Yes, it’s the second week in April and as usual, you find me in the first week in February. They specialize in that sort of thing here in Boulder. The calendar says Spring but the falling snow says otherwise.
I mean, New England isn’t exactly known for its balmy climes but at least we make an effort.
Time for another Conference On World Affairs. Is this my tenth one? Maybe. All I know is that I’ve been speaking at this conference for so many years that I no longer even know how many years I’ve been speaking at this conference.
I sure felt my age tonight. There was a big reception for the speakers and despite my being seriously in the bag owing to lack of sleep, I wasn’t about to miss my first opportunity to meet some people. I think the ratio of Newbies to Veterans is about two to one, so I wound up answering a lot of questions about what to expect.
Nearly everyone in the room is a seasoned speaker; many command five-figure fees, in fact. But the CWA is a unique beast. The conference only announces the schedule of panels a few weeks ahead of time and all you have to go on are brief titles. Tomorrow, for instance, I’m on “”Movie Pseudo-Science” and “Reality: the Next Moment Of Truth On TV.” You now know as much about these sessions as I do.
(Would you like to go on my place? Anybody?)
My advice is always the same. I became much more confortable on these panels when I realized that the folks in the audience are more interested in what you think than what you know, if you follow. That is, if you can cite facts and figures and quotes, that’s fine. But hard data isn’t as valuable as a logical, well-expresed point of view.
I got to hook up with Close Personal Friend Phil Plait, aka the Bad Astronomer. Met Kiki Sanford, whom I’ve podcasted with but had never met (v.cool individual). Very pleased to sit down with Mr. Ebert for a good while. We’ve been regular emailers for (good God) nearly half my life but the Conference is usually our only opportunity for facetime. He’s had to sit out the past couple.
Got to hug Oscar Castro-Neves. An utter guitar God and the embodiment of the sort of person for whom a handshake simply will not do. He always asks me to send him some more of my ukelele recordings and I really want to but it’s a bit like sending Frank Lloyd Wright photos of the shed you put up in the yard last Spring, isn’t it? And yet I’ve promised to send him a new recording within 30 days.
Met Ramin Bahrani. He has volunteered to have all of his skin peeled off one layer of cells at a time. Which is to say that Roger will be screening his film “Chop Shop” in front of a 1000-seat audience over the course of four days while every scene and detail is discussed and questioned by Ebert and the audience.
Ebert calls this procedure “Film Interruptus” and it’s an incredible experience for any film fan. I watched “Fargo” and “The SIlence Of The Lambs” this way and it was as if I was seeing these fave films for the very first time.
Yet I hardly have the patience and stamina for it. I remember a moment in “Fargo” when Chief Marge was bringing Grimsud back to Brainerd in the back of her cruiser. There was a dramatic shot of the roadside statue of Paul Bunyan, which loomed over them they reached the outskirts of town. Many people had their own interpretations of why the director had put that shot there.
“It’s a reflection of the bedrock morals of Midwestern pioneer America, underscoring the triumph of simple values over modern avarice,” one audience member opined, after calling for a freeze-frame.
“I think he’s using this symbol of American tall-tales, which on the surface is so cheery and reassuring, to symbolize belies a far greater horror that lurks underneath at all times,” said another.
“I think he’s saying THEY’RE BACK IN BRAINERD!” I said, testily, With that, the movie continued.
And I know that this story says far worse things about me than it does about that audience.
But I remember what it was like in college to be in a creative writing seminar and have nine people picking apart my work while I sat there wondering if “it’s possible to kill a person with a ballpoint pen” was actually true or just a funny little phrase that pops into mind under certain situations.
So my hat’s off to Ramin. I haven’t seen “Chop Shop” but I’m looking forward to attending the screening tomorrow afternoon (when it’ll be played in its entirety without any interruptions).
My chat with Ramin was exactly the reason why I keep coming back to this conference. To be honest, I hadn’t heard of him or his film. I was just talking with this dude, who impressed me as being quite interesting; I sort of bookmarked him as someone I’d like to chat with again later on in the week.
Then I get back to my Boulder digs and I Google the name and discover that hey, cool: Cannes, Toronto, Berlin…his films have been screened in some of the world’s most selective festivals. “Hi, I’m Ramin,” was how he’d introduced himself. If they give you a medal or sash when your film is accepted at Cannes, he kept it discreetly tucked under his shirt all evening.
You get a lot of that sort of thing. More than once I’ve belatedly realized that during lunch, I fixed the iPhone of a former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Plans for tonight: finish and file a piece that’s due by lunchtime; watch the last 43 minutes of “Hello, Dolly!” which I rented from iTunes yesterday and is due to expire; test out the microphone I’m going to record my 10-minute bits with tomorrow; oh, yes, and I probably need to figure out just what the hell I’m going to say during my two panels.
I should put a star or something next to that last item. Seems to stick out, doesn’t it?