The first video I ever submitted to a festival was G*I*J*O. It premiered at MIX NYC in November 1998. As soon as I returned home I got a call from a guy named "Shane Smith," who said he'd seen G*I*J*O at MIX and absolutely had to have it for his festival, which was Inside Out in Toronto. I said I'd be more than happy. In the months that followed I got many other solicitations to have it screened at other festivals, but this was the first personal appeal that I received. It was also the first one I was able to attend in person since MIX. When I confirmed with Shane that I'd be there, he told me that there was quite a number of people who were anxious to meet me. That surprised me a bit, but also intrigued me.
Toronto is about a four-hour drive from my home in Ithaca, NY. My normally trusty Renault Encore was losing its clutch. I felt comfortable driving it around town, but I didn't want to risk it failing completely while I was on the road. I could picture myself on the shoulder of the QEW cursing up a storm. So I decided to rent a car.
In typical fashion I waited until the last minute to make reservations. I called Hurtz on Friday afternoon and fortunately they still had a car available. I totally forgot about calling the hotel until I'd gotten home later that same Friday. The information I was given said that festival participants could get a discount at the Holiday Inn on King St. I called, but they said I had to arrange the discount through the festival. Since screenings had already begun that same afternoon, I figured that they'd be way too busy to deal with my last-minute request. I just booked a room at the standard rate. "How much could it be?" I asked myself. It turned out it was $200 per night! This was Canadian dollars, but still it was pretty steep.
I got up Saturday morning, got my shit together, and headed to Hurtz. I had asked for the smallest car they had, but they wound up giving me a mid-sized sedan. I ran around and did some errands before I got on the road. I quickly determined that this car had less character than anything I'd ever driven. I had to step around back to even see what kind of car it was. It was a Toyota Camry. It dawned on me that automotive character is inversely proportional to mass appeal. If artists ran the automotive industry we'd all be driving around in Citroëns and Messerschmidts, but we don't, so I made the best of my generic sedan.
The weather was too cool to drive with the windows down and too warm to drive with the windows up. I found a slight chill to be preferable to stuffiness, and ran with the windows down. After a quick ride up the East shore of Cayuga Lake I was on the Thurway and headed for Buffalo. I had to admit that despite my dispersions on the utter blandness of this vehicle I was enjoying the cruise control and power windows. I really wished the stereo had a CD player, though.
In an hour and a half I was driving past the jungle of power lines that decorates outter Buffalo, and heading for Niagara Falls and the Canadian border. There was a short wait at customs. When she asked the purpose of my visit I said, "Attending a film festival." I wanted to add in, "where I'll be presenting a video of my own production," since she was the one who asked, but I try to keep these border crossings as simple as possible. I was through in under a minute. I was aghast, however, to see vast numbers of cars lined up in the opposite direction waiting to get back into the USA. That did not bode well for my return trip. As I drove along further into Canada the line of cars continued to stretch into the distance. It must have gone on for a mile or more. I figured that the earlier I got on the road the next morning the better chance I'd have for minimizing any delays.
The first thing I encountered on the other side of the border was a toll plaza. I assumed the toll was for a bridge to cross the Niagara River, but there was no bridge on the other side of the plaza. I wondered if maybe Canada was trying to bolster their economy by charging an entry fee into their country.
Once I got on the QEW I saw a sign that said "Toronto 120." I was very surprised. I knew that there would still be somewhat of a drive left once I was across the border, but I didn't realize it was that far. This would put me at only the mid-point of my journey, and I'd come a really long way already. Alas, I continued on. The next sign I saw indicated that the distance remaining to Toronto was quite a bit less than my odometer suggested it should be. I thought that maybe the first sign had been wrong. Then the third sign indicated yet another significant reduction in distance. Finally it dawned on me that the distances were in kilometers, not miles. I felt like a dope, because all the speed limit signs were in KPH, and I was no stranger to Canada and should have known that distances would be measured in kilometers anyway. But it was all moot because I was now rather elated that the remainder of my trip was not that bad at all.
I checked my map for the first time since I left home. There was one place where the expressway split, and I wanted to gauge how far up the road that would be. It was really tricky looking at the tiny numbers on the map and maneuver through the traffic that was going much faster than the posted 100KPH limit. The split did come upon me very quickly, but my route into downtown was well labelled, and I found myself in the correct lane anyway. As the Toronto skyline got closer and closer, I fretted just a bit about where I was supposed to get off the expressway. I wound up getting off earlier than I needed to, but I got onto a nice boulevard that paralleled the expressway along the shore.
I knew that my hotel was very close to the CN Tower. That made navigating pretty easy. I continued along the boulevard until I was right under the tower, and I turned to head into town. I got a little mixed up in the access roads to the BlueJays SkyDome arena, but soon found myself on exactly the street that I'd planned to take into downtown. From there I drove unerringly to the Holiday Inn.
I checked in, parked my car in the underground garage, and went up to the room. I was in a corner room on the 20th floor, which was practically at the very top of the building. There was a pretty nice view of the CN Tower from my window. There was a little, private blacony outside my room, but the door was locked and a sign indicated that the local police had requested that access be "restricted."
