The Gregory Lamberson Files
Today The Buffalo News, the Nickel City's daily newspaper, reported a development which is sad but not unexpected: the Market Arcade Film & Arts Centre, the only movie theater in downtown Buffalo, faces closure:
The article will have you believe the theater - owned by the city and operated by Dipson Theatres - is a victim of the need for theaters to convert to digital projection. This is partly true: movie studios are ceasing to make film prints of new releases available to theaters around the world. This is a cost saving measure, and makes good business sense; why make prints, and pay to have them canned, shipped and preserved, when most Hollywood films are being shot digitally anyway? The article details the costs involved, and explains that even if the city decided to spend the money to replace the projectors at MAFAC with the new digital models, the theater needs far more money for renovation (stadium seating, screens capable of 3D, etc.). The cost involved in making this multiplex "viable" is impractical because of the real culprit here: Buffalo apathy.
Buffalo is a strange city, because a segment of its population is as passionate about the arts as the rest of the citizens are about sports and consuming alcohol. There's a real dichotomy here: we want to portray ourselves as an "arts" community, but we're basically a blue collar town that squanders numerous opportunities to rise above dipping our hands into the peanut jars at our local taverns. Worse, there's a perception that downtown Buffalo - where our theatre district is, for God's sake - is a cauldron of dangerous criminal activity.
I worked for Dipson as a theater manager for three years. It's a chain that moved into art house fare before I moved here almost eleven years ago, when Regal and AMC invaded the community with their ugly state of the art multiplexes. Earlier this year, the North Park Theatre, our last single screen theater and a real landmark for film lovers, closed its doors. This leaves the Amherst (three screens) and the Eastern Hills Cinemas (also three screens) as our last theaters devoted to independent, art and "specialized" fare (there is also the Screening Room, which is even more specialized and shows a lot of films new indie films and retro classics).
MAFAC was never an art house, it showed the best and worst commercial films. It also hosted Bruce Jackson's popular film seminar series. It was the first theater I ever worked at here, and I have an affinity for it because its decor is still modeled after the Angelika Film Centre in Manhattan, which I also managed for a time. The gleaming wood floors in the lobby, the cafe tables off to the side of the concession stand, and the chandelier are all holdovers from the year when the Angelika chain operated the theater and quickly pulled out. (Side note: the Angelika was a stand alone theater in NYC until the family that owned it sold it off in the wake of a bitter divorce; the chain that bought it ran it into the ground and launched a chain of Angelikas; nothing spells indie success like having a chain spoil everything that makes a venue special in the first place).
As a manager at the Amherst, I encountered the strange Fear of Downtown Buffalo Syndrome. The Amherst is located at 3500 Main Street, across the street from the UB South Campus, on the border of Buffalo and Amherst. MAFAC is located at 639 Main Street, a ten minute drive or subway ride away. Customers at the Amherst would look at the poster cases in the lobby and say to me, "When are you going to get THIS movie?" Puzzled, I would answer, "We aren't, but it's playing at the Market Arcade right now." The response was almost always the same: "Oh, I never go downtown." Heaven forbid! To be fair, MAFAC has no parking on weekdays before 5 pm, which is why it rarely shows movies before then. After 5 pm, the M&T Bank lot is available to theater patrons, and the theater validates the parking fees. It's a very simple process. (The North Park also had no parking facility).
I held the premiere for SLIME CITY MASSACRE at MAFAC, and a SLIME CITY/SCM benefit double feature for a boy with leukemia, and recently held the premieres for DRY BONES and THE LEGEND OF SIX FINGERS there. In each instance, we had a decent crowd, but never filled the auditorium to capacity, and we might have if we'd gone to the burbs. Last year, we held the third edition of Buffalo Screams Horror Film Festival there. Our plan was to show our city off, to hold our event in the heart of the city, near restaurants and bars, surrounded by our amazing architecture...and getting anyone to attend proved a Herculean task. Aside from a personnel issue, the low attendance was a major reason why we decided to scrap the festival and start a new one, Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival. We didn't return to MAFAC, we learned our lesson.
