After feeling like only a couple of months had passed since the first IFLM festival, and feeling like this year’s festival passed faster than you can snap your fingers, it’s finally…and sadly, all over.
Some people know this, and many don’t, but I’ve been involved with the It Came From Lake Michigan film festival since it started back in 2006. I do the official website for the festival and I’ve been a special guest at each of them. This year was different than last year however, because this year I took more of an active role and actually taught two classes at the festival based on a couple of past articles I’ve written for Rogue Cinema.
What follows is a day by day recollection of my experiences at the festival. You’ll have to forgive my failing memory however as I am getting old and I can’t seem to recall details as well as I used to.
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We only have one vehicle so I had to keep the car that day so I could pick my wife up from work later and drive to the airport from her work. This was because I had to go to Wal Mart so I could pick up a few last minute items and get a haircut so I didn’t look like a yeti. So I take care of all that and head over to her work and I not only get stuck forever in traffic in front of a stupid high school that had just let out for the day, but also in a traffic backup near the high school where one stupid teenage girl rear ended another teenage girl who I can’t call stupid because she was probably at least paying attention and not actively trying to stop me from getting to the damn airport.
So finally I get to the airport and I didn’t really have time to say a nice good bye to my wife as I had to get straight through ticketing and go directly to my plane. The line at the security check at the airport was long for some reason. In fact, it was the longest I’d ever seen it. Fortunately, our airport security has some common sense and was just running people through the x-ray stuff and not hassling anyone or digging through bags, so I got through it pretty quickly.
I flew on Frontier Airlines to and from the festival. The plane between Boise and Denver is an air bus and then there was a bigger, nicer plane between Denver and Milwaukee. The air bus had the most comfortable seats I’d ever sat in on one of those types of planes, but my god it was loud. I was sitting on the very last row in the ass end of the plane and the engine was right behind us and the noise coming into the cabin was nothing short of obnoxious. Fortunately, it was only like an hour and a half flight, so I didn’t have to suffer with it for too long. The flight from Denver to Milwaukee was on a plane that had LCD TV’s on the back of each seat. You could slide your credit card in a slot and watch 24 channels of DirectTV or pay per view movies during the flight. The TV was five bucks, so I figured what the hell and actually shelled out five bucks to keep myself occupied. I ended up watching some thing on Animal Planet about ants, and something on the food network as well, but I can’t remember what that was. Anyway, the flight was uneventful except for the idiot sitting behind me. He was sick and kept having this croup cough all during the flight. I just knew the bastard was going to make everyone on the plane sick, but fortunately, at least so far, I haven’t caught anything. Then at some point he was watching a sports game that was on and when it was over he actually clapped really loud a few times and said in a loud voice, "Yes!" Needless to say I wanted to climb over the back of my seat and kick his ass, but I had better things to do than to be shot by an air marshall. Oh, and I actually had the whole row to myself, so I was able to lift the arm rests and stretch out on the seats. How cool is that?
So I get to Milwaukee, and after making my way through the airport, I get to the waiting area where I was picked up by Bill Zenobia and Mike Conway. Mike tried to slip past me unnoticed so he could surprise me, but I spotted him instantly. We greeted each other and then headed out to the parking lot and piled into Bill’s car. I was reminded of what a scary driver Bill is as we headed to the hotel. I think it’s probably more scary to me than it actually is because I’m not used to being a passenger. But still…
We get to the hotel. Mike needed some stuff from the drug store, but between me and the complimentary stuff at the hotel managed to get enough to make it through. He left some of his toiletries behind because he didn’t want to get hassled by airport security, which is totally understandable. Anyway, we’re in the lobby checking in, and they have some refridgerated things down there with various cold drinks and other things for sale. Mike actually spent $1.50 for a little thing of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream that wasn’t even enough to make a half a burp. I always wondered why it’s so impossible for hotels and airports and such to not take advantage of people while they’re traveling. Anything you ever get at an airport or a hotel is always way overpriced. It’s really not cool, but at least the hotel gives you a free, all you can eat breakfast every morning, so I guess they have to pay for that somehow.
