Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Film #103: And I Will Not Leave You Until I Die

Working as a film festival programmer from 2002 to 2004 was one of the most rewarding and taxing experiences of my life. As the Programming Director of the Dahlonega International Film Festival (nicknamed the DIFF and now relocated in Rome, Georgia), I worked closely with Executive Director Barry Norman, a mass of dedicated volunteers and filmmakers, and the good people living in the North Georgia mountain town of Dahlonega (the first gold rush town in the U.S., predating California and Alaska). In doing so, Barry and I were both called upon to fill a lot of shoes. In fact, here's my full resume entry for the job:

For two years, personally evaluated movies from an average of 28 countries around the world (450 for 2002 festival, 825 in 2003); programmed 175 accepted shorts and features per year, grouping similarly-themed films together for exhibition in five venues for four-day festival; wrote and designed 60-page festival program that doubled as on-line content; selected jury members and recorded their personal evaluations of each entry; with the jury, judged accepted films for awards recognition; designed and implemented system for determining audience award recipients; corresponded with accepted filmmakers as to their festival participation; handled PR for local print and TV outlets; coordinated activities with Dahlonega township, local movie theater, and North Georgia Military Academy officials; hosted many film presentations, awards ceremony, and some filmmaker Q&As; selected festival Special Guests (Jeff Krulik in 2002, Caveh Zahedi in 2003) and worked with them to determine their festival contribution; represented the DIFF at other film-related events, including the Atlanta, Palm Beach, and New York Film Festivals.

Even though it was a relatively small fest, it required a massive effort from everyone involved, and as such it taught me a great deal about what goes into making a film festival work. Now, when I attend the TriBeCa, New York, or Atlanta film fests, I have a very clear idea of what's wrong and right about them. This is an incredible mountain of information to be privy to, and I consider myself privileged to have been asked by the festival's founder, Barry Norman, to steward the event's film offerings. Indeed, I could write a novel about my beautiful, often frustrating and always tiring experiences in gorgeous Dahlonega, but I'll keep them all to myself for now. But, occasionally, my mind drifts back to the great and terrible films I saw as a result of the effort (the experience really gave a film analyst such as myself a deep understanding of how films operate best). One of the finest movies I was exposed during this time hailed from a Polish documentarian named Maciej Ademek. In 2000, he produced an incredible half-hour doc poetically titled And I Will Not Leave You Until I Die. To this day, I pop my VHS of the film into my player, and it never fails to touch my very soul. It's a movie that deserves to be seen widely, because it's funny, sentimental, realistic, and scintillating. It's everything we want movies to be.

And I Will Not Leave You Until I Die is the astonishing story of an immutable lifelong friendship. Frank and Andrej are two middle-aged buddies who, as childhood classmates, made a pact to stay by each other's sides, no matter what. See, these men are challenged to the nth degree--Frank is physically disabled, and Andy is mentally disabled. Early on, they decided to live a life together in which Frank would provide Andy with brains and Andy would provide Frank with hands. Ademek's masterful film reveals this unusually effective rapport as a miracle of collaboration. Though they're often seen slogging through a rather contemptuous world that sometimes seems to have forgotten them, they press on, refusing to let their disabilities knock them out of the fight for happiness and independence.

In their late 40s, they seem to have all the basics conquered. We catch them as they jokingly crack each other up, argue passionately over the purchase of a refrigerator, shop for groceries, toil on an idyllic country farm, cash their disability checks, and conscientiously groom themselves. But there's one thing missing from their lives: the loving presence of a woman. Much of And I Will Not Leave You Until I Die deals with Frank and Andy's desire for romance. We see them sitting on park benches, watching pretty ladies rushing off one place or another, or glancing at happy couples kissing, as they themselves starkly contemplate their loneliness. They're not passive about this at all, though: they peruse the personals columns (in some of the film's funniest scenes), and participate joyfully in singles' dances. And still they wait for romance to enter their lives. The movie's most heartbreaking moment comes when Andy finds Frank looking at an old, faded picture of his long-dead mother, and weeping over his longings for female companionship. It's all very powerful stuff.

And I Will Not Leave You Until I Die might seem to some as if it'd be a drag-in-the-dirt downer. But in actuality, it's a
serene and well-observed documentary that had everyone at Dahlonega laughing and crying tears of joy and anguish. Maciej Ademek (pictured right) won the DIFF's prize in 2002 for Best Documentary Short and was nominated for Best Short Film at the European Film Awards. He went on to be nominated again at the DIFF in 2003 for Competition, his incisive look at a Polish children's beauty contest. As a result of both films, I'll always have an eye peeled for Ademek's work; I feel sure he's due for a breakthrough to international popularity sooner or later. In fact, here's a preview for his first narrative film, Factory (Fabryka), released in 2006. I wanna see this!

1 comment:

the editor., said...

Hi! Dean,
All I can say as "usual"
is...Wow! the documentary "And I Will Not Leave You Until I Die" seems like the kind of documentary, that will cause me to be "teary" eyed yet,in the end, have "hope" for the 2 men future.
I must truly seek this documentary out to watch?!?...
...along with Shawn, (DP) recommended documentaries.
Tks, The "Dame"

P.S. Oh no! not another...Wow!...but your job as a
film festival Programming Director at the Dahlonega International Film Festival (nicknamed the DIFF) programmer!...deserves a Wow!