MAFAC is an independent theater. It's owned by the city, which means it's owned by each one of us. People will say they miss MAFAC when it's gone, but I bet few of the mourners ever did anything to support it during its years of operation. Soon we'll be one of the few cities our size to have no movie theater in our city proper, while the parking lots at the Regal theaters will be filled to capacity. Can you imagine Curtain Up, our annual celebration of the new theatre season, with the MAFAC dark and abandoned in the center of the activities?
That's so Buffalo.
As happened all three years with Buffalo Screams Horror Film Festival, my daily previews and recaps of Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival quickly fell behind and out of existence, pushed aside by the all day needs of actually running the festival. There is a perception that Buffalo Dreams is Buffalo Screams 2.0, but that isn't the case: Dreams is an all new festival, started from scratch when my partner Chris Scioli and I found certain behind the scenes factors of Buffalo Screams unmanageable and unacceptable. Given that Buffalo Dreams was a first year festival, it surpassed my expectations and everything we accomplished with Buffalo Screams. We didn't get up and running until March, which means we put this whole thing together in eight months, and now we're in a great position for next year.
It wasn't easy: we ended up putting on our first seven day event with all day programming, and we were pleasantly surprised when filmmaker after filmmaker notified us of his intention to attend our inaugural event. We programmed 85 films (26 features, 59 shorts, 27 international films, 13 local productions). We had amazing movies, and I don't use that word lightly: Motivational Growth, On Air, Animosity, Judas Ghost, Atlantis: The Last Days of Kaptara, My Fair Zombie, Nightmare Box, Dust of War, Sick: Survive the Night, Pinup Dolls on Ice, and Imago, to name but a few (and in no particular order). Just as important, we had amazing visiting filmmakers: Don Thacker, Simon Pearce, Brendan Steere, Brett Kelly, Jon Keeyes, Ryan M.Andrews, Mel House, Chris Warren, Geoff Klein and Melissa Mira, actor Bates Wilder and actress Tracy Willet (again, to name a few). To have these folks and many others travel to our city, to show their terrific films at our start-up festival, was astounding.
Jerry Landi and the Bloodmarsh Krackoon team, Don Thacker and Simon Pearce were here for most of the week, and most of the other filmmakers came up for two or three days to support each other and see as many films as they could. In other words, they actually participated in the festival and brought something extra to the table besides their excellent films, which is something we didn't expect to happen for a couple of years (Scioli and I are big picture guys, and we know it will take time to realize our full vision for this event). The filmmakers gave great Q&As, and I was pleased with the questions asked by our intelligent audience.
Far too much happened over the week to give a blow by blow account, but here are some of the highlights:
- For the second year in a row, our Krackoon friends from the Bronx were a real presence at the fest, providing warmth and humor. I hope they make another film soon so they can come back - I hope every visiting filmmaker comes back.
- All of our screenings presented by visiting filmmakers were memorable, including short films presented to small but appreciative audiences at weekday blocks; Don Thacker, Simon Pearce, Brendan Steere and Tracy Willet, Brett Kelly, Geoff Klein and Melissa Mira, Jon Keeyes, Ryan M. Andrews and his team, Mel House and Chris Warren gave especially informative talks (my apologies to anyone I left out...there were that many, and I loved every one of them).
- We sold out Return to Nuke 'Em High Vol. 1, raising $2,000 for the Niagara Arts & Culture Center (someone donated an additional $1,000 at the screening). Troma fans came from Philadelphia in a school bus. Lloyd Kaufman did a 45 minute Q&A after the film, then spent an hour signing items for free and posing for photographs with every one of his fans. I didn't attend the Troma after party, and I'll still never forget it!
- For the third year in a row, Paige Davis from Alternative Cinema gave a talk on DVD/VOD distribution. This time, she gave it at a separate venue, the Screening Room. It was well attended - by the visiting filmmakers. I counted one local filmmaker whose work we screened, and two local filmmakers who showed up just to learn about indie distribution.
- As thanks to our visiting filmmakers, we arranged a lunch for them at Scotch and Sirloin, it was every bit the fun, warm get together we hoped, a chance for everyone in town at that point to break bread somewhere other than the lobbies of the Amherst Theatre or Lord Amherst Hotel.