I finally get all checked in and at this point it’s like…jeez, I think it’s like 12:45am or so. I go up to my room, get in bed and watch some television for a while until I can wind down enough to go to sleep. I finally got to sleep around 2:30am or so, and at 3am there’s this loud pounding on the door. The first one woke me up, but I was exhausted and I figured screw it, it’s probably just someone who has the wrong room or someone who came in drunk or something. If I ignore them they’ll go away. Then there was a second loud knocking on the door. I ignored that as well. Then a third. Finally I got pissed off and I got up, put my pants on and went to the door. There was no one there. Needless to say I was really pissed at that point. So I go back to bed, and just as I’m about to get in bed, the phone rings. I answer it and the front desk lady says, "Did you order a pizza?" I said no, and I probably should have bitched her out for calling me at 3am, but at that point I just wanted to get some sleep so I let it go.
Then the morning comes. It’s 7:45am. I’m awake and watching TV, but I haven’t showered yet or anything. There’s a knock at the door. It’s one of the chicks from housekeeping. She wants to clean the god damn room at 7:45 in the god damn morning! I hadn’t even showered yet or anything! So I ask her if she can come back later, and she doesn’t understand a god damn thing I’m saying to her because she doesn’t speak any English. So I was like, fine whatever, go ahead and clean the room. So she comes in and cleans, and after she’s done I go take my shower and what not. I mention that because I was using the shampoo the hotel provided, and if Mike and I hadn’t raided some shampoo off a house keeping cart later on, I wouldn’t have had any for the next day because she cleaned my room before I even had a chance to use the first one.
Anyway, so I tell Mike I’ll meet him at 8:45am for breakfast. He’s one of these people who likes to sleep in, so it’s like pulling teeth to get him anywhere early. He actually did come out on time though and we went down for breakfast, which was great. They put out a really nice spread at that hotel.
After we had been sitting there for a bit, Heather Lei Guzzetta, who was in Mike’s last film and stars in his latest one, came down and joined us. She looked like she hadn’t gotten much sleep either. Mike introduced us and we went on with breakfast. Heather turned out to be really nice and the three of us spent a lot of time together during the course of the festival.
It was around this time that Nic Brown showed up. Nic has his own review website and also writes for Rogue Cinema. This was the first time I’d met him in person. Somehow, since he drove to the festival and had a car, he got roped into being a volunteer driver to take us from the hotel to the festival. Now, he’s a super nice guy and just a wonderful person, but his car…it’s small. It’s like a Toyota Celica or something and the back seat is mostly for show because of the way the ass end of the roof slopes down into the trunk. Now, I’m over 6’1", Mike is a bit shorter than me, but not by that much, and Heather says she’s 6’1" but either I’ve shrunk or she’s taller than she thinks she is because even in flats she’s a hair taller than me. In high heels she’s like 6’3" or better. So you can imagine what it was like trying to fit me and mike in the back seat and her in the front seat. It felt like as soon as the door opened we were all gonna come piling out like a bunch of midgets dumping out of a clown car in the circus. Not to say Nic’s car is bad or anything because it’s not. It’s a nice car. It just wasn’t designed to pack around three extra people our size.
So after making a few stops for Mike so he could pick up some cables and what not, we arrive at the festival. When we walked in, we saw that another event was going on in the front, entrance area. It was a gathering of Dungeons & Dragons players. They had this big gathering to all play D&D together all weekend. Now, when I say all weekend, I mean ALL weekend. I think there were some of them that actually didn’t remove their asses from their chairs for the full 72 hours. I’m probably exaggerating, but you get the idea.
As soon as I saw festival director and friend, Wayne Clingman, I was like, "Aww crap, here we go again." See, I feel sorry for Wayne. He busts his ass to put together a great festival, and then he never gets to enjoy it because he’s constantly running around stressed out, dealing with issues and trying to make sure that everything goes as smoothly as possible. On top of that, this year he was miserable and in a lot of pain because of a broken tooth. So he was having an especially hard time. Anyway, we greeted him and then wandered around for a while meeting people and checking things out.
Once we checked out the main room, we wanted to catch a film, so we headed back to where the film rooms were. What I saw there had me in shock…and it takes a LOT to shock me. The area in front of the film rooms…was a clown museum. There was old clown stuff everywhere! I was literally like, "Holy crap!" It was very bizarre, but at least it was interesting, and gave me something to talk about to make this article even longer.
