the diary thing 
MY E-MAIL PROGRAM WENT wonky, and re-configuring it wiped out all my files, despite what the nice man at my ISP's technical support centre promised. Once it became obvious that it was irretrievable, he washed his hands of the whole matter, and told me to call Netscape. 

Netscape would have charged me for any assistance, but since I don't have a credit card, the matter rested there. 

I have no more bookmarks. My address book was wiped clean as well, along with all of my e-mail files. It's as if the last three years of online research and correspondence never happened. Once I got over the anger, and the panic over the inconvenience this would cause, in both the short and long term, a strange feeling of calm, of liberation, began to assert itself. 

It's all new, now. The only bookmarks I have anymore are the ones I've added in the last two weeks. If anyone I regularly talk to really feels the need, they can e-mail me and I'll add them to my address book, but all those old contacts -- editors long departed from their posts, online acquaintances I haven't heard from in a year or more -- are gone, erased. 

My in-box, which had swollen to over two hundred messages -- some of which I should have answered months ago, some of which I might as well have deleted upon receipt -- is now empty. My irresponsibility at answering e-mail I've been sent has now become rudeness at never answering at all. I hope no one reading this will be too offended.

It's obvious that my sense of liberation is largely one of liberation from my own laziness, distraction and poor organization. I've been given a new start. I promise not to screw up again. Trust me.

I hate technology.

press pass

THE FILM FESTIVAL ENDED a week ago, and I still haven't recovered. Once my last piece was filed, on Thursday evening over a week ago, we got ready to spend the weekend in Georgian Bay with G. and V., at V.'s mother's cottage. The Festival had two days to run, but my deadlines had been met and there was nothing more to do. I craved the rest.

I'VE WRITTEN AT LENGTH about the Festival before, but mostly from the perspective of a photographer. This year, I was photographer and writer, more the latter than the former, on daily deadlines, supplying all the coverage there was in the free daily K. edits. I had to provide, every day, an interview with an actor or director, a "festival diary" covering some aspect of the whole spectacle, photos to illustrate them both, and at least two or three reviews of films about to screen. All told, it meant about a thousand words a day -- not much, really, but it damn near killed me. 

As a result, though I was more in the thick of the festival this year, I pretty much wrote myself out with the paying gig, and don't have much to bring to this diary. Whatever observations I have are scattered and barely coherent, recalled through a fog of exhaustion, mostly the result of days that had me at a screening at 8:30am, running from hotel to theatre to office throughout the day, ending up at some party at night till past midnight. Repeat daily. I'm sure some people think this sounds glamourous. I remember it as sheer hell.

aa passDID I MEET ANY FAMOUS PEOPLE? Of course I did. I had all of five minutes with Ang Lee, the director of my favorite film of last year. That film, Ride with the Devil, pretty much disappeared without a trace, so half of my five minutes, during which I had to take pictures while he spoke, were spent addressing what, to him, was a crushing disappointment. 

For what it's worth, he was a very nice man, soft-spoken and serious, careful with his words and obviously passionate about what he did. The publicist shot me into the room after making a big deal about what a favour she was doing me (I'm giving a film she's been hired to promote publicity and she's doing me the favour? Publicist logic at it's best.), and yanked me out like a hooked fish. Five minutes with the one director working today that I consider to be a genius -- hardly worth bothering to crow about one day, except with much shameful head-shaking about the circumstances. 

I talked to some other directors -- Denys Arcand, who I'd met, interviewed, and photographed before, and with whom it's almost impossible to have a bad interview. The man is a real sophisticate, a bon vivant who lives an almost ideal life of travel, observation, and occasional work. Maybe his films are a bit overrated as far as I'm concerned -- Stardom, the one that he was hyping this year, is a shallow but entertaining film about a shallow and entertaining subject: fame -- but he's charming and funny and that forgives quite a bit in my book.

I wasn't looking forward to interviewing Joel Schumacher, the man responsible for St. Elmo's Fire, Flatliners, Batman and Robin and Batman Forever. When K. asked me if I'd do it, after the Fox publicist called offering us twenty minutes, I shook my head and said, "Only if I can ask him if he's really Satan." 

Schumacher's career -- some spectacularly bad, star-bloated big-budget monstrosities interspersed with middling, quality "product" -- looks like that of a competent hack, someone who knows how to stay on the a-list and bring the project in on-time without bruising any tender star ego.

I dreaded the whole prospect, but K. said it would be a good demographic fit, and since it filled the schedule out nicely, I agreed. I joked about it with other writers during the week, and dragged myself to the press screening of his film reluctantly. 

