As a warm-up to the organized chaos that would be Opening Gala Thursday Night, I did an airport pick up earlier that day.
Amongst the notable personalities on that trip were Leslea Mair, a writer and producer based in Regina, Saskatchewan. After completing a BFA at the University of Regina she was an active participant in the1992 PRAXIS writers' workshop where she honed her craft as a budding wordsmith. She served as president of the Saskatchewan Filmpool Cooperative, produced several avant-garde short films and even tried her hand at directing with the experimental documentary Jigsaw, which garnered her accolades from the Yorkton International Short Film Festival.
In 1998 she became the President and CEO of Zoot Pictures Inc. She continued researching, crafting treatments, producing and writing for diverse documentary projects such as Two Gun Cohen in 1999, A Count's Colony in 2000, Edible Shorts a year later and Black Tuesday in 2003.
In 2004 she appeared as Young Lacey's Mom in the "Whataphobia" episode of Corner Gas. You can see here at the 6:44 point in this clip:
She returned to the role two years later in the "I, Witness" episode. You can first see her at the 5:40 point here:
Leslea penned and produced Big Business, Big Union, Small Town in 2007 a doc covering the high-profile struggle between one of the biggest unions on the planet and retail Goliath Wal-Mart, with the small town of Weyburn, Saskatchewan serving as the unlikely battlefield. Another important project followed two years later: The Path to Shaolin, which Leslea co-directed with Leif Kaldor in 2009.
Leslea continues to write, produce and develop documentary material for the CBC, Telefilm Canada, and CTV. Zoot Pictures seems to be thriving under her guidance and the company is poised to branch out from documentaries to produce feature films as well. Considering her career thus far, I'd say the results are a foregone success.
Also along for the ride was Peter Miskimmon, who's served in the Art Department on a slew of notable film and television projects such as Men with Brooms, On Hostile Ground, Queer as Folk, Traders , The Sweet Hereafter, Dance Me Outside and Exotica. I also noticed that he did transportation for two films, so maybe there's hope for me yet! Too bad I didn't get a chance to ask him if he ever got trapped in a parking garage...
I also met the super-sweet and thoroughly delightful Polly Washburn, if almost by accident. She'd arrived ready for the Festival but had serious doubts as to whether or not her guest confirmation went through properly. Her name certainly wasn't on the manifest for transport but I took her along anyway.
Polly has several ambitious credits to her name. She's the founder of Positron: a film and digital media production company based in Winnipeg. In the past she's served as line producer for the 1870's sibling drama Black Field, was an associate producer and one-time director for the gay and lesbian-friendly travel show Bump! and she's currently assisting in post production for the feature film Hello, Darling.
En route back to the city we chatted for a bit. She was really looking forward to coming back to Halifax, having spent some time at Dalhousie University many moons ago. I tried to fill her in on all the changes to the city as we made a beeline back to the hotel.
The collective conversation in the van turned to the recent sights and sounds of the Toronto International Film Festival. Of particular note was just how well the Fubar II premiere went over, with writers/actors David Lawrence and Paul Spence arriving in character on a float (?) while shotgunning beer, headbanging and getting their grind-on with some "exotic" dancers. The general consensus was that the sequel was superior in every way to the original; a rare thing in this creatively bankrupt day and age.
This was in stark contrast to the advanced word on the AFF Opening Gala film entitled Score: A Hockey Musical, which to me (and some others) resembled a Frankenstinian fusion of Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam and "Coaches Corner". Some others have called it "everything that is wrong with the Canadian film industry" and at face value, it might be right. After all, who would be the audience for this thing?
Half of my passengers were staying at the main hotel but Peter was at the Lord Nelson and Polly had a reservation with The Atlantica. I parked by the entrance, let both of them run in and register and then dropped them off in turn at their respective temporary homes. Both of them were tremendously grateful and Polly in particular seemed thrilled to be given an early respite before the chaos of the Opening Night Gala began in earnest.
Just a quick word regarding the all important venue for the big event: there seemed to be considerable trepidation about this year's chosen location for the opening party. It had never been used for such purposes before. In past years the Gala was held open-air style on a closed-down Argyle Street, which, frankly would have been perfect. A block-party atmosphere and a bakers dozen awesome restos, bars and pubs certainly would have been conducive to a memorable communal shindig.
Last year (perhaps due to weather concerns) the big soiree was moved indoors to the 10,000 seat Metro Center arena. It didn't go over so well. Some AFF staffers were still smarting from the negative feedback some people had about the location. Our free weekly The Coast called the ill-fated 2009 event the "Best Reason To Put A Roof Over Argyle Street" and went on to state that "The Metro Center as a party venue had all the charm of a really big High School gym." Ouch.
So this year the Opening Gala would be held at an admittedly amazing local attraction: the historic (and spooky!) Citadel Hill that dominates the downtown core of our storied city. It was a brilliant idea in theory but would it be good in practice?
The evening itself was as much of a nuthouse as expected. I was constantly shuttling people from the hotel to the Gala on top of Citadel Hill, to Victor's Bar and Grill on Spring Garden, to the Park Lane box office, back down to the hotel, across to the Carleton, to Fid Restaurant and up again to the summit of the Hill. Rinse, wash and repeat. It was insanity...but also loads of fun.