Without further ado I headed out to the festival. It was held in the "Famous Players Paramount Complex" which was only a couple blocks from the hotel. When I arrived I realized that the place was a main-stream cinema multiplex, and a pretty big one at that. In the lobby was a table marked "Inside Out Info." I went directly over to it and introduced myself as one of the filmmakers. The woman started ruffling through her papers but couldn't find any recored of me. She kept on looking but wasn't finding anything. I was getting a little miffed, since I'd made it very clear that I'd be in attendance. When she started shurgging her shoulder, I simply asked, "Is Shane Smith around?"
"He's right here," she said pointing to another person behind the table. She grabbed his elbow and he looked over at me.
"Christopher Westfall," I said. "G*I*J*O."
His eyes lit up. "Hello!" he said. I was relieved that any confusion had vanished, but still a little aprehensive that there had been any confusion in the first place. He gave me a complimentary book bag filled with festival materials, and made up a filmmaker's pass for me. He was a little too busy at the moment to chat, so I took my stuff and went to a pub across the road. I got a pint of ale (they served huge pints at this place). I went through all the materials. The first thing I did was open up the catalog to see my own listing. I always love that. Then I looked at the schedule to see if there were any screenings that afternoon that looked interesting. There was one on queer animation (including "The Ambiguously Gay Duo" from Saturday Night Live), but it had already begun. The next one was in a couple hours.
I looked through more of the materials and saw that there was a VIP room. I figured that would be a better place to hang out than this pub, and I might even get a chance to talk with other filmmakers. When I was at MIX I didn't have much of an interest in meeting other filmmakers. I was a bit intimidated, it being my first festival and all, and I didn't really see much of a point anyway. But by this time I was very much hoping to get invovled in other people's projects, gain experience working with others, and maybe even get myself in a relatively high-profile film. I went back to the movie complex and asked a volunteer where the VIP room was. He said that there wasn't one. I said that I saw about it in my materials. He said he knew, and apologized, but that there was no VIP room. This was a bit of a drag. It wasn't really a disappointment, since I had no expectation that there would be such a room, but it would have been really cool. In the absense of any alternatives, I went back to my hotel room.
I decided to check out the pool and sauna. I walked in and the locker room was deserted. I stepped through to the pool area. There was a lone lifeguard on duty, who looked surprised that anyone had even bothered to come to the pool at all. I didn't have a bathing suit with me, and it was a little chilly out for a swim anyway, so I went back in, stripped naked, and got in the sauna. I got a boner right away. After I'd built up a good sweat I stepped back out into the locker room. I wandered around just a bit with my big fat dick sticking out in front of me, and glanced in the mirrors to see my naked body dripping with sweat. I jumped in a shower, rinsed off, and got right back in the sauna. As I lay there I heard the door to the locker room open. A man and his young son came in. I rolled over on my belly to hide my stiff dick. I was really glad they hadn't come in when I was parading around in the open. After bumbling around for a few minutes they went through to the pool. Before long I decided I'd had enough of this. My dick wasn't still hard, but it was pretty fat and it was obviously not entirely at rest. I let my towel hang in front of me as I stepped out of the sauna and went to a shower. I left it hanging like that as I got the shower water to the proper temperature. A teen-aged guy came in and asked me where the pool was. Standing there naked except for the towel covering my chubby, I directed him on past the showers and away he went. Once I rinsed off I stepped into my jeans and went back to my room where I promptly fell asleep.
I got up in just enough time to make it to the 7:30 program. Unfortunately when I got there I realized that it had begun at 7:00. I went back to the pub and got some dinner and another pint. At this point I was just killing time until the 9:00 program started. My video was being shown in the midnight movie time slot. The 9:00 program would be a good way to keep myself occupied. While I waited I had another pint. I was getting a little buzz on at this point.
When it was finally time for the 9:00 program I walked back across the street to the movie complex. It was dark out by this time, and the complex was all brightly lit up. As a filmmaker I was allowed free passes to any program I wanted to see, except for "gala" events. The program about to start was a gala events. I went over to the info desk to see if maybe I couldn't get in free anyway. The volunteer behind the table said that I couldn't get in at all, because it was sold out. That was a bit of a disappointment. I asked if there was any way he could help me out, since I was a filmmaker and I'd gone to a lot of trouble to attend the festival at my own expense.
"Well," he said, "you can wait in the rush line if you want to take a chance at getting in."
I'd never heard of a "rush line" before, but I learned that it was analgous to flying standby at airports. This guy was suggesting I go wait for an extended period of time in the line behind the line, in hopes of getting probably the worst seat in the house. That didn't sound too good to me. It quickly became apparent that the only screening I would see would be my own. I didn't expect people to bow down at my feet or anything just because I had an 8 minute video in their festival, but I really felt like any average joe right off the street. On top of that I was just really bored. I'd come all this way, and all I'd done was sit around a pub. I didn't know where all these people were who were so anxious to meet me, but they certainly hadn't found me yet. With the absense of the VIP room, I didn't know how to find any other filmmakers to hang out with.
