Date: May 07 2012
ecently, I had perhaps my most embarrassing moment as a journalist. The Tribeca Film Festival in New York was premiering a film called The Fourth Dimension, made by three different writer-directors: a Pole, a Russian and an American. Yes, I'm sure that would be the beginnings of a terrific joke, but it's actually three short films from three nations, all on roughly the same theme.
I was invited to participate in a press roundtable interview with the filmmakers. Naturally, I jumped at the chance, because I wanted these filmmakers to explain themselves. Other journalists came because they appreciated the film as a significant piece of art, even if it didn't make any sense. A few others came because Val Kilmer was there.
Now, for those who still haven't memorised my rundown of last year's Tribeca Film Festival, I should explain that a roundtable interview is one in which a bunch of journalists sit around a table (usually rectangular, of course) and jostle to ask questions of the filmmakers seated at the head of the table (unless it's round, but that never happens).
Frankly, I'm no fan of roundtables. Neither are most other journalists. But as there are only so many hours in the day, and dozens of reporters at a film festival, we often have no choice.
The previous day, I had covered a romantic comedy called The Giant Mechanical Man, seated near the back of the table and trying to call out questions.
This could be frustrating, especially with the reporter who would spend her question time congratulating whoever happened to be sitting there for doing such a terrific job, telling them in details why they were so wonderful. If we were lucky, there would be a question at the end of this hagiography. I would usually be left awestruck that someone was so willing to waste time that I could have spent asking REAL questions, like "What do you think of stalkers who sneak in disguised as journalists just so they can talk to you?"
Even worse was a pushy woman, notorious among the other reporters, who specialises in two-part questions for actors, which every actor present is supposed to answer. The strange thing is that the two parts usually have no connection with each other. "Firstly, a two-part question for both Malin and Chris, oh, and Topher, OK, all three of you. Firstly, what is your favourite colour? And secondly, with that in mind, what's it like working with Scorsese or, if you haven't worked with him, another director?" It usually takes about 10 minutes for everyone to answer.
From the back of the table, it's very difficult to compete with this. So the next day, I made sure that I was at the front, so that when Val Kilmer came in, his legs often collided with mine, making me the envy of several fortysomething women who can't remember anything he did after Top Gun. Kilmer came across as a nice guy, and I was able to ask him a few questions. Happily, he'd already left by the time I had my embarrassing moment.
After Kilmer's interview, the Polish and Russian directors entered. The Polish guy spoke flawless English, but the Russian guy had a translator. The pushy lady also slipped out, as she only talks to actors, presumably unaware that writer-directors are also involved in making a film.
Still, she missed an opportunity. In between the directors, with no warning, was a beautiful actress, introduced as one of the stars. Her name went straight over my head. However, though she was looking like a glamorous movie star rather than the woman she played on-screen, I vaguely recognised her as one of the characters in the Polish section of the film.
The questions flowed thick and fast (mostly variations of one question: "What the heck was going on in this film?"). But while the directors (and the translator) were kept busy answering, the actress between them was looking neglected, mainly as none of us had prepared any questions for her, and I imagine that (like me) nobody could remember her name.
Eventually I decided to bring her into the conversation. "Jan," I said to the Polish director (because, naturally, we're on first-name terms), "I'd like to ask a question of your leading lady. I won't attempt to pronounce her name." I turned to the actress, who had entered a state of deep boredom by now. "What was it like working with –"
Jan and the translator both interrupted: "No, no, she was in Aleksei's film."
I suddenly realised the truth. She was the dancer in the Russian bit, not the rebel in the Polish bit. Strangely enough, she didn't look like either of them.
I apologised profusely, feeling quite silly as the non-Polish, Russian actress (whose name, for the record, is Darya Ekamasova) answered my question. I was just relieved that she couldn't understand me, so the only people who realise what an idiot I made of myself are one Polish director, one Russian translator and about eight journalists.
Oh, and everyone reading. I really didn't think this through.
¦ Email firstname.lastname@example.org or ?Twitter @markjuddery
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