September 12, 2011
San Diego UnderSea Film Exhibition Recap
Having never attended or participated in a previous San Diego UnderSea Film Exhibition, I didn’t know what to expect from this year’s exhibition. What will the venue be like? How many people will attend? What will the quality of the short films exhibited be? Will the professional filmmakers attend? These are all questions I asked myself beforehand.
Full disclosure -- I was fortunate enough to have my first short film, “Peace & Quiet,” screened at this year’s exhibition, so I’m admittedly biased. That said, from the venue, to the number of attendees, to the quality of the films screened, to the professional filmmakers in attendance, this year’s SDUFEX blew my mind.
The exhibition was founded in 2000 by several divers/underwater filmmakers -- including Mary Lynn Price, Chuck Nicklin and Karen Straus -- to showcase the world’s best underwater short films. This year's SDUFEX, held at Irwin M. Jacobs Qualcomm Hall Sept. 9-10, featured 34 short films from professional filmmakers like Howard and Michelle Hall, J.D. Duff, Mary Lynn Price, and amateurs like me. Michael Gates also presented the winning film from its "Capture the World" competition.
When I arrived at the exhibition on Friday night, I was immediately impressed by Qualcomm Hall--it's a spectacular, state-of-the-art 534-seat hall intended to be used by non-profit organizations. Undulating blue and green lights and underwater still photos projected on the 22x30 foot screen made it feel like Qualcomm Hall was underwater.
One of the biggest questions I had leading up to the exhibition was "How many people would attend?" The hall was filling up quickly, with only a handful of empty chairs remaining. After taking our seats, my girlfriend Carolina and I noticed a line forming on the isle to our right. My eyes started at the end of the line, backtracking to its source—Howard and Michelle Hall sitting directly behind me. Being the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie of underwater filmmaking, everyone was taking the opportunity to say hello. I knew that the Hall's film, "100 Miles," was the last film being shown at the exhibition, but I honestly didn't expect them to be in attendance. The pressure was on--my film screened two films before the Hall's.
A few minutes later, the lights dimmed and the exhibition’s hosts -– Karen Straus and Ken Given –- took the stage. Karen sported a white t-shirt with a BCD and scuba tank imprinted on it. She exuded excitement. Ken wore a tuxedo shirt with matching purple Converse. He was noticeably more nervous than Karen, but his critique of his occasional fumbling of lines was endearing. The duo worked well off each other and kept the attendees entertained.
While Simon Spear's "Circle of Life” kicked off the exhibition, I was floored by Nannette Van Antwerp's “Pacific Drifters." She was in attendance, but elected not to personally introduce her film. Her second film, “Crustaceans of Ambon," screened Saturday night and was equally impressive.
Around 9:30 pm, the exhibition's first night ended and we headed to P.F. Chang's to eat, drink and recap the exhibition. We concluded that Friday night’s films fell into two categories -- films with music and films with music and narration. Being a writer, I naturally gravitate towards the latter category. I personally think the biggest opportunity for amateur underwater filmmakers lies in their ability to shoot stellar video, write a compelling narrative and choose music that amplifies emotions.
Carolina kept me busy Saturday. She knew that if she brought me back to our hotel room too early, I’d bounce off the walls with nervous energy and drive her nuts. We jogged around La Jolla Cove and enviously gawked at the divers entering the water. One diver told us that the cove was a great place to see leopard sharks, which I badly need footage of. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to dive and attend the exhibition.
When we arrived at Qualcomm Hall that evening, a line had already formed from the hall’s back door stretching out across the lobby. Petrified, I walked up to the front desk to get our tickets. Since my film was being screened that night, I was given a badge that said “Filmmaker” in bold black letters. It should have said “Lucky to Be Here.” The badge was like tucking my shirt into my underwear -- it drew stares. The doors opened and Carolina and I made a b-line for the seats we sat in the previous night. The seats quickly filled up and people kept streaming in -- it was a packed house.
