Sunday, September 20, 2009

TIFF – Toronto International Film Festival 2009

Sometimes it just happens; you have no idea how you spotted the possibility, you just did and it turns out to be a moment of sheer magic. 120 minutes of laughing, crying and experiencing.
The world around you has disappeared and you live only in this on-screen universe. In a way it’s like a good conversation but the dialog is not with a fellow human being but with a movie and it´s director who have created this space in time with the ability to reach out and communicate with YOU, the audience.
In a way it´s like falling in love. An all consuming feeling where nothing else matters as long as you can be with together with the adored object.

I have had that experience twice during this festival. The first time was a movie called “Mao’s last Dancer”, about a ballet dancer trained in communist China who defects to the United States. The second time was a documentary from New Zeeland called “The Topp Twins” about two country singing, yodelling, lesbian twin sisters. Both movies provided me with this extraordinary thing – to be able to experience a phenomenon and a story I had no idea existed. It made my world bigger and my life richer.

I have watched 35 movies during this festival and thousands over the years. You should think this could very easily have made me into a cynic and when you are 51 years old and have to watch “Hannah Montana” in a dubbed Danish version, the possibility definitely exists but luckily it hasn’t. I can still enjoy a good movie as much as when I started in the cinema business 35 years ago. I love movies and feel so lucky to have the best job in the world watching them and afterwards providing the audience in my cinemas with the same experience.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cannes Film Festival 2009

“Home sweet home” in Cannes, I live inside “Antichrist” :-))

Going to Cannes this year I was wondering how to present the event on this blog. Should I write every day like I did in Berlin? Should I make one single posting writing about one specific topic as I did last year? Or should I do something completely different?

I have spent a lot of time lately trying to understand the current trends of the internet. My latest discovery is TWITTER. A peculiar “telegram-like”, (do anyone remember telegrams :-), messenger service. You can write 140 characters, post links or pictures or you can refer to others doing the same.

That’s it; it´s “back to basics”. No fancy stuff, no new applications, just this one message: What am I doing right now?

Enjoy the Cannes Film festival, where ever you are and ……

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Berlinale 2009

Day 1- The Sony Center.
They say that in the summertime it´s a beautiful city, but in February it is cold and dark. It doesn’t matter anyway, because during the next 10 days I will not get out much.
Today has been spent travelling and setting up office, tomorrow the work begins.
Over the years I have lived many different places in the city during the festival, this year is something special, because I am in the centre of everything – in the middle of the Sony Centre – surreal :-)

Day 2 – Reading.
I spend most of the day reading and planning, trying to figure out which movies to watch in the coming week. At noon I went out to pick up my accreditation and to collect all the information I need to plan a successful festival. Even though “The Berlin Film Festival” is one of the best organised festivals, I spent hours walking from one place to another or waiting in different lines before I had collected all items needed. The rest is reading, planning, reading, planning and so on…..welcome to “The Berlinale” and “The European Film Market”.

Day 3 – A Good Day.
Today has been a good day. I’ve watched four movies, three good- or acceptable ones and one that will not be remembered as a masterpiece :-): I got an overview of the “party-situation” as well and have picked up an invitation for the Danish Filminstitute event, which to me is the most important one as it gives me the opportunely to meet my Danish or Scandinavian colleges. I also have a couple of dinner engagements. Some are in place, one couple is still undecided, waiting for the participants to figures out their screening schedules before they know when they are free to dine. I found a new place to pick up tickets 200 meters from my Sony Centre apartment. I have not jet gotten over living in the middle of everything, it´s fantastic!

Day 4 – A Long day.
Fifteen hours, five movies and one party later, finishing the day with a shower and a cold beer almost makes you feel human again. It has been one of those days; with 30- 45 minute intervals between most of my engagements, not really time enough to relax nor to have a proper meal, but in a fifteen hour working day it all adds up. I went to my first public screening this evening at the Zoo Palast. Berlin is not only one of the major professional film festivals, it is also a festival for the ordinary cinemagoer. As a professional you have access to these screenings as well. For a person that very seldom watches movies together with a paying audience, it is nice to feel their anticipation and enthusiasm. It makes me remember why I am in this business, even though I am sharing the experience with a predominantly German audience. Luckily, in my experience, people that love going to movies are the same all over the world.

Day 5 – Jetlag is coming.
I can feel it coming since I am loosing my sense of time and place. It is nothing unusual because the same thing happens at every festival. Somewhere around day six I get festival jetlagged. I loose my sense of time, I can’t remember what weekday it is and I really have to concentrate not to miss anything or forget any appointments. Apart from that, it´s been one of those days where I am thinking that I probably should have stayed at home and watched some DVD’s. Because five movies and twelve hours later, I have to admit that not one of them is good for anything. It is very interesting that it´s just as important to see the bad films as the good ones, because running a successful cinema operation is very much about being able to say “no thank you” at the right time and in the right place. Spotting the good movies is easy, avoiding the bad ones is a lot harder. All-in-all the most exiting events of the day has been taking a wrong turn on the way to the Urania Cinema, making me end up in an area with lots of “ladies for sale” and then of course, crossing Potsdamer Strasse the obligatory fifteen times.

