"Let's get the fuck out of here." Those six words have passed the lips of everyone at a film festival at least once, and it sums up the unspoken metaphysical horror of being stuck in a room with a bunch of people hating the movie that you're hating too.
In Film Fest, those words are spoken by director Logan Clark (Matt Cook) to producer Alex Davis (Diona Reasonover) after they get their debut feature, Unknown Unknowns, into the not-so-prestigious Hollywylde Film Festival. It's the fest of last resort for them, one of those fests you've never heard of, in the middle of nowhere, where you at least have a hope of getting something like a distro deal, or making a few a connections. Only they're not big deal filmmakers. He works catering, she's a PA, and Hollywylde is no Sundance but, hey, laurels are laurels!
In the year of virtual festivals, industry comedy Film Fest is a reminder of both how silly fests are and how dear they are to everyone's hearts in the film biz. It's the kind of event where you meet oddballs like Alison Dunbar as chief (and only) festival booker Kim Lincoln, channeling both Beverly D'Angelo and Christie Brinkley in National Lampoon's Vacation. Meanwhile Laird Macintosh roars through every frame as Tomas Jonsson, the cinematographer pretending to be Swedish for ... reasons, and constantly furious at the enfant terrible shooting on an iPhone. An. I. Phone. (Plus, don't miss the increasingly baffled and frustrated local bartender who just wants someone to give him a normal order))
The embittered comedy cousin of indie filmmaking doc The Clapboard Jungle, the gentle humor and heart of Film fest all comes down to Cook and Reasonover, whose bickering siblings routine sums up the often complicated and confrontational relationship between director and producer. They slide so easily into the bon homie that you see in filmmaking duos, the snark and in-jokes that they develop in their inevitable us-against-the-world mentality. At the same time, their codependency is obvious, built in no small part on their fragile and complicated relationship with the truth (Logan can't stop telling it, no matter how much trouble it gets him into, while Alex has issues of her own).
That's where Film Fest is most fun and most cringe-inducing, when it's about filmmakers and everything they go through. It never gets more pointed (or awkwardly hilarious) than Will Sasso as festival organizer Montgomery Nash, a blow hard with a big heart and bigger dreams. His presentation of the award ceremony that wraps up the fest is hellishly accurate. Writer/director Marshall Cook, and cowriter Paul Alan Cope clearly channel their own experiences in the step-and-repeat grindhouse into this awkward glimpse into life at the not-quite-bottom rung of the cinematic ladder, and it shows - not least that half the jokes are such inside baseball that there's even a joke about films about films always being inside baseball.
Will the gags in this observational comedy land better with anyone in the film industry than those outside? Undoubtedly, and that's not really a detriment to this light and sometimes bittersweet comedy. Better to be truthful and know who your audience is than bland and made for mass consumption. Or maybe not. Film Fest's ultimate moral is much like The Clapboard Jungle's - that the only real success is making another movie - but along the way it tickles those thoughts that have plagued every filmmaker about commerce versus art.
Comedy Vanguard, World Premiere
Screening links available until Oct. 29 at www.austinfilmfestivalconference2020.eventive.org.
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