The film was good. I was grateful, and did a bit of research, professional that I am, knowing that twenty minutes -- fifteen, really, with five reserved for photos -- isn't exactly a brain-teaser to fill, even with the most reluctant subject. Schumacher, to my surprise, was smart, in a languid, seen-it-all kind of way, and positively crowed about how nice it was to work on a low-budget, no-stars film shot hand-held with available light in a few weeks. He managed to insinuate, without actually saying so, that he thought a lot of his films were crap, too. When the interview ended, he seemed disappointed.

"This is fun," he said, as I turned my tape recorder off. "I could talk to you all day -- you're good." 

Now, I know when smoke is being blown up my ass, but for the moment, I let myself believe it. After all, I genuinely liked the film, and hoped that he wasn't just putting on a show for the film-snob writer. Warm handshakes and a pleasant exit.

"Even those who write against fame wish for the fame of having written well, and those who read their works desire the fame of having read them."
- Pascal

Three weeks since my last entry, so this one is long. I don't know why, but I seem to be losing interest in the net as a whole, lately. It's not the diary -- I still like writing for this site, even if I don't have much time these days. It just seems that the web is going through some kind of ugly growing pain. Webmags like Salon have been laying off people, and after their re-design aren't half as readable as they were a year ago. Concepts like ''online communities", once so utopian and optimistic, have become marketing tools, and genuine attempts at community -- like Archipelago, I suppose, or The Well -- have run out of steam. I actually predicted this would happen one day -- the web gradually taking on the priorities and tone of the marketing and retail concerns that helped to make it grow, while the flood of "late adopters" make it seem more like television than any new kind of communications medium. The millions of small, personal site out there either affiliate with some aggressive hub or start to wither in the link-less nether regions, the Siberia of the net.

My uplifting thought of the day.
A CHAT WITH FERNANDO TRUEBA, a decent Spanish director with a good little documentary about Latin jazz at the festival, went as I expected. We exchanged some pleasantries in Spanish, though he seemed disappointed when I apologized for not being able to do the interview in his native tongue. We talked about jazz; he was happy that I knew my stuff; I got my two or three mandatory quotes; another warm handshake after the photos and a pleasant exit. I've done this so many times in the last fifteen years -- polite, ritually circumscribed meetings in hotel rooms with people I can bring up in conversation occasionally, a forgiveable sort of name-dropping since the encounter happened in the context of work.

schmooze passTHE PARTIES ARE THE LEAST INTERESTING part of the festival, but K.'s boss is keen on them -- most of the media seem to think the parties are a big deal, probably because they'd never turn down a free bar or buffet -- and so I go to a few of the big ones. 

The Big Schmooze at CityTV is supposed to be a big deal, but I fail to see why. It's too plebeian to really attract stars, and ends up being this big, furious networking event in search of some kind of focus. It's the kind of party where everyone wears whatever kind of pass they've been given, and make a point of trying to read your pass before they say hello. A pecking order of sorts is trying to establish itself, and for most local film and television people, aspiring actors and wannabe local celebs, this is a key event. I make a few circuits of the room, talk to people I know, and leave.

The Alliance Atlantis bash at the Museum, however, is a whole different kind of shindig -- a lavishly catered deal filled with suits and whatever passes for hip society in this city. Most of the suits are from the banks, agencies, insurance companies, production houses and media outlets that push money into one end of our local film and t.v. productions and manufacture the hype on the other end. Stars will show up here, waltz down the red carpet and make their way directly into the VIP room. At this party, the media pass around my neck renders me almost invisible -- if I have to wear a pass, I'm obviously barely more important than the catering staff. 

I make a few circuits, quaff a few free pints of Guinness, line up for the four star catering, and talk to people I know. I get a ride home with my friend Jane and some Cubans, who were supposed to play at the party, but got cut for money reasons at the last minute. I'm amazed anybody even bothers looking at the budget for this kind of latter-day potlatch -- I thought that was beside the point.

reel black media passBACK TO THE INTERVIEWS. I talk to Maggie Cheung, a big star in China but barely known here outside of the Hong Kong movie cult. She's in the new Wong Kar-Wai film, and spends the whole film in these form-fitting cheongsam-style sixties dresses and spike heels. I think she's probably one of the more attractive people I've ever seen in a film, though in person she's tall and weirdly thin, with a head that looks too big for her shoulders. Actually, this is typical for movie beauties.