- The Dreamer Awards ceremony went well, even though I missed half of it racing home like a madman to retrieve four awards I'd forgotten at home. I will get to see the acceptances I missed soon. We presented Lloyd Kaufman with our Dedication to Indie Excellence Award, and Lloyd's wife Pat, our former NYS Film Commissioner, presented Buffalo-Niagara Film Commissioner Tim Clark and Director of Operations RIch Wall with our Local Service Award, and I presented Albert Pyun, in absentia, with our Indie Genre Spirit Award (Albert was unable to attend due to health issues).
- On a personal note, I loved seeing my friends Jeff Strand and Lynne Hansen from Florida, and Gregory Kurczynski from Louisiana (all here for the short He's Not Looking So Great), and am glad they had a great time; and my daughter Kaelin had a great time all around, meeting people, bonding with people, and handing out awards. For an only child with no friends her age in the neighborhood, she has no idea how interesting her life is.
Over lunch at Niagara Falls, Don Thacker asked me what I get out of the festival. Exhausted, I fumbled something about wanting to build a lasting contribution to Buffalo, but I neglected the simple answer: that I love programming. It's exciting to discover a film you've never heard of before, to promote that film, and to present it to an audience. Many of these films will receive distribution, and the people who saw them here will associate Buffalo Dreams with them - our good luck. Meeting the filmmakers who made these gems was an added bonus, and I can honestly say that in my social conversations with Don Thacker, Simon Pearce, Jon Keeyes, brett Kelly, Bates Wilder, Mel House and Chris Warren I learned things I didn't know about filmmaking, fundraising and distribution. When Don wasn't watching films, he was "taking meetings" over the telephone in his hotel room. Real meetings, with distributors, sales agents and financiers.
Which brings me to the local filmmakers (most of them; I have to be careful not to lump them altogether). At the end of Buffalo Screams last year, Scioli and I realized that the self proclaimed "horror filmmakers" in Buffalo just weren't our target audience, because they've shown next to no interest in taking advantage of what this festival offers (unless it means seeing themselves on screen). It boggles my mind that 20 people I can think of off the top of my head didn't show up for Paige Davis's talk, or to interact with the smart, talented and successful /breaking out filmmakers who attended this festival. It's hard not to form an opinion about who's serious about their work and who wants to spend their lives in the small pond, and anyone who stayed away because of a personal dislike of me is a bigger goofball than I thought. There isn't one person who traveled to Buffalo the locals couldn't have learned something from. I laughed when one filmmaker told me that in his city he could never get his local filmmakers to show interest in his work because they were all too busy with the 48 Hour Film Festival, "the only thing they care about." Even more astounding is that most of the local filmmakers whose work we screened - people who had two free passes to the entire festival - didn't use them except to attend their own screenings. It's the fourth year I've witnessed this, and I see Chad Clinton Freeman faces the same issue at PollyGrind in Las Vegas. I'm just glad that this year we weren't even counting on local filmmaker support (and appreciate what we saw from Sam Qualiana, Chris Rados, Michele Beers, Julian Dickman, Rod Durick, Terry Kimmel, Bob Bozek, Kim Piazza, Armand Petri and others; Mick Thomas, Tim O'Hearn and Heather Black came up from Batavia for the entire opening weekend). Zero expectations, zero disappointment. But the kid who not only didn't attend screenings of films other than his own - even though talented filmmakers from Seattle and the UK watched his film - who tried to sneak in a whole posse of friends? Fucking embarrassing, man.
Our one failure was to connect with college crowd even with our change in venues, and that will be our number one priority for next year. Yes, we're already working on next year; it's the only way for me to avoid working 13 hours a day every day for two months again. :) I want to thank our volunteers: Dave Setlik, John Renna, Arick Szymecki, Paul McGinnis, Bill Brown and Jenn Brown; our sponsors: Fangoria, Off Beat Cinema, Seeley and Kane's Books and Comics; Western New York Grip & Electric; Terror Technologies; and Stellar Entertainment; the wonderful staffs at the Amherst Theatre, the lord Amherst Hotel and the Screening Room; every filmmaker who submitted to the fest, every filmmaker whose work we showed, and especially every filmmaker who attended the fest; our die hard supporters; Paige Davis; and every person in Buffalo who attended at least one screening.