With nothing better to do for the next two and a half hours, I went back to the hotel. I decided to have a drink in the lounge. The place catered to cigar smokers, and totally reeked of smoke. I find stale cigarette smoke to be unpleasant, but the stench of cigars is downright offensive to me. I tried to enjoy my drink, but I wound up practically chugging it so I could get out of there. I went up to my room and got my camera and tripod. I went back to the movie complex and shot a couple time-exposures of the bright theater against the dark night. I went back to my room and exchanged my still camera for my palmcorder. I went back to the movie complex yet again. It was still a little early for my screening, so I went into the pub and had yet another drink. I figured there wasn't anything else going on at this event, I might as well get drunk.
When I went back to the complex I was pretty tipsy. I'd been given two tickets to my program, and of course I only needed one. My plan was to cruise the rush line, and if I saw someone cute I'd offer him my extra ticket. I thought that would make someone's day, to not only be saved from the rush line but to actually be able to view the program with one of the filmmakers. When I checked out the line, however, I didn't really see anyone who interested me. I was also a little shy to pull off such a stunt, despite the fact I had so many drinks in me. I decided to just bag it and go up to my theater.
When I got up there I found Shane coordinating the other 11:30 program which was in the theater directly across the hall from mine. We chatted a bit, but he was pretty busy getting ready for the program. I also chatted with the guys coordinating my program, but they tended to look at me funny. The alcohol in my system must have been making me say wierd stuff. I did discover that there was a party going on that night. I thought that maybe this would finally be my chance to interract with other filmmakers, and maybe even find some of these mythical people who were so excited to meet me.
When they finally opened the doors (a half-hour late), I got an aisle seat and watched people file in. As the place started filling up the coordinator called me down. He was going to introduce the program and give me a chance to make some comments. It turned out that I was the only filmmaker from this program in attendance. I sat there calmly wondering what the fuck I was going to say. Fortunately I was too buzzed to be stressed over it. Finally everyone was sitting down and the coordinator made some remarks. When I got up I just encouraged everyone in the audience to explore their creative natures, and I gave my thanks to the Inside Out staff and volunteers for giving me the opportunity to show my work.
I sat back down and the program started. The first piece was supposed to be an hour-long documentary about the porn industry. Instead, my video started playing. I quickly grabbed my palmcorder and began pirating my own video. I did this so that I could capture the crowd reactions as they happened. The audience was laughing and giggling as the video unfolded. This was very cool. It's one thing to know that something I've done has been aired on TV, or that it's been screened at some far-away festival, but it's a totally different experience to be present with a live audience and witness their reactions. This was really the reason I came here, and I was now glad I'd made the trip.
Soon my video was over and the crowd appluaded. I shut off my palmcorder and put it back between my knees. The next video was called "Blue Jim." It was about 4 minutes of someone touching the nipples of some anonymous body while Judy Garland sang "Somewhere Over The Rainbow." It ended, and I thought to myself, "What the fuck was that?!?!?" All I remember of the second video was one guy putting a harness on another guy. I think it went on for about 5 minutes or so. The crowd applause was getting less and less enthusiastic. The next video was a short but moderately entertaining tale about a gay erotica writer who's sex partners only want to recreate the antics of the guys tales.
Finally the "Shooting Porn" documentary started. This was pretty good. Right from the very beginning it had hot guys telling interesting stories about an interesting business. There were about three or four guys who had been interviewed, plus interviews with Chi Chi LaRue and some footage from some of his actual porn shoots. One other pornographer was intereviewed, and there was some footage from some of his porn shoots, but I don't know who he was. The piece did seem to drag on a bit after a while, but this could have been symptomatic of how late into the night it was getting.
When it was over the house lights came up and people filed out. Once outside the theater I lingered to see if I could find Shane. Someone approached me. He turned out to be an email acquaintance who said he would probably be in attendance. I'd completely forgotten that I might meet some "fans" of my web site here. His name was Garry, and he had a very Ontario appearance. We chatted a bit as we walked out of the complex. He was with whom I assumed to be his partner. I would have loved to talk longer with him, but it was almost 2AM and they appeared to be wanting to go home. I considered the party that was going on. I didn't really know where it was, except that it was not within walking distance and I was way too drunk to be driving. I was also dead tired. I quickly decided to bag it.
On my way back to the hotel I popped into pubs along the way to see if by any chance any of them had not yet announced last call. I finally conned one nice guy into giving me a quick pint. I started choking it down, realizing it was the last thing on Earth I needed at that point. But I was in that strange place where I was too drunk to get it through my head it was time to stop drinking. After I'd put most of it down I stumbled into my hotel room and passed out.
I woke up the next morning feeling not as bad as I expected to. There was a filmmakers' brunch at noon. It was currently about 7:30AM, and I was not in the mood to sit around for half the day on the off chance that I might meet someone half-way interesting. I threw my stuff in the car and took off. The ride home went pretty quickly. After I returned the rental car I went straight home and took about a 3 hour nap.