Burning Annie

Rhode Island International Film Festival
Friday, August 13, 2004
Columbus Cinemateque


To Providence and Back:
My Brief Visit to the Rhode Island International Film Festival

by Zack Ordynans

* Friday, 8/13, 11:18 pm

I'm standing alone in pouring rain on a street corner in a runned-down section of Providence, R.I., lost and bewildered. Four states away my best friend is hours away from getting married. What the hell am I doing with my life?!

Ah, Burning Annie, you bring me such joy.

Let's take a step back...

* Thurs., 8/12, 4:57 pm (New York City)

I'm in my office, my bag at my side. My ride to a borrowed car for the weekend is waiting uptown. Three minutes to go, and only one thing standing in my way...

The phone. It rings.

"Hey, it's me." Shit. It's him. That guy from work who calls himself boss. "For tomorrow, let's finish up that coaches thing and put together the Edgar [Martinez] feature."

"Um, okay. Two things: one, I already gave you the coaches thing, and two, uh, just to remind you, I'm out tomorrow."

"Oh, right." A pause. "I suppose that's fine." (As if I was bringing this up for the first time?) "Before you go, can you edit and prep the Edgar thing?"

"But that's, like, 3,000 words... and I can't stay late today."

"Fine, I'll just do it myself."

"I can do it Monday... it can wait..."

"No, I'll just do it myself."

This is one of maybe two days off I'll take all summer, and I'm supposed to feel guilty about it? Better question: why do I feel guilty about it?

* Thur., 8:16 pm

I'm in Westchester in my sister's VW, running late. Hoped to be heading to Worcester (where I'll stay tonight and tomorrow night at Tom Roy's house) by 6:30, but got sidetracked by dinner with my parents, which took much longer than a diner meal ever should.

I wasn't originally planning to go to this festival, because I have a wedding to go to this weekend. But a couple of weeks ago I figured that since the screening is on Friday, I could drive up, make it to the screening, and return the next day, in time for Jay's wedding in Livingston, N.J. A lot of driving, and a hectic weekend, but what the hell-- the movie isn't gonna represent itself. (On second thought, maybe it will, and maybe that's the problem.)

* Thur., 11:40 am (Worcester)

I just got here, hit a lot of road work-related traffic in Connecticut. Tom and his girlfriend, Bonniejean, are polite about everything but I know my late arrival is an inconvenience.

We chat for a bit, then they set me up on the couch and go to bed. I had coffee a couple of hours ago, and I've got a lot on my mind, but still I'm exhausted, and I'm asleep by midnight.

* Fri., 10:12 am

Geography is a funny thing: I spent four years living in Worcester (a town that makes the dubious claim of being "The Second Largest City in New England") and now I can't remember how to get from Tom's house to Route 146, one of the town's major highways.

I moved out of here about six years ago. How long does that knowledge stay in your head when it goes unused? There's a diner around here with a waitress that still remembers my old "usual" every time I visit-- amazing. I bet she could tell me how to get to Providence.

* Fri., 12:15 pm

I'm in a restaurant near the theater where the festival is centered. I just registered at the festival office, next to the festival's main theater. It's early, but there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of people around, or energy surrounding the festival.

Right after I order, another filmmaker notices my pass and approaches me. She flew in from Cleveland to attend her film's single screening, which attracted less than 20 people on Wednesday night. Ugh. Makes me wonder how many people we'll get for our 3:30 screening today.

* Fri., 3:15 pm

Minutes before the screening, I'm in the theater chatting with Tom Wieschenberg, a Jersey-based writer/director who's managed to corner me into watching a trailer for his film, Opposite Attraction, on a small portable DVD player. He tells me he's shown his trailer to the Farrelly Bros. in the same way. It's not bad, but he should go back to bugging the Farrellys-- all I have to offer him is a BA matchbook.

Our theater is small-- they say it's 200 seats but it looks even smaller. And it has one of those arthouse screens that are about the size of two big screen TVs side-by-side. The building is an old-school vaudeville theater that probably originally seated about 1,200 people. The main theater in the festival is what was originally the lower level of the theater and the first balcony, and the second balcony has been transformed into the room I'm in now, an intimate, modern theater space/screening room.

The organizer says there probably won't be time for a Q&A because the schedule is too tight. I don't care much, but it again makes me wonder why I'm here.

A college-age staffer for the festival approaches me and says he's a big fan of the movie and has watched it many times. Flattered, I throw a soundtrack and a few postcards at him. His enthusiasm is further proof of a growing hypothesis: that while some people see BA and shrug, it does really connect with certain people, usually 20-something hipster/geeks. Luckily many of these people grow up to be film critics.

The crowd files in-- yup, lots of college age kids sporting tees for obscure rock bands. The program gets started with the first short, "The Adventures of Supernigger," and right away I can tell that the fest lives up to its billing of attracting top notch shorts. This short begins as a clever, funny superhero parody and morphs into something far more impressive: a sincere and effective political statement about overcoming racism.

