By George T. Marshall, RIIFF Executive
2005) I am writing this column while mid-air
between Atlanta, GA and Madrid, Spain. For the first
time in well over 15 years, I am taking a vacation;
something I have not done due to work and family commitments.
It’s been a flurry of activity and I’ve
gotten coverage for my college classes and tried to
ensure all my loose ends were tied up. When I say “vacation,”
I mean something longer than a holiday weekend. This
trip is 10 days and is a biking vacation from Seville
to Granada. I’ve never done anything like this
before, but my friend Larry Andrade and I have been
working out over the past few months on weekends and
I can do about 30-40 miles a day. Not bad for an old
poop of 51.
While prepping for the trip, I’ve had time to
put a lot of time to put things into perspective and
it’s provided me some distance to look critically
at what it means to be involved in the arts. Larry has
told me that biking is a great way to experience our
ultra-fast world in a more relaxed fashion and that
it gives you a chance to step back a bit and enjoy life.
No cell phones. No email. No high speed: just you, your
machine and the road.
Since the Rhode Island International Film Festival was
created, my fall ritual has been to work in cleaning
up, then begin planning for the next year. As I write
this, we have received over 50 titles for the 2006 Tenth
Anniversary Festival and our call for entries was only
announced a week ago.
So, early signs indicate that it will
be a strong year with a great many choices for selection.
In 2005, we received over 1,500 entries from over 60
countries; so what we are receiving thus far bodes well.
TIME TO REFLECT
The old adage is that when you think you know everything;
that’s when you discover how little you actually
know. Running an international film festival for the
past nine years has been a challenge and every year
I find it’s a learning experience as we pull things
together. Just when you think you have things right,
something goes wrong. Or, when you think things are
a mess, they come out beautifully. It’s never
predictable, nor is it a cakewalk. Film Festivals are
a lot of work, regardless of size, staffing, financing,
or advance planning. Once you add the human element
into the mix, all bets are off and anything and everything
can and usually does happen.
We finished this year’s RIIFF in the black with
thousands of people attending the event over a six-day
period. One film alone drew over 2,000 people for three
screenings: Rhode Island documentary director, Cherry
Arnold’s “Buddy.” The story of Providence’s
notorious former mayor, now inmate at Fort Dix, NJ,
the film drew enormous media coverage and significant
advance ticketing. Crowds wrapped around the block at
the historic Columbus Theatre in Providence’s
Westside. The irony of the screening at the building
was not lost on the festival staff nor the Columbus
owner, Jon Berberian: at one point, Cianci had tried
to take the building over by eminent domain. Of course,
now it’s a growing arts center for the community,
providing a perfect medium size performance space for
groups as diverse as RIIFF, Opera Providence, Westside
Arts, and Cinerama Latino.
What fascinates me about what appears to be cult of
Cianci is that people are willing to forgive the man
any indiscretion. Huey Long of Louisiana had that same
level of charisma and ironically, so did Franco in Spain.
No matter the crime or the hurt inflicted on others;
the rationale has been that being a petty thug gets
things done in government. For Long this was his justification:
“you cannot make an omelet without cracking a
few eggs.” For Franco, it was a call from God.
And for Cianci, it was the hubris to think of himself
as the city he ran.
During the premiere screening of “Buddy”
to a packed house, one partisan in the audience said
it all. As I stood on stage and thanked those in attendance
for coming, I mentioned that their help was needed in
helping to preserve the historic Columbus Theatre as
a community resource. The loud blast from the audience
member was most telling: the building would be preserved
if Buddy was there and not in jail.
Gullible, stupid, blind, uneducated and moron were descriptions
that popped into my mind when I heard this. No, if Buddy
were there, the film would not be screening in the building
at all. If the building were even open or left standing,
it would be a minor miracle. I had been pointedly told
by one of the Mayor’s cronies in 1998, when we
were “invited” to screen our films in the
city, that I was never to go near the Columbus Theatre
or I would risk the Mayor’s wrath. No one in his
city was to use the building. No questions were allowed.
It was one of the many facts of life while living in
the Providence. Call it caprice; call it abuse of power:
but bucking Cianci when he was in office was political
and professional suicide.
But I digress.
RIIFF screenings were held throughout the State of Rhode
Island including Westerly, Kingston, Newport, Cranston
and Providence. It was, to say the least, a logistics
nightmare. Yet, it went off relatively smoothly. Only
in Rhode Island can you attempt and bring off a “statewide”
festival without breaking the bank or killing your staff.
