Director: Marshall Cook
Writers: Marshall Cook and Paul Alan Cope
Stars: Matt Cook, Diona Reasonover, Laird Macintosh, C.J. Vana, Will Sasso, Ellen Wong
By Morgan Roberts
If you are like me, film festivals are exciting opportunities to find new filmmakers, independent films, and new creatives in the film industry. But, festivals are a bit more complicated than a simple celebration of movies. “Film Fest” (2020) explores the complicated nature of festivals and the balance of optimism with cynicism.
Logan Clark (Matt Cook) is trying to get his first film, “Unknowns Unknowns,” off of the ground. He has submitted to every major film festival to not avail. Until, one day, his producer, Alex Davis (Diona Reasonover) succeeds in getting the film into a festival. It’s just one no one has ever heard of. With “Unknowns Unknowns” heading to the Hollywylde Film Festival, Logan and Alex plan to make the most of this less than stellar opportunity. Joining them are PA Kyle (C.J. Vana) and cinematographer Tomas Jonsson (Laird Macintosh). The gang attempts to turn around their skepticism, especially since festival organizer Montgomery Nash (Will Sasso) uses all of his charm to boost their egos. And while Logan struggles with the game of the festival, he is also struggling in his relationship with supportive girlfriend Amy (Ellen Wong).
“Film Fest” gives a bit of a bleak but important perspective of film festivals. When you read reviews about festivals, it feels like a glamorous glimpse at the wonders of filmmaking. Yet, behind the scenes, there is unnecessary competition which leads to desperation, scheming, and inevitable letdowns. I found it quite meta watching a film about festivals at a film festival when all festivals have been moved online due to a little global pandemic. Viewing it in this manner showed the sheer guts it takes to ever consider making a movie, let alone sharing it with the world.
Cook’s Logan is not necessarily a great guy. His hubris tends to get the best of him and there are moments when he can be pretty unlikeable. What the film does not do is condone or excuse his behavior. I think it was impressive to have a film where the pride and ego of a filmmaker is not excused but examined. His producer, Alex, is one who I found myself drawn to. Reasonover crafted this person who exudes hope despite the odds or the atmosphere. Alex is the optimist who believes in the magic of movies and is prepared to pay a hefty price to actualize someone else’s dream. We meet a host of other filmmakers, vying for opportunity and validation by any means necessary and the dynamics created were intriguing to watch.
“Film Fest” shines a light on what’s behind the curtain for film lovers and critics. Writer/director Marshall Cook and co-writer Paul Alan Cope do not sacrifice their film for relatability for mass consumption. They allow their film to be a niche comedic look at the absurdity festivals and fragility of people’s filmmaking dreams.