The Screening Room Cinema Cafe presents THE BEST OF BUFFALO DREAMS:
Wed, Nov. 27th: MOTIVATIONAL GROWTH at 7 pm, ON AIR at 9:30 pm.
Sat, Nov. 30th: ANIMOSITY at 7 pm, JUDAS GHOST at 9:30 pm.
BROKEN WINGS will screen with JUDAS GHOST; shorts for the other three features are TBD.
Admission is $7.00 per feature, or $10 for a double feature.
We will be showing MY FAIR ZOMBIE, DUST OF WAR, ATLANTIS: THE LAST DAYS OF KAPTURA and IMAGO on Friday, Jan 10th and Sat Jan 11th, though the schedule has yet to be worked out.
This was a breakthrough year for us. Next year we EXPLODE.
It happens every year: I start recapping the days of the film festival I'm co-running before I've finished previewing them. Time...
I started my day organizing the DVDs, Blu-rays and DCPs for Saturday and Sunday, picked up some awards, guzzled coffee, and swung by Arick Szymecki's house to pick up two fresh copies he burned of films that were either MIA or wouldn't play, as well as a DVD with a loop of our sponsors - Arick is the unsung hero of day one, so I'm singing him now.
I set up shop in the lobby of the Dipson Amherst Theater, which I managed for three years, and handed out Pass cards and VIP cards to regular customers and visiting filmmakers. Between prep and travel, I'd say myself, the visiting filmmakers and Rich the manager were equally tired (okay, I was more tired than any of them). ATTACK OF THE KILLER BEES and ECHO DR. looked great on the big screen, and feedback was positive. THE HORIZON PROJECT and WRATH OF THE CROWS played next, and I ran home to pick up my daughter from her school bus stop. Reaction to both of those were positive, and I welcomed good friends Gregory G. Kurczynski, Lynne Hansen, Jeff Strand and Marc Makowski. I watched the third feature, EMPIRE GYPSY, which I've come to love, and reaction was great; since the film is about prostitutes, their drivers and pimps, I left Kaelin with Lynne in the lobby and they seemed to have a great time. I know I did.
Our 7 pm show was BROKEN WINGS, and I dare say it was the hit of the night. Bobby Gott gave a great Q&A - you'd think he's been doing this for years. My wife made it to the theater, and we went to dinner with our friends - socializing with other filmmakers is a big part of film festivals too! - so I missed ROAD TO HELL, the STREETS OF FIRE homage. The irony is, I chased that film because I wanted to see it on a big screen, but I would have kicked myself if I didn't get to spend some quality time with friends who came from Florida and the Bronx. When I got back to the theater, I would call the reaction to ROAD TO HELL mixed, but you have to take some chances with films you believe in, sometimes for intangible reasons. I saw enough of it to know it looked great on a big screen.
Our final block was scheduled to consist of the shorts FIVE POINTS and TASHA AND FRIENDS, and the feature BLOODMARSH KRACKOON. Unfortunately, the DVD for FIVE POINTS, which played fine on my Blu-ray player at home, would not play, and the director, Anne Coburn, had come all the way from New York City to show it. A regrettable technical issue; when I got home, I played the disc again on my player fine. Tomorrow we're screening the film at another venue, The Screening Room, before a talk on DVD and VOD distribution by Paige Davis from Alternative Cinema. Our apologies to Anne - a situation beyond our control. If an alternate Blu-ray player at the theater will track the disc, we'll show it again during the day.
TASHA AND FRIENDS was a huge hit, as I knew it would be. Producer Darren Hutchings, who is a very nice guy, gave a funny Q&A. Last year, KRACKOON was a surprise hit at Buffalo Screams, and this year the sequel BLOODMARSH KRACKOON went over well too - a couple of people told me they loved it. We had a technical mishap - the projector shut down 1 minute from the ending of the movie, and the audience was in total darkness. The manager took me into the projection booth, and we cued up the film and played the ending. Writer-director Jerry Landi gave an entertaining Q&A alongside the rest of the Krackoon gang.
Attendance was fine for a Friday. We had a mixture of filmmakers and customers for the early shows, and BROKEN WINGS brought in a good number of people. That team did a great job promoting on their end, and I hope they were satisfied with the turnout. I have much higher expectations for Saturday and Sunday, and RETURN TO NUKE 'EM HIGH VOL. 1 is already almost sold out. Thanks to the filmmakers who submitted their films, those who traveled to the fest, the local filmmakers who get what a film festival is about, our volunteers, and the staff at the Amherst Theater for making the day a good one.