Her English is perfect, so we have the usual rushed chat about the film, her role, the director, with a detour into the state of Hong Kong, three years after re-uniting with mainland China. At times like this, I'm glad I have fairly broad interests. 

Quick, hearty handshake, best wishes for the film, and I'm out of there. 

They put her on the cover of the paper, which moves an extra 10,000 copies -- a record for Tuesday circulation. I assume it's because of the Chinese community in the town, and I'm congratulated for a good call.


BEN KINGSLEY IS IN THE BEST MOVIE I've seen so far at the festival, besides the documentary about Japanese women professional wrestlers. It's the first interview I request, and the one I'm most nervous about.

My nerves are justified -- Kingsley is a real character, unblinkingly intense, serious to the point of near-humourlessness, except when moved by a private joke. He's obviously proud of his performance in the film, and pleased with the results. He's never less than a gentleman, but I'm aware every second that I'm in the presence of a considerable ego.

At one point, I hesitantly sketch out a theory that his character -- a brutally obscene London gangster -- is not merely evil, but Satanic. "Not wanting to sound pretentious, of course..." I mutter.

"Why are you worried about being pretentious? It's not pretentious," Kingsley intones, fixing me with full stare. He goes on to elaborate the theory beyond anything I might have dared, warming to the analysis. It's a moment when I wonder whether I'm lowering my standards a bit too much in this job. 

I take my photos, and sneak in an extra roll of black and white for myself -- I can't leave this festival without something that might make the portfolio. 

"You're awfully close, aren't you?" Kingsley says, when I get up tight on his face with my 35mm lens, a mildly distorting focal length that also puts me on my knees in front of him, the camera mere inches from his nose. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I think. He should probably respect my artistic prerogatives as well.

ON THE SUBJECT OF CAMERAS -- the paper rents me a fancypants professional digital camera so I can meet deadline without worrying about lab turnaround on film. The big local daily that owns the paper got rid of its own darkroom long ago, and uses digital cameras, though not the kind they rent for me. The one they rent for me, not to mince words, is a piece of crap.

On the first day, when I try to take pictures of the young actress who's my first subject, I keep getting a window telling me that the memory is full. I keep deleting the memory, and keep getting the same message. I stutter out an apology, knowing that I look like a complete idiot, and my subject leaves. I call the rental house and curse profusely -- they tell me to come on down.

The tech guys don't know what the problem is, so they give me another camera, even though my trust for this model -- crucial for a photographer -- is shaken. I rush off to the office, explain what happened, file my stories and head off to take paparazzi shots on the red carpet outside the opening night gala.

Everything seems to be going fine, until the crucial moment, the big star walk-past, when the camera just shuts right down. I'm down on my knees behind the barrage of flash guns trying to get the damn thing going, and then it's over. The other photographers shake their heads in sympathy and I make my way home for the night.

The next day at the rental house, they explain that the batteries -- six AAs in a removable pack -- had completely drained over the course of taking barely a dozen shots. 

"I told your editor that this thing was a real battery hog," the slightly sullen tech guy tells me. "I told her to rent the outboard battery pack, but she said you'd have to do with alkalines." 

Apparently, the battery pack lets you do about 300 hundred shots. Alkalines drain after a dozen. I rent the battery pack on the photo editor's credit card and make my way to the day's interviews. At the paper, I explain the situation. I'm sure everything will be fine, now.

The weekend passes. I shoot portraits and parties and paparazzi. Gwyneth Paltrow -- the big celeb of this year's festival -- on the red carpet. Ben Affleck. Yadda yadda. I hate this kind of work. I stick around till the end of an awards ceremony to shoot Norman Jewison and Yaphet Kotto. I hustle to the paper on Sunday to file Monday's pieces. The art department has reserved a page for the paparrazi and party stuff.

The tech guy at the paper takes out the PCMCIA card that's supposed to hold all my shots and struggles to find a reader in the building. (They assumed that the shots could be uploaded via firewire -- nobody at the rental house bothered to explain how the camera worked. Nobody at the paper asked.) 

After an hour, the tech guy comes back gives me the bad news -- all my photos, with the exception of five unimportant shots, came out as "corrupted files", and can't be used. My whole weekend's worth of photos were a total waste of time. I might as well have used my old Canon and put the film in at a one-hour photo lab. I chuckle and shake my head -- I hated the camera from the moment they gave it to me. Classic immature technology, put on the market well before the bugs were worked out. 

For the rest of the week, I use my own Canon, put the film in a cab and send it to the lab. No problems. 

I hate technology.

writing ©2000
Rick McGinnis
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