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2001-08-22 - 5:27 p.m.

in which our intrepid protagonist is surprisingly unbothered by a serious event

So it’s been a rough couple of weeks. My spontaneous trip to Atlanta was obviously a big mistake, and set my emotional health back a good eight months. But last Friday, at a party, my car was broken into, and my wallet and cell phone were stolen. Compared to the past week, this seemed to pale in comparison. After all, my windshield was still intact. No one was waiting for me by the car when I stumbled out to it at 3 am. By 4 am, my credit cards were cancelled. I called my cell phone a few times, but no one answered, and I cancelled that too. The next morning, I went to the bank, hungover, and had to figure out how to withdraw cash without using an ATM card. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before.

in which she provides some background, and spends too much time at coffee shops

In my spare time, or what’s left of it, now that I’ve acquired friends and social obligations, I volunteer for the local Film Society. I’m a coordinator for their annual grant program, which gives out $50,000 a year to Texas-based filmmakers. The job’s pretty mundane really; I just do it to have something to talk about at parties. That way people won’t ask me about my real job. Things were proceeding swimmingly with the grant program this year; I went to the Film Society office about once a week, and the work was light. I answered email. Faxed press releases. The usual. But then the applications came in – all 152 of them. Several days were spent logging them into the database, including most of a Saturday. I was given 50 applications to review, and promptly went out of town. And went out of town again. Before I knew it, I had just over a week to review almost all of my applications. I’m not talking about a cursory look here. What with reading the three-page project descriptions, analyzing the budget for discrepancies, reading the project personnel list to see if I knew anyone involved, cringing at the video sample ….seriously, it takes almost an hour to do each one. So that’s all I did. Work, come home, go to Spider House to review applications, come home to watch video samples, go to sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat. Always repeat.

in which she gratuitously mentions the names of minor filmmakers and celebrities in an effort to impress

So I finally finished reviewing the applications (although I stopped just short of reading the entire script of “Caged She-Bitch Cage”; I mean, would you?), and just in time for the panel review sessions. On Monday night, the panel came into town (three filmmakers from outside of Texas, known for various genres of film, are chosen to judge the applications, and decide who gets funded). This year’s panel was Joanna Priestley (an animator who does everything by hand; it takes her two years to complete one short film), Bennett Smith (director of the documentary, “The Cruise”), and David Gordon Green (director of “George Washington,” his first narrative feature).

The three days of review sessions were a blur. We holed up in a house outside of town (I say house, but it was more like a mansion, complete with private screening room), graciously offered to us by a Film Society board member, to review the applications. The review sessions were followed by dinner, and then screenings of the panelists’ work (big crowds for both nights), and then drinking. And more drinking. I tried too hard, at first, to be liked and admired. I alternated between saying nothing at all, to saying too much, too quickly. But at some point, something happened. I got to know these people. And they got to know me. And I think we liked each other.

I want Joanna Priestley to invite me into her home, and let me live with her for a while. We’d go swimming together, and do yoga, every day. I’d talk too much, but she’d always ask the right questions. She would tell me that I should go to graduate school for creative writing, and that most women don’t know what they want to do until they’re in their thirties. She would tell me things like that every day, because I need to hear things like that, every day.

I’d heard that she met her husband in a library.

“Is that true?” I asked.

“It was a film library, at Cal Arts. But he was eight years younger than me, and I wasn’t interested.”

Eight years younger? I asked if he was a child prodigy. Turns out she didn’t go to Cal Arts until she was in her thirties, and didn’t get married until she was 43. I needed to hear that right about now.

Bennett Miller is hard to talk to. I don’t know if it’s because he’s sarcastic, or because I’m usually attracted to wiry, Jewish guys from New York. Here’s a sample conversation, after I found out he worked on a possible television pilot for my favorite radio program, “This American Life”:

“Do you know Sarah Vowell?”

“Yeah, we celebrated our birthdays together the last few years.”

“Do you know David Sedaris?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know David Rakoff?”

“Yes.”

“Cool.”

It took a few days, but we eventually developed some kind of rapport. Later, he told me I reminded him of Sarah Vowell. I told him it was the best compliment I’d ever received.

David Gordon Green looks like a frat boy, complete with hair that’s a little too long, khaki pants, and the ever present baseball cap. He’s 26 years old. He likes Radiohead. He argued the merits of the Backstreet Boys over En Sync. He once told an interviewer that Kevin Smith had lowered the bar for independent filmmaking, and created a sort of Special Olympics for film, a quote that was reprinted in the Chronicle the week he arrived (when Kevin Smith was in town premiering his new film). I told him I wanted to set up a Kevin Smith/David Gordon Green face off, complete with a ring and audience. He was all up for it. When Caroline and I explained our Rick Linklater theory (he only engages in conversation with male filmmakers and 19 year old big-breasted women, which he demonstrated throughout the week), David leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Hit me if you ever see me doing that.”

How in the world, then, did this man create one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen? Did I mention he’s only 26 years old? I cried four times when I saw “George Washington.” I do not own a DVD player, and I may never own a DVD player, but I am buying this film on DVD when it comes out in March. If you could see the way my face looks when I talk about this film, then you would buy it too.

Speed Levitch (the star of “The Cruise”) happened to be in town, and he showed up for the screening of “The Cruise,” and accompanied us out afterwards. When I heard he liked to dance, I invited him to Waxploitation, a DJ event taking place at a local club. I gave him a flyer, and told him not to feel obligated; I just wanted him to have options. His response:

“I love options. Options are so important. In many ways, options are the only things we have control over; we certainly have no control over the outcomes.”

So you see, Speed Levitch in real life is not that different from Speed Levitch on the big screen. But I found him fascinating all the same.

Joanna likes to swim, and I told her she must go to Barton Springs, even if I had to take her myself. I arranged to meet her at the Four Seasons, and before I knew it we were all going: Bennett, Speed, Joanna, Elisabeth, and myself. Joanna loved it, like I knew she would. She told me, “Thank you for bringing me here. You are very lucky to have this place.” We lost Speed early on, and started to worry. Bennett finally saw him, across the Springs, and halfway up the hill, sitting on the grass, surrounded by three scantily clad women. We thought he was probably okay.

in which she considers herself very lucky

And in the middle of all that, my car broke down on the way to see “George Washington.” One of the main reasons I had my cell phone was in case my car broke down. And my AAA card was stolen as well. It was hot. It was a struggle to find a pay phone. And the only thing I could think was that I did not want to deal with this right now. Maybe after the sun had set, but not right now. I called my friend Corey, who lives down the street. In ten minutes, he was there, and drove me all the way to the Arbor. I even made it to dinner on time. Elisabeth lent me her AAA card, Caroline waited with me for the tow truck to come, Kat chauffeured me around the next day, and Daniel took me to pick up my car. I remember a time, not so long ago, when I never would have had so many people in my life to help me out when things like this happen.

in which she draws some conclusions, and makes a reference to something she said earlier, a la “This American Life”

It was hard for the week to end. It was inspirational to be around these people (and I don't use that word lightly). It was hard to go back to work. It is, still, hard to be at work, where I spend most of the day hitting the refresh button on my hotmail account, it seems. I know something has to change. And pretty soon. I’m looking at my options, Speed. I’m looking at my options.

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