Eddie that Hannibal Lector would make a better roommate. Could he be any creepier??


5. Bevers, Broad City

Bevers Broad City

What’s worse than an annoying roommate who eats all your food, tries on your clothes, and never seems to leave the apartment? How about a guy who isn’t even technically your roommate, but in fact the boyfriend of your roommate who is never around. If you’re going to hang out in your underwear all day, the least you could do is pay rent, dude.


4. Chris Knight, Real Genius

Real Genius

Freshman Mitch Taylor faces every college student’s worst nightmare: a pushy roommate. Chris Knight might be a genius, but within the first minute of their acquaintance he’s thrown out Mitch’s clothes, talked about his genitals, and smashed the dorm-room window.


3. Oscar Madison, The Odd Couple

Odd Couple

The Odd Couple defined the idea of mismatched roommates. Uptight neat-freak Felix and easygoing slob Oscar were meant to be just as bad as each other, but anyone who’s ever lived with other people knows that the lazy one is always the worst. At least the obsessive is keeping things clean while annoying you.


2. Roberto, Futurama

Futurama

Fry’s regular robotic roommate is an indestructibly amoral freeloader who’d sell Fry’s kidneys if he could think of a suitably lazy way to extract them. But Bender is the deity of domestic bliss compared to Roberto, the stabbing-obsessed psychobot who shares Fry’s room in the robot asylum.


1. Hedra Carlson, Single White Female

Single White Female

Hedra Carlson takes “drinking the last of the milk” to the ultimate extreme, stealing her roommate’s boyfriend, identity, and takes a stab at stealing her life. Well, it’s more of a butcher’s hook slash than a stab. Which makes it all the worse.

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