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ShoWest Diaries: Day One

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In which our intrepid reporter spends all day with Talking Heads stuck in her head (“and you may ask yourself… how did I get here?”) and a hapless cinema employee must abandon his post protecting the loose candy bins from ravening Hollywood executives in order to chase our intrepid reporter away from the Icee machine.

It is reasonable to ask how I convinced my (completely delightful) overlords to send me to ShoWest which is, according to itself, “the most prestigious and longest running convention and trade show for the cinema exhibition and distribution community.” As with most library stories, it starts with books or, more accurately, Book Expo America, the annual convention of our nation’s publishing companies designed to tempt booksellers, and librarians, into buying their wares by marching lots of famous authors into their midst and otherwise plying them with food and swag. Every year I watch as my book-buying colleagues head off to New York or L.A. for a week of bookish hedonism while I, the movie buyer and therefore not really “BookExpo” material, get to hold down the fort, crankily.

So last year I mentioned to our new (completely delightful) assistant director that since my colleagues get to go to BEA, I really ought to be allowed to go to a film industry conference, didn’t she think? And to my amazement, she DID. She told me to find one, and go. And that, Talking Heads, is how I got here, although I can’t say I know exactly what to do now that I’m here.

Monday I go to pick up my registration and try to get a handle on what my game plan is. ShoWest has a few distinct categories of activities, many of which are happening at more or less the same time, so I must decide. Am I here for the free movie screenings? Am I here for the trade show, wherein a convention hall full of vendors will not very successfully attempt to sell me new theater chairs? Am I here for what I like to call “Dining With The Stars,” wherein several thousand conferees pile into a swanky hotel dining hall to eat swanky hotel dining hall food while studios award famous people suspicious sounding awards, like “The ShoWest Visionary Award” (Robert Redford) or the "Coca-Cola Consumer Choice Favorite Movie of 2007 Award" (Bourne Ultimatum)? Am I here to attend educational sessions like “Getting the Most out of Your Theater Insurance Dollar” or “Is That a Credit Card Interchange Fee in Your Pocket or are You Just Happy To See Me?” (I did not make either of those titles up). Am I, in the words of the great philosopher Gretchen Wilson, here for the party, of which there are more than one?

I decide that I’m here for some combination of movie screenings, Dining With The Stars, and swag gathering. There will be parties of course, a totally unavoidable occupational hazard, but I will perhaps not include those in the official report to the Library, for its own sake.

Monday night is my first opportunity for movie screenings at the ShoWest Showcase of Independent Film. I arrive at the appointed location (the back entrance of Bally’s) to catch the shuttle bus to the movie theater reserved for the event. I’m wearing my conference badge and press pass (thanks, Blogcritics!), but I’m still nervously awaiting someone shouting YOU! You’re not One Of Us (whomever that might be)! YOU are clearly a LIBRARIAN! To the cataloging dungeon!

I scurry onto the bus and grab a seat as incognito-ly as possible. Shortly thereafter the adjoining seat is occupied by a woman on her cell phone trying to track down a package. I figure out from the conversation that she is a UPS rep who works exclusively for Fox and somewhere, out there, are some missing Eddie Murphy standees. This leads to my first awesome random thing overheard at the ShoWest.

Random Thing Heard at ShoWest: “I mean, have you seen the standees? Fourteen foot high picture of nothing but Eddie Murphy’s face. Who wants to see that? It’s a total disaster, but what can you do? I mean, I’m a huge Eddie Murphy fan and I don’t want to see a fourteen foot high picture of Eddie Murphy’s face.”

So we arrive at the theater which has been reserved for ourselves. There are two showings, at 6 and 9, and seven movies to choose from. My choices are Mongol, the Academy Award nominee; Helen Hunt’s directorial debut Then She Found Me; David Mamet’s Redbelt; The Lucky Ones; Towelhead; Young @ Heart and Son of Rambow. First out, I choose Mongol. Since it has already been nominated for an Academy Award, I figure it’s probably going places.