Back during the days of Buffalo Screams Horror Film Festival, Monday would have been the first day of a two week process I call "film festiva1 recovery." We would start Buffalo Screams on A Wednesday, not Friday like we're doing with Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival. We would conclude the festivities with an awards dinner which was nice but problematic; for Buffalo Dreams, we're holing our awards presentation in the Amherst - still on Sunday, though, And then we're showing two more movies! I predict some heavy parting that night (but not from me).
Block 14: 2:30 – 4:21
Short: Depths (6 m, animated, USA)
We begin with an animated short. Animation is important to Buffalo Dreams.
Short: The Adventures of Sheriff Kid McLain (18 m, US/Brazil)
We follow that with a western. Westerns are important to Buffalo Dreams.
Short: One Night at the Aristo (24 m, UK)
We follow that with a culty, bizarro adaptation of a William S. Burroughs short story. Culty, bizarro cult stories are important to Buffalo Dreams. Do you see a pattern? We're only programming films that we really like.
Buffalo Boys (81 m, Buffalo-Niagara)
Buffalo Boys is a feature length crime drama based on a true story. It's well written, well directed, and well acted. It doesn't really fit into any of our advertised genres - we rationalized crime drama as part of action - but we don't care. It's a local film, and we support local films. Hopefully patrons will too. This is a solid film, and I actually think the matinee offers the Amherst's clientele a chance to see it that thye wouldn't have otherwise. This came to us late, after I was already making our schedule; we added a block just so we could show it.
Q&A with co-producer Joel Resnikoff. MADE IN BUFFALO
Crime Drama: Inspired by a true story, Buffalo Boys follows the life of Ian, a 15 year old living in Buffalo, NY. After discovering the man who raised him is not his biological father, Ian’s world is turned upside down as he heads down a path of self destruction and murder.
Block 15: 5:00 pm – 6:32 pm (92 mins; subtitled in English)
There's a pretty big cult following for Asian films in the US. Will they support short films? We'll find out. But there's a large population of Asian students at University at Buffalo, and presumably plenty of people who enjoy watching foreign films - that's part of the Amherst's programming, after all.
Asian Cinema Shorts
Five International shorts exploring different genres from an Asian cultural perspective.
Short: Tokyo Halloween Night (23 m, Japan)
Short: Heat (26 m, South Korea)
Short: Environmental Pressure and Species Adaptation (11 m, South Korea)
Short: Ugry Night (20 m, South Korea)
Short: The Birth of a Family (12 m, South Korea)
Block 16: 7:00 pm – 8:48 pm (108 mins)
Two more Asian films - Japanese - directed by Ken Ochiai. But there's a difference - these are action packed. The first is a short, and it reminded me of The Matrix (except it was well written). The second is a superhero/wrestling fantasy with a costumed protagonist who resembles a Power ranger. People are going to love it.
Short: Memory Sculptor (17 m, Japan/US)
Japanese Cinema: The Tiger Mask (91 m, Japan/US with English subtitles)
Japanese Martial Arts Fantasy: The fictional masked professional wrestler and timeless hero, Tiger Mask, is back in a new Marvel superhero-inspired costume for a new generation of movie lovers! A fun action film with excellent choreography.
Block 17: 9:20 pm – 11:17 pm (117 mins)
Short: Division Azul (13 m, Spain)
Disvison Aziul is hilarious and violent: one of my favorites.
Short: The Wild Diaries (27 m, France/USA)
The Wild Diaries is sexy and violent, with lesbianism and nudity. People are going to love it.
Nightmare Box(90 m, US/UK)
Nightmare Box is a unique, surreal thriller with horror overtones. It's extremely well made on every level, and recently won Best Horror FIlm at PollyGrind in Las Vegas.
Q&A with director Jon Keeyes
Thriller: A woman wakes up in a strange room with no idea who she is, where she is, or how she got there and must unravel the mystery of her identity before the room and its bizarre inhabitants destroy her. A sophisticated, adult thriller co-starring Debbie Rochon.