The AFI kicked off their much-anticipated week-long fest with a splashy red carpet premiere, AFI big-wigs were glad-handing in spite of nervous smiles washing across their faces by the second, and indignant members of the press grumbled about staffers with bad manners who insulted them at the "gate" to chi-chi parties tossed by AUDI (sponsor) and Variety (sponsor).
Understandably, there was a ominous poll hanging in the air.
There was quite a buzz earlier in the week for the animated feature - "Fantastic Fox" - but on the big red-carpet night, charismatic George Clooney was a "no show" which ended up being a great disappointment to the ticket-holders.
Meanwhile, Fest officials that boasted about sold-out houses at the tail end of the week (for Mr. Fantastic Fox, for instance) were forced to anxiously make announcements in the AFI lounge before curtain that seats were available to try to fill 'em up to save face.
One filmgoer who walked into a project premiering later in the evening, immediately caught site of the near-empty theater, and quipped:
"The tickets were free this year. That's why no one came!"
Of course, I was quick on the uptake, and jokingly noted that you have to put a price on a commodity or it has no value to a lot of people.
"That's what the gold market is based on," I added as an after-thought.
Perhaps it was also due to the fact that the AFI scheduled the Festival to open and run thru Halloween weekend.
Whoever made that boo boo should be sent packing!
The real downer occurred when press folks attempted to stroll into a couple of the parties hosted by the aforementioned sponsors such as AUDI and Variety.
Without any consideration for the "feelings" of the individuals (and with a shocking lack of Grace) inexperienced staff with poor manners and a bad attitude snubbed the likeable dudes at the door!
One reporter lamented to me that the conduct of one tall imposing guard of Afro-American decent was downright rud and insulting.
On the heels of being told that the press were not allowed in - and being a bright intelligent man who gleens information for a living - he was inclined to innocently ask "why?"
The ill-mannered bouncer got quite physical at this point.
"There's the door", he snarled at the reporter as he gestured to the exit nearby.
I encountered one young woman who was downright "icy" when there was no need to be.
For any number of reasons, a party may be private at a festival, which is okay by me.
But, it is the way the issue was handled at AFI, which was shocking and disturbing.
AFI goes to great lengths to lure the press corps to events on the red carpet so that the talent's mugs get on camera on the Nightly news - but once the mission is accommplished - they proceed to treat the media like sh** after that.
One helper at the ticket-booth in Mann's Chinese Theatre actually made a comment to one photographer (who was not aware that he had to sign up to appear on the red carpet to snap some publicity stills) that he wasn't dressed for the event anyway.
Who was she to make that judgment call?
The stylish dude was dressed like most of the paparazzi generally are - and consequently - her remarks were not only demeaning but uncalled for.
I personally received all the press kits for events in advance and I do not recall any dress code being stipulated either
On that count, she was off-base, too.
Bad modus operandi last night, if you ask me, because the word is getting out about AFI and the suits at the highest Executive level (such as Bob Gazzale on the Board of Directors) who are under the mistaken impression that they own the American Film Institute (at least judging by their self-serving selfish actions which I encounter each time I attend a film event supported by the public coffers).
Obviously, John Wildman (Publicity Director) doesn't care.
I e-mailed him this morning to bring the issues to his attention.
What was his response?
He retaliated against me for criticizing the staff by notifying me shortly thereafter that my request for tickets for a Gala on Wednesday was being rejected because there were "no more" seats.
Does he think I was born yesterday?
I think many will agree with me.
Who wants to attend a festival - which is backed by the U.S. Government and funded quite generously with taxes paid by upstanding American people - and be treated like a second-class citizen?
Something to ponder, eh?
I have a good mind to contact the government agencies that fund the AFI to request an investigation into these issues since they appear to be ripe for such a probe.
Is a scandal brewing in the shadows?
News at 11!
To me, there is also a lot snotty elitism at the AFI Fest, too.
Higher-ups at the events will only acknowledge a guest at an event if they are a "name brand" or have something to offer the festival in respect to $$$, contacts, or press coverage that equates to coverage worthy of their vulgar demands.
There is also a lot of discrimination going down at the AFI, too.
This past week - a few members of the press corps who lodged requests to attend this gala or that red-carpet event - were rejected on the grounds that the fest could not "accommodate" them.
But, get this!
John Wildman's publicity staff didn't even have the courtesy or decency to contact the individuals personally.
The rejects were informed in cold impersonal automated e-mails which were not even addressed to the parties individually!!!
Of course, when you read between lines, what it really meant was that the reporters and photographers in question weren't on the AFI's A-list, so they were summarily given the "kiss of death".
A proper "send off" would have gone a long way in calming the troubled waters, believe me.
Of course, AFI has never been very good with the details.
For example, last year when AFI announced they were going to team up with ArcLight to screen classic films for the theatre-going public at the chain, the top brass of both companies tossed a kick-off party at the Sherman Oaks-based outlet.
In a number of eloquent speeches, and after a lot of self-gratulatory back-slapping among the suits at the podium, promises were made that films would not be screened in state-of-the-art environments and to ensure maximum viewing pleasure by the theatre-going public.
However, when the lights went down and the film - To Kill a Mockingbird - sprang to life on the silver screen it was mid out sound (no sound).
And, when the glitch surfaced, there's wasn't even an usher in the room to jump on the problem and resoslve it.
A ticketholder was forced to get up and inform management about the snafu.
So much for their promises which have been basically empty from the get-go.
In spite of the glaring unprofessional conduct I witnessed last night, I managed to straighten out my party dress, and hold my head up high nonetheless.
In the AFI lounge later, I hooked up with a few guests - artists, musicians, filmmakers, and the like - and the evening turned around to become a energizing insightful one.
A film I caught later - 2 Horses of Genghis Khan - ended the night on a positive note (overall.
In upcoming posts tomorrow, I'll get you up to speed on the scuttlebutt, eh?
A parting note!
If interactions with frigid young women and ignorant ill-mannered security guards are not your cup of tea, I suggest you rent a DVD instead of attending the AFI this year.
Or, patronize a few of your local revival houses - such as The Regency (Fairfax), The Nuart (West Los Angeles), or New Beverly Cinema where they appreciate your business and treat 'ya swell!