Day 6 – A day for socializing-
Today has been a day for socializing, which means I have only watched two movies; the rest of the day has been spent talking to business partners and other contacts. But socializing is a part of attending a film festival and the contacts I get and those I keep will help me in the programming and the running of the Cinemas in the coming month. At this point I have seen sixteen movies and that’s not bad for being half way through the festival, so I should not have a bad conscience for not having watched more movies today.

Day 7 – Mondays I have to work
It doesn’t matter where I am in the world, it doesn’t matter if I am on a business trip, on holiday or sick, on Mondays I have to work. Every Monday I plan which movies are going to be playing in my cinemas starting the following Friday. This only goes for Næstved and Empire, Reprisen is different since it has programs that last up to two months at a time.
It takes about two to three hours to do the actual work, but there are some other practical tings that have to be in place too, so it takes a little longer before the whole thing is settled and the repertoire is available in the ticket-sale-computer-system and also made accessible on our website. Today is Monday; I have finished the programming, watched four movies, had dinner with a colleague and attended a party. The whole thing was done on four hours of sleep, so the only thing I can think of right now is going to bed…… ZZZzzzzzzzz……. ;-)

Day 8 – Steady – steady.
Right now it feels like I could go on doing this forever. I know the program and can improvise if it´s necessary. All the little practical things that I had forgotten from last year, like which U-bahn to take to go to a certain cinema, have been re-learned and I am up to speed. Moving steadily ahead, I digest one movie after the other, today’s ration was three movies and one dinner.

Day 9 – The Berlin “Wall”.
I know exactly when it happened; the time was 16.25 in the afternoon and I had just come out of a screening in the Cinestar cinema. My first thought was: What time is it? The next was: It is Wednesday today, isn’t it? It´s a strange feeling to loose track of time and place, but it happens at every festival I attend. After a while I am not just jetlagged anymore, I am sleepwalking. It takes a lot of effort to keep on concentrating on the essentials: What am I going to watch next? Is it good or bad? Can I play it in my cinemas?
Apart from that, I have seen some good movies today. One very good and three average.
Went to a public screening at Friedrichstadtpalats at six o’clock, everyone (probably 1500 people) were applauding, nice atmosphere, I enjoyed it.

Day 10 – The Last Day
Today was the last working day; from now on it is packing and leaving. Tomorrow I will be returning to normal life and next week I will be back in the office, concentrating on lots of other things rather than watching movies. It´s been an okay but not exceptional festival. I have watched a fair amount of “good” movies, but only a few that stood out and among those, none were really commercial. Of course, I had already seen most of the “big” movies presented in Berlin in advance, which means that movies like “The International” and “The Reader” were not a part of “my” festival this year. On the other hand, it has given me the opportunity to focus on more specialized movies and it is by watching those that you discover the true “gems”. This year’s discovery was a Japanese movie called “Departures”– a beautiful, exotic and touching movie about a man whose job it is to prepare dead bodies for the funeral.
By now, I guess the only thing left is saying goodbye to The Berlinale 2009, Potsdamer Platz and the Germans. See you all next year, its been a pleasure – as always…:-)

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Gift of understanding differences....

Even though we took over the Cinema in Næstved in June, the first time I realized to what extent my companies had changed was when I was in a music store just before Christmas buying 85 gift certificates for the employees. To be fair I ended up using only 83 but it made me wonder who these 83 people are and what it is that we, in common create every day?

There is a span of 50 years between the youngest and the oldest member of the staff in the three cinemas, but most are between 16 to 35 years of age. There is also a difference in personalities and qualifications according to which cinema they work in. The ones working in Émpire are very different from the ones working in Bio Næstved, which again are different from the ones working in Reprisen.

I like that people are different, that they think differently and that they behave in different ways, because I consider diversity a gift and it is my hope that I can pass this joy of diversity and enthusiasm for working in a cinema and serving an audience, on to everybody who works in my cinemas.

The employees in Empire Bio are innovators and many of them are bound to go on to do great things. They are first and foremost students (media and communication seems to be the preferred subject) but many of them are trying to make their way in life at alternative routes, becoming musicians, artists or striving for a career in the movie industry.
To work in Empire you have to be “trendy & cool”, a movie-buff, hyperactive but also stable.

