"You have to be in it for the right reasons - because you love storytelling. That's the skill set of any filmmaker. If you want to do it because you want to be famous, get laid, get rich, or whatever, then it's not going to happen for you." - Brett Ratner, from his IMDB page.
The Hollyshorts Festival recently concluded with an awards ceremony featuring 45 minutes of producer/director Brett Ratner in converation with Steve Whitney of Kodak Inc., followed by a 25 minute rush to hand out all the filmmaking awards. The names were read out in quick succession, each accompanied by a slide show visual for a few seconds. It was a weird scene, or at least it struck me as such.
The way that these film artists were scurrying up to the stage and then scurrying back to their seats, without even a moment to bask in the limelight just struck me as wrong, and I felt angry on their behalf. The first award given out had gone to Brett Ratner, who hadn't had a film in the festival. That had made me angry too.
What a typical Hollywood move, to shower the people at the top with attention and awards, while those at the bottom, who had so little, weren't even allowed a few moments of public acknowledgment (much less celebration) when they had finally won something!
Still, I had to admit that there were things in Brett Ratner's opening remarks that had surprised me, even touched me. He described how his life was changed at 10 years old when he saw Scorcese's Raging Bull for the first time. He was smitten with a love of film and didn't really care about any other subject at school. He found out that Martin Scorcese taught at NYU Film School, and from that point on, he was obsessed with going there to study. He shot thousands of hours of film, hundreds of thousands of hours. When the time came to apply to colleges, he only applied to NYU. Then he went for his interview and was told that his grades weren't good enough, and he was being rejected. "Did you look at my short films?" he asked. He was told that his films didn't matter - his bad grades disqualified him for consideration. "I didn't know what to do," he told the Hollyshorts audience. "I had no Plan B. There was nothing else I wanted to do."
So what was he to do? What would you have done? This was the pivotal moment, the dramatic turning point when sad young Brett became Brett Rattner.
He went to the Dean of NYU and told the secretary that he had to see the Dean. Did he have an appointment? No. Well, the Dean was a busy man, and he didn't have any openings for the next few weeks. "But I can't wait three weeks. I have to see him now," Brett insisted. And it turned out to Brett's lucky day. Because someone didn't show up for an appointment, and Brett got fifteen minutes with the Dean, and he made his point that admission to the film school should be based on how good a film director you are, not how good an all-around student you are. And the Dean agreed to look at Brett's reel of short films. And long story short, that's how Brett Ratner got into film school. And got on the road to directing the Rush Hour Trilogy and X-Men: The Last Stand and other movies and a slew of music videos.
Not my kind of movies, I admit. But I admire the dynamism and vitality of his visual storytelling. And the money he's earned. I'd like to experience some of that. And his claim on our attention does have more to do with the money his films have garnered than with any claim of artistry. But when I went to Brett Ratner's IMDB page, I was surprised to find how influential his production company, RatPac, was in making it possible for the visions of other filmmakers to be realized. He had used his entreprenurial platform to make films he believed in, and not only the ones that were certain to make a profit. I have a lot of respect for that.
I also enjoyed the lengthy comments on his IMDB Bio page, which re-enforced his gut-level commitment to film as a storytelling format, and to making good movies.
"When I was a film student at NYU, there wasn't a platform like the internet for filmmakers ... Now Steven Spielberg has someone every month prepare "The Best of YouTube." There's so much short-form content better than feature films out there. And there are huge opportunities out there now for young filmmakers to have something seen."
I also passionately agree with his statement that "the worst thing we have in today's movie culture in Rotten Tomatoes. I think it's the destruction of our business. I have such admiration and respect for that. When I was growing up, film criticism was a real art. There was intellect that went into that. You would read Pauline Kael's reviews or some others ... Now it's about a number. But that number is an aggregate, and nobody can figure out exactly what it means, and it's not always correct. It's hurting the business, and it's just insane."
So hey - maybe Brett Ratner was exactly the right person to preside over those awards. And maybe he deserves his own "icon" award, or whatever. I still wish that Hollyshorts had shown more respect for the filmmakers whose work they had chosen to exhibit, and especially for the winners of their own awards.
Free vodka is nice, and God knows I enjoyed all those flavors. But I'd still prefer to see the winners given a chance to accept their award and maybe hear a few words about the film itself. And then the free vodka. Okay?
MY AWARDS, SANS CEREMONY
Whatever committee made the Hollyshorts choices got a few right, such as giving Kevin Wilson Jr. the award for Best Director for My Nephew Emmett.
Yes, most of the really exceptional films went uncelebrated. And I am here to rectify that, to the best of my ability.
So here are my choices for the TOP 10 HOLLYSHORTS FILMS.
Drum roll please.
(I've written about all these in previous Hollyshorts columns - hope you will check those out.)
The bottom 5 (6-10), in no particular order and irrespective of genre category:
REFUGEE by Joyce Chen and Emily Moore - best documentary I saw in the festival. I will never forget it.
A BEAUTIFUL DAY, Written by Casey Cannon and Angeliki Giannakopoulos, directed by Phedon Papamichael - This would have been memorable with any good actor, but James Brolin makes it special.
I KNOW JAKE GYLLENHAAL IS GOING TO FUCK MY GIRLFRIEND, Written by Sean Wing, Directed by Nino Mancuso - No it's not perfect, but it's funny, and it really stayed with me. Oh that Jake!
A STUDY IN TYRANNY by Andrew Laurich - The answer to the question: what would happen if I went back in time and tried to kill Hitler? Here's a hint: He's Hitler! No matter how nice he seems, he's still Hitler. And always will be.
FIVE MINUTES WITH MARY by Matt Beurois - It's amazing just how much you can say in five minutes.
The top 2-5, again in no particular order and irrespective of genre category:
11th HOUR by Jim Sheridan - Manages to say so much about 9/11 in 11 minutes. Beautifully imagined.
MY NEPHEW EMMETT by Kevin Wilson Jr. - The tragedy of Emmett Till as you've never seen it.
MUSTARD SEED by Linda Roessler - Says volumes about the Holocaust in a few minutes. No link here because I was unable to find any. A shocking and beautiful film, and not without hope.
A TREE. A ROCK. A CLOUD. by Karen Allen - It's set in a particular time, but the story feels timeless, as if it has always existed. Slows down time in a magical way, transporting us into a scene with great spiritual significance.
And the number 1 Film, Numero Uno, the Twisted Hipster's Palm D'or goes to:
"MOTHER" (Matka) by Piotrek Golebiowski - In 1943, a retreating Nazi regiment takes over the home of a Polish family, forcing them to live in their attic. This is a work of art. The final frame will freeze your blood.