The second short, "Catching Kringle," is a funny, animated look at how Santa might run into problems in the era of color coded terror alerts. It has voice work by Danny Devito, Larry King and others. Needless to say, by the time the shorts are done, I'm starting to worry that the crowd will receive BA like a shitty garage band that just had, say, David Bowie circa 1973 as the opening act.

BA gets started, and there are about 70 people in the crowd. The room looks about half full; with my low expectations for the afternoon screening, this is a pleasant surprise.

The crowd is pretty good. Maybe not as loud as some other audiences, but very into the movie. For example, hardly anyone leaves to go to the bathroom during all the big action scenes in the last half hour, possibly explaining why the room smells like a litter box by the time credits roll. (Okay, that's not true. Mostly.)

Anyway, there's no time for a Q&A, but a handful of people approach me in the theater right after the screening. A couple of filmmakers that I had been talking to seem to especially like it. Maybe more interesting, I'm approached by a girl who says she knows BA producer Randy Mack from Clark University, which, incidentally, is how I know Randy (and, as both people who've read down this far probably know, is also where BA takes place). Her name is Suhia, or something like that.

To Randy's disappointment, she disappears before I can figure out who she is. Our recap of this incident later goes something like this:

Me: "This girl was there, Suhia or something. She said she knows you from Clark, but she graduated five years after you did."

Armak: "Really? Suhia? Are you sure? What did she look like?"

"Well, um, she's white, short brown hair, geeky glasses, maybe 5-3, um, wore a t-shirt for a lesbian rock band from the Pacific Northwest..."

"Dude, you just described two-thirds of Clark."

"Would it help if I told you she wore old-school Pumas? Wait-- she said you slept with her."

"I thought we were trying to narrow it down."

Okay, that last part didn't actually happen. It went unspoken that my last comment didn't narrow it down.

Anyway, Suhia, if that is your real name, get in touch with us so we can straighten this out.

* Fri., 6:56 pm

I'm wandering a Providence side-street, littered with glass and garbage, looking for a restaurant. Strangely, the only place I can find to eat that isn't out of my budget is the diner where I had lunch, and, big surprise, there's a really long wait. A friend calls my cell and tells me he's about to leave for Bermuda for a week and a half. I complain that the only vacations I can afford are one-night trips to places like Providence. "But on the plus side, I haven't stepped in any broken glass yet."

Ah, who am I kidding? I'd rather be here than Bermuda anyway. Sitting on the beach gets old really fast. (Maybe if I keep telling myself this, I'll feel better.)

* Fri., 7:24 pm

I gave in and am eating in a very nice restaurant, sitting alone, reading a tourist pamphlet for Rhode Island. Right now 250 miles away, 20 of my friends are in a bar celebrating Jay's impending marriage.

It's easy to see why some people give up on doing things like this when they reach a certain age...and by "things like this" I mean reading tourist guides to Rhode Island.

* Fri., 8:12 pm

A little while ago, I walked in late to a screening of a film called Zen Noir, one of the more heavily promoted films here. They got a really good crowd, and the film seems really interesting, but-- and keep in mind I walked in late-- completely incomprehensible. Much of it amounts to zen meditations about oranges by a hard-boiled detective. I'm not kidding. I don't see that much before it ends, to rapturous applause by the crowd. I was obviously missing something; I'll have to look for this one on video, mostly out of curiosity to see how what I saw could possibly be a climax to a strong film.

* Fri., 9:36 pm

Everyone is starting to head over to the party, at a bar across town. Someone hands me a flyer with directions. SUBTLE FORESHADOWING ALERT: the directions are really vague and I don't know Providence at all.

* Fri., 10:45 pm

I'm lost. I mean, really, really lost. Like, Blair Witch Project lost. I think it happened somewhere around the direction to "take a left onto the one way street just after the highway, merge left, and turn right onto unnamed road." Four states away my imaginary self is laughing, knowing he made the right decision by skipping the festival.

* Fri., 11:16 pm

I drove past it at some point, now I found a spot, but I've just walked around the block twice and nothing looks familiar and no one has even heard of the street I'm looking for... and did I mention it's pouring rain?

I wonder how pissed my sister would be if I drove straight to New York and showed up at her suburban doorstep at 3 am and crashed on her couch?

* Fri., 11:28 pm

I'm on I-95, about a half dozen exits south of Providence, headed toward New York. Just got off the phone with Tom-- I was too embarrassed to tell him I couldn't find the party, so I tell him I got there and it wasn't that good. So I'm headed home. Looks like I'll make the wedding after all.

I did learn one crucial life lesson, though: I can't even write something as inconsequential as this is without turning it into the kind of thing where I might learn a crucial life lesson. It's a gift and a curse. Mostly a curse.

- Zachary Ordynans

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