My first film fest

If the 11 films that made up this year’s A Place Called Sacramento indicate how far this festival has come in seven years, it’s time to re-evaluate. Christopher Guest could make Waiting for a Place Called Sacramento and have critics lining up to praise his wry observations on the banality of greenhorn local filmmaking.

This amateur hour—or, more accurately, amateur three hours—is a well-intentioned product of Access Sacramento, the local media-technology training center and cable-access channel. Writers are encouraged to submit scripts. A panel of judges chooses 10 scripts, to be made into 10 10-minute films (and yes, this year there was a tie, with 11 scripts chosen) for an annual rah-rah showcase. It’s like the end of the semester at film school, without the pretension. Mostly.

So, last Sunday, the Crest Theatre was packed nearly to the gills (dumb fish reference intentional) with the filmmakers, family and friends of A Place Called Sacramento. Also attending was one giant fish, which sums up in one woefully childish and out-of-touch gambit just what’s wrong with A Place Called Sacramento. To wit: the mascot. Quentin Sacramento. Putting a guy in a fish suit is lame enough. But interviewing him, complete with interpreter, is just plain insulting. This isn’t the Bozo the Clown show. How about treating your audience and filmmakers with some dignity and just losing the fish?

Other helpful, if bitchy, observations:

Does any sort of screenwriting workshop happen after the scripts are chosen? I ask because, for example, POV-K9 (with the very helpful subtitle Point-of-View, Canine) isn’t really a script. It’s a self-help session: Bad human! You work too much! Woof.

It should be about storytelling. A girl with no memory wandering through a city isn’t a half-bad idea, even if it’s not so novel (Lost: Sacramento). We learn she’s the star of a reality TV show in which she gets her memory blanked every week. Why would any character take part in that? Just so a filmmaker can make a movie?

Hollywood movies are full of clichés, but that doesn’t make clichés OK. Blind people aren’t always wise (The Keeper of the Clay); hot women don’t invite dorks to their house parties (Beyond Lonely); not all black men shoot people (The Bluff); not all mentally challenged people act cute like Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (again, The Bluff); and not all secondary characters need be Ally McBeal wacky (Dad’s Café).

That said, the audience ate this stuff up. Admittedly, it’s neat to watch your mom/dad/brother/sister/cousin/boyfriend/whatever onscreen. But if it’s a home movie, leave it at home. The only audience-worthy movies on offer here, like Park Closed or Bingorama, weren’t great, but at least they were funny on purpose.

Maybe the problem isn’t with the festival’s planners. It’s time for the rest of us to stop enabling mediocrity.