Directed by Sergei Bodrov, Mongol tells the story of the boy Temudjin and his transformation into the warrior known as Genghis Kahn. It’s an historical epic with amazing battle scenes, but it doesn’t skimp on the emotional back story. At heart, Mongol is a love story between Temudjin and his child bride Borte, about Temudjin’s battle to save her and Borte’s equal battle to save him, even if it means subjugating herself to other men. In fact one of the running themes of the story is how, whenever the two are reunited, Temudjin cheerfully announces his new son or daughter, even if it’s been years since the couple have been together. It’s actually quite charming and beautiful, giving it a heart that many historical war epics just don’t have. But don’t let me mislead you. There’s battle aplenty, great spectacles of battle in fact. Along with the love story, there’s also the painful emotional story of Temudjin and his adopted brother who, despite their affection for each other, ultimately must fight a war to decide who will be the leader of Mongolia. The final battle between them is as jaw dropping as anything in Lord of the Rings.

As I watched Mongol I was amazed to find myself reminded of The Story of the Weeping Camel, a film set in present day Mongolia. Although the films are set over a thousand years apart, the lives of nomadic Mongolians seems practically unchanged. I found it to be somewhat chastening, in my concerns over the lack of a new laptop or whether I brought the right shoes to Vegas, that somewhere on earth there are people who figured out a life that works for them over a thousand years ago, and it’s still working.

After the first movie I emerged to find the lobby transformed into a schmoozefest buffet. Along with the tables of turkey sandwiches, stir fry, burritos, and sushi (“Beware the all you can eat sushi” is a motto to which I firmly hold), movie theater employees were busily handing out bags of popcorn and cups for the soda machines. It was here that I encountered the poor hapless theater attendant, clearly already stretched to the limit trying to explain that the loose candy bins were locked and he simply couldn’t open them (as if they would entrust him with something so valuable as the loose candy bin key!), who sadly, even desperately informed me that the all you could drink soda didn’t include access to the Icee machine. To the employees of the Orleans Hotel Cinemark 18 all I can say is I hope ya’ll got paid overtime, cuz you earned it.

The next movie I picked to see was Then She Found Me. Since Helen Hunt would be receiving a Dining With The Stars award the next day (for Breakthrough Director of the Year), I felt it was important that I watch the film for which she would be so honored. Oh, who am I kidding? The movie has Colin Firth in it, for chrissake. I went to see Colin Firth. I love him and he has only himself to blame.

Random Thing Heard At ShoWest: (In the theater before Then She Found Me) So which film did you guys see… Mongol? Oh that’s the Japanese one… Chinese… right… Asian…lots of Asians in it…so it was all dubbed right? I don't need to go see a movie about Genghis Kahn, right? Cuz you know I married Genghis Kahn… right? Married Genghis Kahn… ha ha ha! (The speaker was male, in case you didn’t get the joke, right? His WIFE is GENGHIS KAHN. Get it?)

Then She Found Me is an interesting picture. Helen Hunt plays a woman whose husband leaves her and whose adoptive mother dies within days of each other. While still reeling, she is contacted by a woman claiming to be her birth mother, played with reckless joie de vivre by Bette Midler, and also begins a tentative, ill advised, but passionate affair with the very damaged single dad of one of her students.

It’s the sort of movie that I want to spill out the plot, although, in reality, the movie is about people, damaged people, doing the sort of ill advised but human things that people do. There are elements about it that seem kind of obvious (Hunt plays a woman in her late 30s obsessed with having a baby? How totally unusual!) but these things are not dealt with in obvious ways. As a woman in my late 30s who, it must be said, is not obsessed with having a baby although I wouldn’t turn one away if it arrived at my door, I liked the acknowledgment of the fact that things like dating just get harder and harder as time goes by. Not because you’re old, but because you’ve got this life of baggage that just comes with. Single people in their 30s and 40s come equipped with scars. Weird, messed up, crazy scars, which only get worse when you try to hide them.

It’s a nice movie. A small movie, but very well done. And I gotta say to Helen Hunt, if producing, writing, directing, and starring in your own movie means that you get to make out with Colin Firth, I am totally examining a new career path. Amen, sister!

After my elegant bus ride back to Bally's, I stumbled back to my ultra deluxe accommodations at the Travelodge (conveniently located between the Henna tattoo parlor and the 7-11) where I tried to prep for day two.

Tune in tomorrow for more ShoWest Diaries including Sightings of the Beautiful and Famous!

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