The lights dimmed, Karen and Ken again greeted attendees. This time, Karen wore a shirt featuring glow-in-the-dark fish that didn’t glow. Not to be outdone, Ken sported an orange tuxedo shirt with matching Converse.
Karen and Ken
Saturday's films were as impressive as Friday's. Before long, it was my turn to introduce “Peace & Quiet.” As instructed, I walked to stage under the cover of dark while the film before mine played. I worked my way up the staircase to the right of the stage and sat in an empty chair next to Ken. I was comfortable the entire night. But now my underwear was riding up my butt and my socks were bunching up in my shoes. I was quickly losing my cool.
These past two nights, I’d paid particularly close attention to what people said during their introductions. Like the films, Carolina and I broke the introductions down into two categories -- nonchalant introductions and serious introductions. I don’t take myself too seriously, but I was really excited to be at the exhibition, so I decided to take a different route with my introduction. My game plan solidified meer minutes before I found myself sitting next to Ken, growing increasingly nervous, counting down the seconds until I was introduced. I whipped out my iPhone and took a photo of the audience to ease my nerves.
Photo of the audience from the left side of the stage
Then I realized Karen was at the podium introducing me. Two weeks prior, Karen had emailed me to ask how to pronounce my name. I told her that everyone mispronounces my name. To emphasize the point, I shared that an announcer once called me Joe Rolaids during a baseball game. Karen found it so ammusing that she recounted the story to the audience. I thought to myself, “Not a bad start, thanks Karen.”
As I made my way to the stage, Karen extended her hand. I awkwardly shook her hand, took a few steps to the podium, began anxiously rubbing my hands together and launched into my introduction...
My introduction, filmed by Carolina
The photo I took during my introduction
After my introduction, I walked off the stage where I was hugged by Karen and given a blue mug with the SDUFEX etched into it. I stopped in the isle against the right wall and watched my film.
I thought I’d be nervous seeing my film projected on a screen a few hundred times larger than my living-room TV in front of more than 500 people. I wasn’t. I felt a sense of accomplishment.
Three minutes and thirty five seconds later, it was over. J.D. Duff introduced his film shortly thereafter, followed by Howard Hall. Naturally, both were stunning. Howard’s ended with, “Everything in this film was shot within 100 miles of where you sit.” The audience errupted.
While the exhibition was over, SDUFEX was holding a dinner for the filmmakers at the nearby Hyatt. I wasn’t at the dinner to eat and drink. I was there to network with other filmmakers. Grasping a Manhattan in one hand, I ask questions like, “What is your workflow,” to anyone who would listen. Midway through a conversation with Mary Lynn Price, who is an extremely genuine person, not to mention a great filmmaker, Howard Hall sat down across the table from me and Michelle Hall sat to my right. Mary immediately turned to him and said, “Howard, have you met Joe? You should answer his question.” For the next 45 minutes, Howard, Michelle and Mary took turns answering all my questions.
I learned a lot in 45 minutes. But one thing stood out. When I asked Howard and Michelle to describe their workflow, Howard put both hands face down on the table, leaned forward and shot me a stare reminiscent of Dirty Harry. He emphasized the importance of writing the narrative and then identifying the shots needed to visually tell the story before starting to film. While he’s perhaps best known for his footage, his passion for writing was evident.
Around midnight, everyone got up, pushed in their chairs, said their goodbyes and headed home. I'd been riding an emotional roller coaster all weekend. While the ride, SDUFEX, was over, adrenaline was still coursing through my veins. Back at our hotel, I couldn't sleep so Carolina and I recapped the exhibition. Surprised best summed it up. Surprised by the beauty of the venue, quality of the films and number of attendees.
What surprised us most though were the filmmakers -- they were unbeievably friendly, thoughtful and generous. Howard, Michelle, Mary and every other filmmaker could have ignored us at dinner, and I wouldn't have blamed them. But they didn't. I couldn't have asked for a better birthday and can't wait for next year's SDUFEX.
Posted by jroualdes at September 12, 2011 06:55 PM