It takes hundreds of people to put on such an event.
RIIFF has been blessed with a remarkable volunteer base.
Since there are no salaried positions at RIIFF, holding
that volunteer base together is a feat in itself. Yet,
every year, support grows, people commit and RIIFF goes
off without a hitch: well, hopefully the public will
never see the wrinkles.
I compare putting on the Festival to watching a stage
performance of “Peter Pan.” With luck, the
scrim will be down and no one will see the wires as
Peter flies across the stage. It’s when the wires
are seen that you have problems and the illusion is
After nine years of producing the Rhode Island International
Film Festival, I feel like I could write a book on the
“do’s” and “don’ts”
of dealing with the public, filmmakers and distributors.
Every year, the list gets longer, but at core are some
points; they just have different dynamics. One thing
is definite: when you are dealing with the human equation,
all bets are off since anything and everything is possible.
And, if something is going to go wrong, it most assuredly
One thing that has been constant in the nine years of
doing this gig is that a film festival can bring out
the best and worst in people. There is a certain “prima
donna” factor, when you are dealing with artists;
which takes getting used to and not taking personally.
The Festival is the entry platform for these filmmakers
to let the world know that they exist and for many it
may be their only opportunity. Festivals need to be
service centers for these artists and staff egos must
be checked at the door. Unfortunately, that’s
something you cannot easily tell a filmmaker with visions
of Hollywood dancing in their heads.
I guess you can say that the Hollywood vision is more
heady emotionally than the sugarplums at Christmas time.
Almost every year we have a few divas needing to be
center stage and are high maintenance.
Most are benign, but many require constant attention.
Without careful planning, staff time and festival resources
can get bogged down as you attempt to provide good customer
service. In many cases, it’s a bit thankless as
the more you do, the more that is expected and demands
do not stop. One sure giveaway is a phone call that
drags out for over an hour, this is then followed by
two or three more calls in the course of a day. It is
not unusual to spend three to four hours on the phone
with one person who will change and alter plans and
needs on whim.
In the past, some of these people have been amusing.
On the whole, most are outright annoying. As you glad
hand and stroke, it is hard not to wonder how some of
these people expect to succeed in the field they’ve
chosen. Now I must qualify: we are talking only a small
percentage of the filmmakers we deal with—maybe
5%; but of course, that’s more than enough.
There is one truism: those who have established careers
are mellow, laid back and professional. New, yet to
be discovered, or those who made one “hit,”
can be demanding, shallow and obnoxious. They somehow
believe that being that constantly annoying squeaky
wheel gets results. Well, it mostly does; it just doesn’t
THE CASE OF THE BRAIN DEAD CELEBRITY
I always chuckle when I meet or speak with someone new
in the business attempting to coattail a well-known
industry talent. It’s an old story, but continues
to play time and again. This year, we intended to present
a major honor to an individual who had a rather sordid
personal history, yet had risen above it to establish
himself as a respected character actor. We were impressed
with his efforts to help young kids not repeat the mistakes
he made. When speaking with the director of a documentary
that chronicled his life, we encountered what in the
flim-flam days used to be known as the “bait and
switch.” Think “Paper Moon,” and you’ll
understand my reference.
At first we were told that presenting some form of recognition
would be a significant kudo and would draw a number
of celebrities who were the actor’s friends. Names
were dropped like water out of a fountain. Naturally
we bit. Once on the hook, we found that the unknown
and rather green director was part of the package. Why?
Well, he needed to be present because the talent was,
according to him, brain dead from his earlier life of
booze, drugs and more booze. He could not speak in public;
rarely knew where he was; and needed constant direction
and prompting. His wife was equally damaged, so the
director was the only salvation for this soon to be
amazing celebrity package.
You can guess what happened. The costs soared through
the roof. From our expectations of bringing in the actor
and his wife, we now had the director and his wife.
An exceptional B&B in Providence that sponsored
the Festival was unacceptable for the young director;
so a high-end hotel had to be secured. The actor was
blamed. Travel became a limo from JFK in New York to
the Amtrak station. The actor was blamed. The more that
was asked and the more that was given, the greater the
pushing on the part of the director. Finally a cap was
placed and he backed down; but only when he was told
that the entire thing would be cancelled. Amazing how
Was the actor brain dead? Of course not. Once here,
the director kept a low profile; the jig was up. He
had his free trip and had flexed his wannabe celebrity
muscles. The actor was a charmer. The director was an
also-ran with an inflated ego; which he had not earned.