The ones working in Bio Næstved are more “ordinary”, but in a way I feel closer to them even though they are the ones I have known the shortest time. I think it´s because the mixture of personalities is like the one I “grew” up with. Students or people that at one point wanted to make some extra money, got fascinated by the pulse of a cinema and never left and last but not least, the ones that actually make a living from working in a cinema and who will, like me, stay there for the rest of their working life. To work in Næstved you have to be friendly, efficient and stable.

The ones working in Reprisen are somewhere in between. But they have one major “extra” qualification; they can handle very smart and very resourceful customers in a respectful but firm way. They might “only” sell tickets or be projectionists, but they can argue and state their cases like professors or company CEO´s. To work in Reprisen you have to have integrity, be brilliant, calm and stable.

There is no doubt that the staff in these different Cinemas mirror their audiences, which I think is one of the great advantages of working in a smaller company because there is room for everyone to be individual and its is possible for me to understand and use the differences when addressing both the staff and the guests.

Writing this I recognise that I have actually succeeded in collecting a group of people with different resources, different skills and different personalities; together they create a unified whole but still retain their individuality. This goes for the administrative staff as well. Realizing this makes me feel both humble and grateful.

It also made me realize that this is one of the advantages of “growing”. We are now a group, not just one “enthusiastic individual” doing all the “right things” but unable to create long-term continuity. We got it all, creativity and continuity – and besides that – we have much more fun working as a group, because we always have someone to laugh with.

A working Empire-woman :-)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

“I am off to see the Wizard” - and survived to tell the tale…

Already in the airport you know who is on their way to the Cannes Film Festival. Because people who work in the film industry do not look like regular business men or women and they don’t look like tourists either.

My daily work is a mix between being a manager, taking care of staff and the daily running of the business as well as being the person in charge of programming. It means that on a daily basis the programming, selection and screening of film might not always get top priority.
Therefore I arrive two days before the festival starts. I pick up my accreditation, the festival screening schedules and start planning.
The following two days I stay in the apartment, I don’t go out, I read magazines, the festival catalogue, surf the web and compare it all with the notes I’ve brought from home. The purpose is to try to figure out which films I am going to see within the next 10 days. And since there are hundreds to choose from, and since at a good festival I can manage to watch about 40, it’s important to make the right selection.

The Cannes Film Festival is all about networking, gossiping and prioritizing. Do you know what’s going on, where it’s happening and can you get in?
To get access to the film screenings, you got to have a badge and the higher priority that badge has, the better it is. The ultimate one being a “marked badge with a purple stripe” because its gives you priority access to the screenings, (and tickets) which means you will be allowed to enter the cinema or screening rooms before others with a lower priority badge. That is important because sometimes there are a lot more people waiting in line, than there are seats in the auditoriums.

The Cannes Film festival is operating on many levels, one is what you se on television or read about in newspapers and magazines. Film stars and so called celebrities walking up and down the red carpet. In “my festival” that is a sidebar, because attending screenings in the Festival-Palais, at least in the evening, is a lot of work. You have to dress up and, “we”, the mortals who do not arrive in a festival limousine, have to stand in line for a long time just to get in. (Even though you have a ticket!) Another peculiar thing is, that from the balcony, where I am seated, you cannot see the ground floor and therefore not the celebrities seated below you. That means that the only stars I see are projected onto a big video screen, showing the audience already seated in the auditorium, what is going on outside on the steps of the Palais. I usually bring a couple of the daily festival magazines to read while I am waiting. French celebrities are a little bit boring to a Dane, first and foremost, because you have no idea who they are.

Attending the Film Market (Marche Du Film), most films you watch are shown in one of the smaller screening room in the Festival-Palais or in one of three ordinary cinemas throughout Cannes city. Sometimes you attend private screenings and as long as you are invited all is very well. The real challenge is to get in when you are not invited. It can be difficult, but absolutely not impossible. First and foremost you have to look like you belong and having an appropriate and impressive business card is very good (its okay to use one that is not your own, just make sure it has a relevant company logo). If that doesn’t work, you have to find the soft spot. That can be a trainee watching the entrance door and, when they (for obvious reasons) cannot find you on the invitation list, you make a scene. (That doesn’t work with “old rats”, they will just say: “I am sorry madam, who did you say you were working for?…”)
Another technique is to wait until the confusion around the entrance is total, which happens when too many people are trying to get in, but are not allowed. When you spot someone who you believe to actually be invited (you will know because they are shouting “Hi, Bill!” to the “old rat” attending the door), then you have to move fast and place yourself right behind this person - in the slipstream so to speak. If I have options, I choose a male, tall and between 30 and 40 and as he is pushing himself through the lump of people waiting, waving his business card shouting “I am with XX-company!” (meaning: I am very, very important!), I will be right behind him mumbling “I am with him, I am with him!” and “voila”, I am inside.
The last resort is to see if you can spot someone you know who is already inside and who you believe to have “Hi Bill-status”. Then you will try to get their attention, either by shouting or by calling their cell phone. When you have contact and can see each other, you shout: “Hi Peter” (or whatever the name is), and “Peter” will shout to the “Rat”: “Its okay, she is with me!” and you will be allowed in.
And that is the only thing that matters - to get in. To do so I am willing to weep, shout, cheat or play “damsel in distress”, it doesn’t matter as long as it works.

