So Cairo the producer, Andy the distributor and I had dinner with Mark, who had seen Dreams of a Life in London with his daughter, apparently after hearing Robert Elms talk about the film on his radio show with Jason Solomons and me. He has indeed traced his old football team since watching the film, but they are yet to meet. There had been a long running rumour that one of them had died decades ago – but it turned out it was a complete myth and the man in question is still alive and still kicking. Andy now wants a Dreams of a Life reunion dinner with Mark every year during SXSW.
Afterwards we went to the Austin Chronicle Party. I didn’t stay long but spent enough time there to talk to two young women straight out of Ghost World, and a man who was making – or already had – a film about carbon. Don’t know if it was the film pitch, jet lag, fatigue, or the large house vodka but I began to feel strange and I think I infected Cairo and Andy because we all decided to leave. As we were almost out of the door bumped into Erin, one of the SXSW official photographers. She’s been here seven years in a row and you know just by looking at her she has the complete lowdown on everything – she had come straight from a Jay-Z gig at some intimate venue. We first met Erin at a party for the documentary Beauty Is Embarrassing, about the American artist Wayne White and afterwards she took us to the film distribution company Magnolia’s party- I didn’t stay long there: had a packet of crisps, realised everyone was about twenty and my stamina wasn’t what it used to be and left.
Our second screening of Dreams of a Life was on Tuesday morning. Just before Cairo and I went into the Alamo Ritz cinema to introduce the film, a lorry (okay, truck) tore down a sizeable part of a tree – as we are in Texas where everything is supersized, I can’t call it a branch; it just wouldn’t do it justice. The cinema queue wrangler outside said, “That’s gonna make the local news tonight – we are all tree huggers here in Austin.” The film and Q&A went down really well. The screening was full – they are truly a committed audience here at South By.
Met Katie Ellen for the first time, she is over here from the British Film Institute, who, along with the British Council Film Department, have helped finance our trip here. We both went to see The Imposter, which was a hit with the audience. Director Bart Layton and producer Dimitri Doganis were faced with similar questions that are asked about Dreams of a Life. The first question fired at them was, “what do you think really happened?” They answered all questions elegantly and managed not to close down the fascinating areas that their film opens up.
On a shuttle bus efficiently going from one cinema to another, Jeff and Jen, who had seen Dreams Of A Life that morning, introduced themselves to Cairo and me. Jen is a lawyer representing people on Death Row and Jeff programmes films for the Loft Cinema in Tuscon – he said he would love to show Dreams. We all went for a drink and I made them count up how many films they had seen in the festival so far. They’d seen seventeen, which averaged at three and a half films a day. It’s hard not to feel a little anxious that I’m not completely doing wall-to-wall activity and watching films all of the time- but I try and calm myself thinking, “quality not quantity”. They gave their movie recommendations, which included Paul Williams Still Alive, a documentary about the singer songwriter who the director assumed had died. We went to see it today and it’s excellent. Especially the bit where the director, Stephen Kessler, says, “if this was a PBS documentary it would be like this…” and then launches into a perfect pastiche of what PBS would have made with Paul William’s life. Priceless.
SXSW began as a music festival, so I’m excited about checking out the music. My brother and niece, once in shock that I went to see Kate Nash, have sent me a list of up and coming music that I should try and catch. Blood Orange were on the list, which we tried to see today at the Windrush Showcase, but I got the time wrong so we saw another band instead, Kindness. It was only the fourth time they’d played together and I thought they were very good. I am planning to listen to some more music. Maybe Dan Deakin, perhaps you and the whole world know about him already. If not, Google him, I just did, he sounds great.
So here I am, writing this in my hotel room and burning vanilla incense. I don’t usually light incense, but last night I went into an alternative/spiritual/ transcendental shop. I only went in to kill some time before a film screening, but felt obligated to buy something. I’m glad I went in though. I met Sharon who was working there and she asked me why I was in town. She was so excited that I’d made a film, I got a rush of remembering what an arduous journey making a film is and what a relief it is to finally be on the other side – meeting audiences, sending it into the world. I was touched by Sharon’s fascination with the process of filmmaking and her pleasure that we’d made a film. I invited her to our third screening tomorrow. I hope she comes.