Were we thanked for spending three times our allotted
budget? Of course not. And the moral? There is no such
thing as a free lunch. Additionally, given something
away to someone who has not earned it only opens the
door for more taking and demands.
DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR
For some reason, we tend to excuse bad behavior as being
something that goes with the territory for artists.
I must confess, nothing disturbs me more than having
to deal with individuals who have no substantive history
and have frankly not paid their dues.
Maybe it’s the mystique of being a star. Maybe
it’s ego. Whatever. Very few people in the arts
are that special and unique that they can expect to
be treated like an icon. How many real celebrity icons
can you really name? Travel around the globe and witness
some of the brilliance of local artists and you’ll
soon realize that breaking out is not an easy thing
to do. Add to that how quickly today’s celebrity
becomes tomorrow’s “E! True Hollywood Story”—or
Receiving and viewing over 1,500 entries each year has
taught me one important fact: there are many many brilliant
artists out there who are mostly unsung and who toil
tirelessly to perfect their craft. Then there’s
the one-note wonder, through political and personal
connections, acts as if they were the greatest and most
accomplished artist who deserves special privileges
and recognition. Their innate brilliance has created
what is soon to be a cinematic masterpiece and that
they are gracing us with their presence.
We had one director who was so full of herself that
when she introduced her film, a trite chick flick pastiche,
she spoke to the audience as if accepting her Oscar.
Another director presented us a copy of their work on
video without checking the copy out of the laboratory.
It was on Beta SP, a standard with most fests for high-resolution
Unfortunately, when the film played,
the sound was so low that even with extreme boosting,
it was hard to comprehend. Then there was the issue
of the color balance: none existed. The tape was badly
engineered and an embarrassment. Of course, the director
blamed our equipment. The film was played three times
to an unsuspecting audience. Two screenings were a mess.
The third was the VHS screener which had been sent to
apply to the Festival. It was lesser quality than we
are used to screening, but a far cry from the mess that
he had provided for the Festival. The sad thing is that
he never accepted responsibility for not checking the
tape—even blowing off a pre-screening run-through.
Of yes, I should also add that we ask all filmmakers
to submit their screening copies early so that we can
prevent this type of problem from occurring. He hand-delivered
the tape the day of the screening. And no, he continued
to look for someone to blame even when shown that the
tape was defective.
This year, we had a director who had everything handed
to them on a silver platter. A first-time director,
the individual thought they knew how to play the game.
So they pushed and pushed and pushed. What the individual
didn’t understand was that they failed at showing
one emotion that would have accomplished so much more—being
grateful. The demands became burdensome and obnoxious.
In the end when the film didn’t win a juried award,
they pulled a temper tantrum and stormed out questioning
the legitimacy of our professional jury. Of course,
they did win an audience choice award, but apparently
that was not good enough.
Compare this to seasoned actor, Stephen Collins who
came to the Fest to present the World Premiere of his
directorial debut short “Next of Kin.” Not
only was he grateful to have his film accepted, but
he flew in on his own dime, paid for his own hotel,
and was accessible throughout the time he was in attendance.
Gracious is a word that describes his behavior. Professional
says it best.
So what separates a Stephen Collins from the dilettantes
I’ve described? I think it’s maturity and
paying one’s dues. Collins is an industry survivor.
He has a solid career. He also knows that you don’t
burn your bridges. As Buddy Cianci was known to say,
“be careful of the body you step on as you climb
up the ladder; they might be stepping on you on your
way down.” Or something to that effect. Actually,
I think it was a bit cruder.
So what’s the moral here, besides the fact that
you need to take vacations more frequently than I do?
I think that success within the industry comes to those
who can at least submerge their egos in a public forum.
Those who rise above pettiness and pretentiousness are
the ones who ultimately succeed. The others have proven
historically to be flashes in the pan and disappear—or
That gives me some satisfaction and tells me that bad
behavior doesn’t always win out.
Now that’s a relief!
About the Author:
George T. Marshall is the Producing Director of the
Rhode Island-based Flickers Arts Collaborative, the
creators of the annual Rhode Island International Film
Festival for which he also serves as Executive Director.
He teaches film and communications at Rhode Island College
and speech communications and documentary film at Roger
Williams University. He is a director, writer, producer
of commercials and industrials for numerous business
clients in the region and is currently completing the
multi-media components for a museum exhibit saluting
American veterans in Woonsocket, RI. He can be reached