I was w-a-a-a-a-a-y too busy to record specifics but here are a few "highlights":
- While carting a full load of VIP's up to the party one of the passengers announced: "I've been getting phone calls all day long because it's my birthday today. I just got off the phone with a friend of mine who wished me 'Happy Birthday' and then told me: 'I'm calling you from Tuscany!' and I replied: 'You're in Tuscany and I'm here in Halifax? What's wrong with this picture?" Just as other people in the van laughed nervously and/or began to call her on the slight, I hit the signal light, mimed pulling over to the side of the road and announced "Yeah, by the way, this is far as I'm going. Enjoy the walk up the hill!"
- At one point later in the evening one of the revelers actually checked her mom in with me as if my van was a "Lost n' Found" box. I kid, she actually had her ma's best interest in mind. Although Citadel Hill turned out to be a brilliant and evocative location, the only real lighting was set up around the entrance to the party. The road crowning the top of the hill where most people had parked was pitch dark. "Can you take my mother around the hill and help her find her car? It's very dark, the footpaths are narrow and it's difficult for her to see." So I told her to hop in, slowly circumnavigated the summit until she found her car, watched to make sure she got in safely and then moved on to my next pick up.
- I spied Polly towards the end of the evening walking in the opposite direction of her hotel! She flagged me down, hopped in the van and was grateful and relieved when I got her back to the Atlantica in one piece. "I guess I've been away longer than I thought," she quipped. The funny thing is, with the view atop Citadel Hill, it should have been easy to spot the fifteen story hotel but I also know how easy it is to get turned around when you get down to street level. Regardless, I'm glad I drove her home since our fair city can sometimes be a bit "swarmalicious" sometimes.
- A hobbled German woman and her associate hopped in the van and I whisked them off to the hotel. En route she told the following story to her fruend: "Ven I vas a little girl I seriously hurt mein ankle. So, during every movie shoot I do now, I always seem to re-injure it again. Now, venever people see me zay alvays say: 'Look, here she comes: Ze Limping German!"
- While carting a crew up to the party the topic turned to accents. We had a real mix of nationalities in the van at that time, Canadian, British, Irish and American. At one point in time people were cutting up Scottish and Southern accents until the Canadian onboard decided to earn some Brownie points by saying: "Well, those accents are all really challenging but the only accent that is truly incomprehensible is the Newfoundland accent." She proceeded to mime some pretty stereotypical examples of the Newfoundland dialect and I felt my grip on the wheel getting tighter and tighter. Finally I couldn't take any more and said "Well, I'm from Newfoundland and I've never had any issues in the past getting my point across." Needless to say, they got off the topic pretty quick. God I hate pretentiousness.
- A dude (whom I'll refer to as Zabu) with hair dipped in shellac, the inability to button his shirt to an appropriate level and a cell phone permanently affixed to his head hopped in my van in front of the hotel and virtually ordered me to drive him up to the Gala. As I turned up Duke Street he continued to blabber incessantly on his phone, trying to negotiate tickets to the Gala Party from some unknown (and clearly irritated) source. Just as I'm about to turn left on Brunswick to head to the party Zabu commands me to take him to his apartment "for just a second." He guides me to a very dodgy part of town where he tells me to park. He dashes off to his hovel and emerges five minutes later, still yammering into the cell phone. As we pull away from the curb Zabu proclaims: "Listen, I need you to do a pick up at the airport." I turn to him and say: "Um, sure, I'll go if you clear it with dispatch. Do you have their number?" He insisted that these were Festival delegates and told me that I had to go. I explained that anyone that needed transport from the airport is pre-registered for the service and even if I wanted to go, I couldn't take a van out of circulation on such a busy night without first getting approval from dispatch. He then muttered something under his breath and told ME to call them. At this point in time I'm wishing Dodge Caravans came with an ejection seat as a standard feature but I called the dispatch line for him, explained the situation and Jim mercifully let me off the hook. Then this ass clown insists he speak to Jim. Well, folks, the timing couldn't have been better. Just as I'm pulling up to the front entrance of the party, Jim appears again from out of nowhere and I tell the dude, "Look, if you wanna try and arrange this, that's the guy you gotta talk to." The greasy little prick blanches a bit at the sight of Jim, goes out to speak to him, gets absolutely no-where and the proceeds to loiter around still vainly to gain access to the party. F#@$%^& douchebag.
- People leaving the party often didn't notice us waiting there to take them home since some of the vans didn't have Atlantic Film Festival Transportation stickers on the side. I took to placing the airport "Pick Up" sign on the windshield and that seemed to work a bit better. I did catch hell from one of my fellow drivers when I stood by the van once and held the sign as guests left the party. "Put that sign away!" one guy mock-shouted. "You look like a f$#@%^& idiot." I realized at once that he was right. In the arrival terminal of an airport a sign screaming "Pick Up" looked perfectly normal, but taken out of context it now just looked like I was trolling for loose drunk artsy chicks.
I promised that I would but the instant sleep that took me the previous night before didn't come that evening. Seized by a pall of "early morning appointment anxiety" I tossed and turned all night until the alarm bleated at me to get up.
This wasn't going to be pretty.
FAIL: This seems to be becoming a regrettable annual "Back To School" tradition in Halifax: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/nova-scotia/story/2010/09/11/ns-swarming-south-end-halifax.html