So anyway, we went in to see a film called Brain Dead. It was a fun zombie type film. Mike kept nodding off through most of it because he was really tired. I have to admit too that, not at this one, but at some of the other stuff at the festival, I was nodding off now and then too because I hadn’t gotten much sleep. Either that or I’m getting old…or both.
The rest of the day was spent talking to people, hanging out and catching a movie here and there. At some point during the day we met up with fellow Rogue Cinema writer, Brian Morton. He was at last years festival too. Brian came to last year’s festival as well and it’s always great to meet up with him. I just hope he knows how much all his hard work is appreciated here at Rogue Cinema. I hope Nic Brown knows as well, because he’s been doing an awesome job too.
At 6pm I had to teach a class based on my article, "Advice to Film Makers From a Reviewer." I wasn’t really sure how many people would show up for it, but was pleasantly surprised to find that during the course of the class, around ten or so people attended. The class went incredibly well and the people who attended were really into it. So much so, that when we got kicked out of the room so the 7pm class could come in, the people in my class actually wanted to continue it outside, which we did. We probably spent another twenty minutes to a half hour outside with them asking questions and all of us discussing various things about film stuff and my role as a reviewer and film journalist. They were a wonderful group of people and I had a great time doing the class and talking with them all. Unfortunately, I only found out after the fact that Heather and another film director tried to attend my class but were turned away because they didn’t have their festival passes on them. Heather was a guest and the director had a film in the festival. I just wish I had known at the time so I could have dealt with it and gotten them in there.
That night we watched a premiere called Witches Night. The film was well made, though I didn’t care much for the film itself. Mike liked it a lot more than I did. We kept hitting the food table though because it was late and we hadn’t had dinner and were feeling rather peckish.
The gala party took place later on. It started around 11pm. It was generally a fun time, but the music from the live band was WAY beyond too loud for the room and people couldn’t hear each other talking hardly. There was some food and a bar and a performance by the Living Dead Girlz. There were three of them, but only two of them stuck around for the rest of the festival and worked a table in the main room where they were selling their stuff. They all seemed really nice and were happy to take pictures with people and what not.
After the party, Nic took us back to the hotel and we all crashed. Day one was sadly and far too quickly over.
On day two I thought I was being clever. I got up at 6:30am so I could beat the housekeepers and get my shower and stuff before they got there. So I get up, get showered, and then sat around watching TV, totally bored until it was time to go downstairs to meet Mike and Heather for breakfast. Housekeeping never came. In fact, when I went down for breakfast, they were just getting the carts out to start cleaning the rooms. Needless to say I was pissed. So I go down and we have breakfast, which again is awesome, and then Nic comes over and gives us a ride to the festival.
We get over to the festival around 9:20 or so. We go in and head up to the premiere of Uwe Boll’s new movie, Postal. Now let me tell you about Postal. It’s freakin’ hilarious! Lots of big name people in it too. Dave Foley of Kids in the Hall fame was just awesome in it. It also had Larry Thomas, The Soup Nazi from Seinfeld as Osama Bin Laden. Larry Thomas was a guest at the festival as well and he seemed like a super nice guy.
The film ended at 11am, which was just the time I had to walk across the clown area to the classroom so I could teach my second class, which was also based on a past article I had written about how to get involved in film journalism. I didn’t really expect anyone to show up for the class, but I ended up having about seven or eight people in there, so it turned out ok. Brian Morton and Nic Brown attended as well and after my presentation, the three of us did a Q&A about film journalism and our feelings and attitudes toward our roles in it. It all went great and I think those who attended enjoyed themselves quite a bit.
After that class, I came out and found out that Uwe Boll actually stuck around longer than expected and showed his other film, Seed, that had originally been scheduled but was then cancelled at the last minute. He showed it after the Q&A he did after Postal, so I e
ded up missing that one. Mike saw it and he said it was extremely disturbing, and not in a good way. He seemed particularly fascinated by the method of one of the murders in the movie and how it was all shot in one continuous take. I’m not into serial killer flicks usually, so I’m not sure how upset to be that I missed it. I’m just glad I didn’t miss postal because it was just awesome.
The afternoon was spent wandering around, talking to people and catching a film here and there. At 3pm I attended Mike’s class on how to do great looking special effects on the cheap. It was the same class he did last year with some new additions as he showed some clips from his new film that he’s currently working on. Mike is a great speaker and is a natural at teaching these kinds of classes. His class was well attended, though I can’t recall exactly how many people showed up. They all seemed to really enjoy it. I felt bad because I was actually nodding off during the class, so while mike was showing an eight minute short film he did, I went and got us each a cold, flavored coffee out of the vending machine. I had to do something because for some reason I just couldn’t stay awake. The coffee did the trick and I was ok again until later on. Mike and I lived on those coffees all weekend.
I can’t remember what time it was exactly, but in the late afternoon or early evening, Mike and Heather and I decided to go get something to eat. The food in the cafeteria at the event center was ok, but we wanted to actually go somewhere so we could sit and relax while we ate. We asked for directions to a few places, and I asked Wayne about getting a volunteer to give us a ride. He said no one was available, so we set out on a six block trek to the nearest restaraunt. The place was called Custards. It was a fast food and ice cream kind of a place. The food was good and we actually got to sit and relax for a while away from all the noise and bustle of the festival. The walk down there was exhausting and the walk back was especially so because we were full of food. Still, it was worth it.
Saturday night brought the premiere of Backwoods Bloodbath. The theater room for that premiere was just absolutely packed. It was literally standing room only. Mike wanted to stay and watch it, but Heather and I decided we’d rather hit some films that were less crowded, so we went upstairs to the Poe room and caught a block of three short films. The first film was pretty good and somewhat amusing, the second film was just ok, and the third film was Attack of the Baby Doll by two absolutely wonderful people, Rob Robinson and Debora Roventini, who attended both of the classes I taught and made great contributions to the discussions. Unfortunately all the DVDs they had with them had an error, causing the film to play half way through and then jump back to the main menu. I felt absolutely horrible for them, but they proceeded to do something extremely classy. After trying a few discs and having none of them work, they told everyone in the room that if they wanted to see the rest of the film, they could give them their address and they’d mail out a good copy, so that everyone who wanted to finish watching it could. I thought that was really awesome of them to do that. I can’t say I’m surprised though. They’re just a couple of really great people.
So we finished up in there and then had to go back to the hotel. Brian Morton was the only one who could give us a ride back to the hotel, and he was going back at 9:30. Mike stuck around to watch a movie he wanted to check out, so I’m not sure how he got back to the hotel that night, but Heather and I went back to the hotel and then went over to this sports bar that was connected to the hotel. We each had a couple of margaritas and some strawberry shortcake and talked until they closed the place. While we were there, one of Mark Borchardt’s entourage who was rather good at doing zombie caricatures of people showed up with a few other people from that group. He had promised Heather he’d do one of her, but it turned out they weren’t going to be there on Sunday, so he sat down in the booth with us and did a quick and dirty one with three crayons and a piece of paper. It actually came out pretty cool looking. Anyway, after the bar closed, we went back to the hotel and I stood outside of Heather’s room talking to her for quite a while. Mike was two rooms down from her and came out to get some ice. He went and got some and then we all went into Heather’s room and hung out. Mike left after a relatively short time and Heather and I talked until about 4am, at which point I went back to my room to go to sleep. Heather never got to sleep until 4:30 or so because she had to take off her make-up and what not. I felt bad for her when I saw her the next day. She looked exhausted. Truth be told, I was too, but it was worth it because I was having a great time.
Day three, Sunday, was a sad day for me. It was shocking to me how fast the whole weekend went. It was gone in the blink of an eye. The day started off with breakfast as usual. We thought we were going to have to take a shuttle over to the event center, but Nic showed up and gave us a ride instead. I ended up eating breakfast alone on this day because we were up so late the night before, both Heather and Mike were still in their rooms getting ready and what not. I did have to go up and tell them about the shuttle before Nic got there though, so eventually they came down and I hung out with Heather, Nic and a girl from the Troma table for a bit. After breakfast, I went back to my room, grabbed my stuff, checked out and checked my bag at the front desk to have it sent over on the shuttle that was coming at 5pm to take us to the airport. I just KNEW they were going to blow it when it came time to send the shuttle and we’d have to go back for my bag. Imagine my surprise when the shuttle showed up and had all of our bags in it. I guess there are actually some competent people in the world after all.
After arriving at the event on Sunday, Heather set up at her table in the main room and I basically wandered around talking to people and taking pictures most of the time. It was basically a wind down. Many of the guests had gone or were preparing to leave, while others were hanging out and still selling stuff throughout the day. I actually ended up talking to Peter John Ross for the first time in person on this day. I had seen him around, but I didn’t even recognize him. Mike finally introduced me to him. Peter made a film called Horrors of War, which was really an amazing film on a lot of levels. He’s a super nice guy and it was really great to finally get to talk with him in person.
Around 2pm Heather and I headed down to the basement where the gala party was held and sat in on a puppet show based on The Night of the Living Dead. It was actually quite cleverly done and rather enjoyable. I’m glad we got a chance to see it.
Sadly, the day passed quickly because of the shuttle taking us to the airport at 5pm. I said my goodbyes and boarded the shuttle with Mike, Heather, Mars and some guy who was sitting with Mars at his table at the festival, but I’m not really sure who he was.
The ride was uneventful and we got to the airport rather quickly. Once inside, we got our boarding passes and headed on through security. I got through just fine. Mike got through just fine. Heather however got jacked by the overly zealous security folk over her lipstick and other cosmetics. They actually took her back around to the other side of the security gate and made her get a zip lock bag to put her stuff in before they’d let her through. Another example of a complete lack of common sense in airport security procedures. That delayed us considerably, but we were able to make it through and decided to go get something to eat.
So we’re walking through to our gate, and there’s not a great selection of restaraunts there. Mike got jacked by some psycho Jesus lady handing out religious crap, and actually stood there talking to her for a while. He managed to get a word in edgewise and found out where the food places were. Unfortunately we basically had a choice between an overpriced Burger King and an overpriced Pizza Hut Express. I went the Burger King route. So we had our food and went to board our flight. I had to stop on the way and grab some Blistex because my lips were incredibly chapped for some reason.
They moved our seats on the flight so that we were all sitting together. Heather and I talked through most of it and Mike did a lot of sleeping. We arrived in Denver a bit early and headed off to our next gates. I only had a forty minute layover so I didn’t have a lot of time. Heather gave me an autographed copy of another film she had done before she was in Mike’s films, and then we said our goodbyes and I went off to my next flight. It was late by this time and my flight had already boarded. I had to go to the bathroom really bad, so after debating whether or not I should go or just hold it, I decided on going, because frankly I don’t fit in that broom closet they call a bathroom on those air busses. So I go ahead and go, and I almost missed my flight. Fortunately, the bathroom was right next to my gate, so I managed to run out after I got paged and I was the last one to board the plane, which was rather embarrassing. I found my seat and off we went. The weekend was over, and I was really sad about that, but I did leave with some great memories…and a festival t-shirt.
The flight home was uneventful and my wife Sharon met me at the airport. We came home and I showed her the pictures I took, the stuff I picked up and told her all about everything that happened.
And that my friends, concludes my accounting of my experiences at It Came From Lake Michigan 2007. I had a wonderful time and I know almost everyone else who attended did as well. I’d like to thank Wayne Clingman and William Zenobia for all their hard work in putting it all together. They did a wonderful job, and many of the problems that had plagued last year’s festival were non-existent in this year’s. Not that this one didn’t have some problems as well, but mostly they were minor, and part of a natural evolution of the learning process.
So that’s it. I know it was a tedious article, but I have a horrible memory, and if I don’t detail out everything that went on while it’s still fresh in my mind, I’d just end up forgetting much of the detail within a relatively short period of time. So it’s basically as much as much a remembrance piece for me as it is an article for you. If you’ve made it this far, congratulations. Hopefully you’ve gotten a sense of what a great time we all had at the festival.
I don’t know if there’ll be another ICFLM festival again next year. I hope there is, but only time will tell. In any case, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been involved with it for the past two years, made some great friends, and had two full weekends of the best time of my life.