Having attended the Cannes Film Festival so many times before, my partying days are over. I prefer to go out dining with colleagues or business associates and if they afterwards want to go out partying I go “home” to sit on the balcony with my flatmates, (who are at the same level – so to speak), have a glass of wine, gossip for a while and go to bed.
The only parties I attend are the ones that are relevant to my personal and business connections and where the attendees are mostly Danes or other Scandinavians. Sounds a little boring, but if I don’t limit my partying, it is very difficult for me to get up at 6.30 in the morning and watch 4-5 films through the day. Actually, in my opinion, one of the tricks of surviving the Cannes Film Festival is controlling and fine tuning your ability to hold your liqueur. I do however, allow myself one or two late nights, sometimes with too many G&T´s and I always regret it the next day, but what the h…. were are all humans :-).

After 10 days in the battle zone, time has come to go home. Looking at the people waiting in line at Nice airport, it is easy to recognize the ones that have been attending the festival. Dozens of people looking like zombies, their clothes wrinkled, with hair that’s definitely in need of a comb and blurry eyes, red from lack of sleep, too much alcohol and from watching too many films.

I love to attend the Cannes Film Festival, and I love the hectic atmosphere, love the hunt for “the right film”, the one that to the ordinary cinema audience will be the hot one within three months time. But I love going home too, thinking “wow” I survived jet another festival and lived to tell the tale……

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The last of the Dinosaurs

I was invited to a business dinner last week. That happens once in a while, because being in the entertainment industry also means, doing business in an entertaining way.

It was a very nice evening; a film producer had invited fifty people all connected to cinema-exhibition to dine at his production facility. Before dining we all sang a song from a songbook made for the folkhighschools, a special Danish tradition. The guests got to choose the song and because the producer and his partners recently had sold a part of their company to a large Danish competitor, we chose a wedding hymn. Everyone was giggling the more the text referred to pure love.
But I absolutely understand why they sold part of their company, they handle directors who have worked with them for years and who are now at a point in their careers where they want to make films abroad with casts that include Hollywood stars. That has to be financed. So teaming up with this other company is very sensible. Maybe they also just wanted to secure their life’s work and get a little rich. All three arguments are perfectly okay with me :-).

In a not too far away future I will turn fifty, which brings about some thoughts I haven’t had before. Within the last three years I have taken some major life altering decisions. I have bought my own business (at least a part of it), and I have decided I will only work with projects or people that I like or love.
At the same time, I want to have a private life. So no more 16-hours-days, no more travelling for weeks in a row, no more coming home just to fix whatever couldn’t be fixed on the road, washing and packing just to leave again.
People ask me: “Don’t you miss it?” , but I don’t. I just want to stay at home, go to work every morning and go home at night. Hike in the forest on Sundays and when I feel like it (and they want to), hug my partner, my dog and my laundry machine. (The laundry machine doesn’t have a choice :-).
All of which I can do because they are right there in front of me, not thousands of kilometres and a flight trip away – it’s a choice. I don’t “sail” as fast as I used to and the “kicks” are not as intoxicating, but I can see the shore and I sleep better at night.

When the dinner was finished, the lawyers working for the production company, together with the producer (who were handling the drums) played jazz music. (Apparently they only hire lawyers that can play an instrument). Everybody was talking, laughing and being friendly with each other. It was like spending an evening with the family.

I don’t think there were more than five people in the whole party that I have known less than 10 years, many I have known all my working life. But recently some of these “constant-always-people” have begun to disappear. Some retire or sell their business, some get fired because the turn 60 or 65 and are replaced with younger people (by the way - I don’t like that “habit” :-), and some just die, which I also find unacceptable :-).
Suddenly I find myself in the forefront of this business, I am not the up-and-coming young talent, (if I ever was one :-) anymore. Gone are my heroes and mentors along with a couple of enemies… the last being a development I must admit I rather enjoy :-).

There are not many independent cinema owners left in Denmark. Like all over the world, the market is dominated by big players with hundreds, sometimes thousands of screens, so just having five, like I do, is rather unusual. We have become, like the last of the dinosaurs, a dying species and I have become the last link to history, I am not sure I am ready for that yet…….