I walked in late to my first event of the day today, the interview with Paul Mazursky, at the City Opera House. This is the kind of honest detail that I hesitate to include here; it shows that I may be just mediocre at my job, but, let me say, I was not Traverse Magazine/Mynorth.com’s only representation at the event.
Mazursky is an actor, writer and director, whose credits include starring in Stanley Kubrick’s first film, directing films like Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, and, strangely enough, being one of the forces behind The Monkees.
That said, with only Jeff Garlin and Mazursky on the stage, it was not so much a panel as the Paul Mazursky Story Hour. The man has a lot of stories, though.
He shared the expected celebrity anecdotes: talking on the phone with Cary Grant, directing Woody Allen, casting Bette Midler, all of which had the audience (myself included) just a bit starry-eyed.
He talked about his beginnings as an actor, then a writer and a director, sharing more stories and giving bits of advice from a career that has spanned 50 years of cinema history. It was a treat to sit in on, and, though he was pitched three scripts during the Q and A, he did well answering questions gracefully and kept things moving at a brisk clip.
After the panel I had a free hour before my only film of the day, Mary and Max, at the Lars Hockstad Auditorium. I spent that hour finding the Lars Hockstad Auditorium, the only festival venue I didn’t know the location of by this point. So I picked up a map at the Opera House and went for a walk to find a depressingly long line outside Central Grade School. I took a seat on the ground, found some almonds in my pocket, and caught up on some note-taking until the doors opened.
The auditorium was larger than I expected (if I had read the film festival booklet more carefully, I would have seen it seats over 800 and is the festival’s largest venue), which made the size of the line much less depressing.
The pre-show musicians, two members of the local Neptune Quartet, played floaty, improvisational, jazzy numbers (though I did hear the Beatles “Norwegian Wood,” you can’t fool me, half of the Neptune Quartet) and made good use of prerecorded rhythms and an audio looping station.
Mary and Max was a ton of fun and a well-told story. Also, it was done made using stop motion animation, which appeals to my internal 8-year old. He (my internal 8-year old) generally calls the shots, so I enjoyed the film, but I put my foot down at bringing the Power Rangers action figures to the screening. Discipline is important.
The film, based on a true story according to the titles, follows a long pen pal relationship between a New York man with Asperger’s syndrome and a young Australian schoolgirl. Despite its storybook feel, which comes from the animation style, the physical comedy and the use of a narrator, Mary and Max runs over some traditionally adult topics. Drug and alcohol abuse, suicide and the mental health system all come into the story, and the film does rack up a considerable death toll. Even with all of that, the conclusion is comforting and the importance of friendship is upheld.
The short description above may give the impression that there is discord between style and content in Mary and Max. I want to stress that this is not so. A deft script and a compassionate touch blend all the elements into a fun ride and a compelling experience.
I had another “writing day” later in the afternoon, this one much more successful than previous attempts. I find myself needing to approach work like a military campaign: remove opposition, build a supply train and adhere to a schedule. Also, never open a two-front war in central Europe, but I don’t think that applies here.
The closing party was later, on the lawn of the Grand Traverse Commons, the former State Hospital, for those who don’t know. The festival gave out its awards, Michael Moore introduced several presenters as R and B band backed gospel preacher “Brother Mike” and I had a free dinner.
I was also able to unexpectedly chat with a reporter and photographer from a past publication I’ve worked for and later found myself sharing a table with the director, cinematographer and star of The Only Good Indian, who were unbelievably friendly and incredibly helpful.
It took two Stevie Wonder covers and a quiet after party at Firefly on Cass Street to close out the night, and the film fest for me. It’s been a new experience and a great (and exhausting) ride.
Thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far. I’ve written my thoughts on each of the festival days, if this is the first you’ve stumbled across. Feel free to comment below. Critique my opinions and share your own experiences from the 5th Traverse City Film Festival.
Read about the other days of this year’s Traverse City Film Fest: