Former MTV News segment producer Adam Hootnick's documentary, "Unsettled," was recently in competition at the Slamdance Film Festival. The film tells the story of three young Israelis who were forced to leave their homes as Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Hootnick filed the following diary for MTV while at the festival, as he anxiously awaited the reaction to his film.
Day 1: Wednesday, January 17, 2007
It's 4:30 a.m. I haven't taken a day off since Thanksgiving, and I haven't slept more than three hours per night in the last two weeks. I have just finished the final cut of "Unsettled," and I have a few hours before flying to Salt Lake City (en route to the festival in Park City) with my friend and producer Tony.
We land and stop for Mexican food on the way to Park City. I start handing out postcards publicizing the festival screenings at the restaurant. I think I may really start to annoy myself.
Day 2: Thursday, January 18
Today is the first visit to the Slamdance HQ and Main Street. At the intro session where all the filmmakers introduce themselves, I go last. I tell everyone that my film is sort of like MTV's "The Real World" set in the Gaza Strip, which gets a laugh, and that I just finished the film on Tuesday, which gets applause. I think I'm going to like these guys.
Matisyahu, whose music is in the film's soundtrack, is playing a show tonight on Main Street. Tony goes to the concert and I go to the first Slamdance party. I'm already exhausted from running around — and the festival hasn't even started yet. The party is fun but I keep wondering how long I should stay, as opposed to going to the Matis show to hand out postcards in the crowd and promote the film. And, more importantly, will I ever be able to just stop and enjoy these moments instead of worrying about filling seats at my screenings?
I head over to hear the last few songs of the Matis set. It's a great show, but as soon as the encore ends it's back to business. We work both sides of the sweaty club, and I keep handing cards to drunk concertgoers, trying to explain that Matisyahu is on the soundtrack. I appreciate the people who wait until I move on before they toss the card on the floor. ...
After the show Ben, Matis' road manager, brings me backstage. Matis is hanging out with his entire extended family. He tells them I'm the "Unsettled" guy and they all give me hugs. This is cool.
Day 4: Saturday, January 20
Three of the Israelis from the film are in Park City with us now. I explain the whole purpose of promoting the film, and why festival week in Park City is so important. I show Ye'ela, Tamar and Meir the stickers I've made with pictures of their faces, and they're a little freaked out when I explain that the idea is for them to hand out stickers of themselves to strangers and explain that they're in a movie premiering this week.
We head to Main Street to start talking up the film and putting up posters. A few people ask me about the film, and when I tell them I'm the director they ask for my autograph. This is funny. I hope they'll buy a ticket.
Day 6: Monday January 22 — Premiere Day
I wake up and go to do a live interview with Park City TV, catch "Off the Grid" at Slamdance, then go back to the house to try to relax.
At around 5:30 p.m., we pile into the car. Nobody seems too nervous — except for me.
I thank all the friends and family lining up outside. I feel like I'm watching all this happen from outside myself. If it's possible to relax and enjoy a moment like this, I don't know how to do it.
The film starts, and for the first six minutes everything looks great. Then the picture goes black. This is not supposed to happen. I think I expected something like this; it's so "indie." The audience is totally silent. Apparently the bulb has overheated, and the projectionist is manually holding a fan up next to the projector. Totally indie!
After this five-minute intermission, the rest of the screening goes well, and people applaud at the end. Of course, all I can think about is that no press or film industry people showed up. We have a post-premiere party back at the house, and I pass out on a couch. In a close vote, my friends decide not to write "BALLS" on my forehead.
Day 9: Thursday, January 25 — Second Screening Day
I wake up with a fever of 103.5 degrees. We decide to go to the doctor's office. He prescribes cough syrup.
I'm more stressed about whether or not we'll fill the seats for the screening. It's late in the week, a lot of people have left town (including most of my friends and family), and we're screening in a bigger room than we did on Monday.
I wake up around 3:30 p.m., call the box office and there are only 10 tickets left, which means we're pretty certain to sell out. Now I'm just worried about whether we'll get any press.
The screening is incredible. The audience is better than any group I've ever shown the film to. They laugh in all the right places, and they seem focused and moved by the film. I am very tired but proud — these are the kind of moments that I envisioned when I first set out to make the movie.
Day 10: Friday January 26 — Awards Night
By evening I'm nervous again. I'm trying to manage my expectations, and not think about what it would mean to win a Grand Jury Award or an Audience Award. I've been in situations like this before and lost the job, or the part, or the girl, and it's better to expect to lose. Let's get this over with ...
It's a low-key affair, and when they finally announce the documentaries, I win the Jury prize for best doc. I feel kind of outside myself again, and I go up to the podium and try to be coherent. I thank Slamdance and the other filmmakers, and say something about how great it feels, after going through the often-lonely process of finishing an independent film, to not feel alone. I get a "Sparky" statue of the Slamdance mascot, and a new Sony HD video camera. This feels great!
In the hallway, I get a lot of congratulations and I call my parents to give them the good news. I send a text message to a few friends, and the phone starts ringing. I'm overwhelmed — and I have a new HD video camera. Guess I'll have to make another movie ...
For more information on Adam Hootnick's Slamdance-winning documentary "Unsettled," check out UnsettledMovie.com.
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