26 November 2017
Russian Film Week. (Closes today)
Or, the Farce with the Journalists.
Or, Always Keep in Mind Who You Are Dealing With.
This piece could have many titles.
Let’s just stick with The Farce title for now; and the farce goes like this...
Imagine that you are a journalist and you apply and receive an accreditation for Russian Film Week; you go to the opening ceremony, you expect to meet the event’s committee, film directors and stars, other film professionals, other journalists; then you expect to have an insight into the week’s programme by the organisers - so you can make a more informed choice about which films to watch. You believe you’ll be at the world premiere of a Russian film produced in Hollywood. Rollywood.
Now, imagine that when you get there, you find yourself amidst a press conference running in Russian, with an interpreter so bad that you can’t follow a word. You can’t ask questions and you don’t understand what’s going on.
Then also imagine that you realise that you, and your fellow journalists, are supposed to see this world premiere in the press conference hall (aka a basement), projected on a wall (sans screen), through bad speakers (I had better 30 years ago), with white lights from the ceiling full on, and with all the sounds from the London Science Museum coming from above your head. You also find out that, at the same time you’re enjoying this ‘Special Screening for Journalists’ as announced by the organisers, upstairs in the IMAX cinema other people are crossing the red carpet to sit in proper chairs, in proper darkness and watching the proper world premiere of this same film.
How would you feel? I felt like a naughty child who failed to grow up and is kept away from the Beautiful People in floor length evening gowns (which vividly reminded me of my mother going out with my father when I was seven, while I was left behind) along with white shirts, black jackets and bow ties. Also envision that you’re a journalist who thinks they are part of an event, just to find out that – actually, no - the event is taking place somewhere else. Not too far, just two floors above. But still other-worldly.
Now, imagine you’re the organiser. You want to create an event, you want to make it big and bright to attract attention, but not just any attention. If your event is big and bright enough, obviously journalists will come. But you don’t want them to come; and certainly not for the opening night, nor the gala at the end. You’ll have many reasons for that… but what to do? Aha! Invite them hospitably, then isolate them. That’ll do. Stuff them in a basement and give them plenty of alcohol. But how will you actually achieve this? Why would they just follow and be where you want them to be instead of making a riot? Well, let’s try some old techniques: First, break up the group, then bring them down bit by bit. Make them believe that they’ve made a mistake. For example, that they haven’t registered for the screening. If they don’t get to the screening, then it’s their fault. And, on arrival, give them all a press-pass; then only give wristbands to half of them. Then let’s give tickets to half of the group with the wristbands. But then we’ll still have journalists in the IMAX hall, won’t we? Don’t be silly! We’ll mislead them with all these tokens, to break up the group; so that some of them think they are cleverer and did better than others; and vice versa; so that half of them think that they missed something and weren’t good enough. Eventually, we won’t let any of them in anyway. Soon, all the children-journalists-press-passers will start running around amidst the Grown-Up-Beautiful-People. Then they will learn that the press-passers don’t bypass anything, and certainly not the usherettes that guard the escalators towards the upper-floor-heaven-of-the-IMAX. Then some of them will realise that the Grown-Up-Beautiful People have white wristbands; as they do, and will show them to the usherettes to pass through and get onto the escalators. If those without wristbands start asking what to do, they’ll be told, “Oh, you should have registered for the screening, now there is nothing to do”. But to others, “No worries, now you have to go to the main reception, and ask for wristbands there.” Once they reach the Upper-Heaven-IMAX floor, the naughty-children-press-passers will be asked for tickets.
Those who have them will be let into the screening hall.
Others won’t and will be sent to main reception (the main reception being miles away). Having finally got into the screening hall, the ‘lucky’ minority with the ultimate combo of press-pass, wristband and ticket, will realise that despite all the decoration, they still don’t have an allocated seat.
Thus, 45 minutes later, all children-press-passers-naughty- journalists will find themselves back in the basement. None of them having done well enough. None of them grown-up. Understanding, disgusted, humiliated.
All the journalists find themselves down, in the basement, drinking warm blue fizz.
Yes, blue. Children like bright colours.
Luckily, I had only a press-pass, and didn’t lose time running up and down the escalator. Instead, I got mad. Especially when I saw the PR person, Mamasha (verbally called Masha), sneak up and disappear towards the IMAX-Upper-Floor-Heaven with the answers of all my unasked questions.
I got mad and shouted at the RFW Director “Are you seriously keeping the journalists in the basement with no screen and bad sound?” To which he answered with a question “Do you know how much these people have paid for their tickets?” sweeping his gesture to the Beautiful-Grown-Ups surrounding him. To which I too answered with a question, “Was I given the choice?”. To which he says, “It was written as a Special Screening for Journalists”. To which I said, “Since when did special mean degradation in a basement?’’
Then I got so mad that I simply left and went down to where I was expected to be - in the basement with a glass of wine, and another glass of wine, and another glass of wine. All the while asking journalists, one by one, if they had anything to comment.
“Do you think this is representative of the Russian attitude towards journalists?’’, from a young woman running a blog (I can’t tell you her name, I was so pissed by the end of the event that I lost my notes).
Another charming man writing for some sci-fi edition mentioned something about a ‘special tea’.
Unlike me, they are all calm. They all sit like good children to watch the film. The screening starts.
I can’t watch, anger and wine spoil my concentration, poison my brain.
Loathing surfaces: Why have they done this?
Self-doubt: Why am I here?
Self-questioning: Do these children-naughty-journalists love cinema more than me? As I see, they all sit quietly watching their film…
I sneak towards the IMAX-Upper-Floor-Heaven led by the smell of popcorn.
Where else food if not with the Grown-Ups?
“Where are you going?” the usherette questions.
“For popcorn”. She let me go.
With hands full of packets of popcorn, I bump into RFW Director and the film Director with his girlfriend (model-tall but slightly stooped) while they sneak out of the salon.
Next to this tall company and with hands full of popcorn I really feel ungrown. A naughty, sneaky, nosey child, diagnosed with a retard journalistic growth.
I go down to eat my stolen popcorn when, a few minutes later, ushers arrive from the Upper-Heaven-Floor with serving cars full of popcorn and politely asking the naughty-children-journalists, “Sweet or salty?” as if it were “Red or white?” A director’s call is always efficient I think through the mists of the warm Pinot Grigio. And, I also think, now all is in its place: the children have popcorn, and when the film finishes the Grown-Up-Beautiful-People will have Champagne.
About half an hour into the film, I leave. Apparently, I don’t love cinema enough to watch the last tech film in a basement, on a wall, with white lights in my eyes and the sounds of a whole museum in my ears. The other children-naughty-journalists must love cinema more than me.
That was the beginning and end of Russian Film Week for me. I don’t know about film selection, I don’t know about guests or anything. You should read somebody (good luck with that) else’s piece who got less mad about the opening trick performed on an otherwise nice Sunday afternoon in West London.