Volunteering at the Sydney Film Festival

Megan Mulcahy discusses her experiences in volunteering at the Sydney Film Festival.

Betty Blog

Volunteering at the Sydney Film Festival

The red carpet, documentaries and porn stars – it’s all in a day’s work

-Megan Mulcahy

a movie cameraHoly volunteering, Batman! What I thought was going to be a few hours scanning tickets and ushering guests has turned into a full-time job for two weeks straight. In fact, I’m writing this on the bus as I make my way back to the office after running home for a quick lunch and to grab my MacBook for more effective multitasking.

I think the surprise of what I was walking into was most neatly summed up after the first week of work. I was meeting my friend Steve and some of his friends for dinner. Although tired enough to go straight to sleep, I was keen to relax over a good meal and a glass of wine. When I arrived, one of his friends was talking about his recent travels through Europe. Then he said, “Man, it’s been hard going back to work after six weeks off.”

I chuckled. “Try being off for four months and then going into 12-hour days for 14 days in a row. For free.” I think I had him beat.

But I’m not complaining (much). I’m happy I got involved and there have already been many great things to come out of the experience. But as I’m still in the thick of things, gearing up for closing weekend – that is to say, still busy and exhausted – I thought I’d focus on the simplest pleasure of the festival: good, free movies!

There are two common threads among my favorites: they’re documentaries (well, two really are, but the third has some docu style), and they all take place in New York. When I lived in Hawaii, I relished the Sunday New York Times every week; it was the closest I could come to the culture and energy of New York. Now, while working at a Sydney institution, I seem to be using the escapism of film to get back home again. Go figure.

The September Issue

Waiting for the doors to open for this sneak peek behind the scenes at Vogue magazine, the line of Sydney’s well-heeled, pretty people snaked around the corner. The red carpet was rolled out for the especially beautiful. I only recognized TV host Ruby Rose from a recent cover of Time Out magazine. She was escorted by a male model-looking guy, pursing his lips for the photogs, a cross between Blue Steel and the Olsen smirk. As I watched them vamp, I had only two things on my mind: first, how it’s definitely a rule that if I can’t fit into a guy’s jeans we could never date; and two, how I was much more excited to enjoy the beer I was smuggling into the theatre than watching these people work the camera. I flashed my handy staff badge and settled in.

Anna Wintour is, of course, the fascinating, intimidating “Ice Queen” of Vogue; the magazine is all hers. But the show was stolen by creative director Grace Coddington, who, after a successful modeling career and years at British Vogue, began at American Vogue on the same day as Wintour. The documentary shows the complex relationship between these two powerhouse women. After 20 years of working together, there’s a mutual respect and understanding of how to deal with each other, though there is obvious tension and differences in opinion. While the film successfully played the two off each other, I would have liked to see more scenes of them together. Although, looking back, the one or two in which this was the case, it was mostly filled with awkward silence. Which drew chuckles from the audience, but I suppose would get tiresome after seeing it once or twice.

My favorite interview was with Wintour’s daughter. Despite saying her mother would like her to be an editor, she calls the fashion business “amusing” and says she most likely will not follow in her mother’s stilettos; she’s planning to enroll in law school. All in all, an interesting look at “the most powerful woman in fashion” and the high-stress world she creates in the hallowed halls of Vogue magazine.

Every Little Step

Set just across Times Square yet a world away from the Conde Nast Building, Every Little Step follows hopefuls on their quest to land a spot on stage in the revival of A Chorus Line. Mixing in the history of how the show came to be from creator Michael Bennett, and with the show’s classic tunes making up most of the soundtrack, it was fun watching these singers and dancers chase their Broadway dreams. The only time I’ve seen A Chorus Line was my friend’s girlfriend’s high school production, 10 or so years ago. Now I’m sorry I missed the revival in the Big Apple!

The cameras were behind closed doors from the first open casting call to when the make-or-break phone calls were received. While the pressure and cut-throat atmosphere are obvious, I was most struck by how nice everyone was. The choreographer for the auditions was the spunky original “Connie.” The original co- choreographer was involved, and he and the casting director were encouraging, thoughtful and, at times, moved to tears by the actors putting their all into their audition scenes.

These people are trained to make the performing look easy and fun, and that’s all we usually see in the final product on stage. This film shows the sweat, tears and desperation that actually go into it, and I thought it was a great show.

The Girlfriend Experience

A few nights ago, I chose a homemade dinner and extra sleep over the red carpet with Teri Hatcher, here to promote Coraline. (Had it been Lois Lane Hatcher, that would have been a different story. I never missed a Sunday night episode in the 90s.) But Desperate Housewives doesn’t do it for me anymore, so I skipped the “biggest” event of the festival. I did catch what I think is even better: porn star turned indie film star Sasha Grey was on hand for the Australian premiere of Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience, in which she stars.

(OMG! As I was writing that sentence – I’m now sitting outside our production office finishing this post – Sasha Grey just walked by on her way to her question and answer session. Over 45 minutes early and smiling; how very un-Hollywood of her!)

OK, back to the film. It’s about an ambitious, upscale call girl, Chelsea, in New York, devoted to giving her clients a relationship, albeit temporary and paid for, rather than just sex. She’s business-minded – meeting with a designer to improve her website, doing a newspaper interview, taking meetings about possible business ventures – and in a committed relationship. The dialogue sounds partly improvised, thus genuine – plenty of “likes” and “ya knows.” The movie follows Chelsea and her boyfriend over a few days – with scenes shown unchronologically – and explores what happens when she develops feelings for a client.

At the short Q&A immediately following the film (not the one she’s doing as I write this), Sasha was perfectly comfortable discussing all aspects of her career. She opened up freely answering questions about the comparison between herself and her character. Similarly to Chelsea, Sasha is intelligent and very career-focused. She is also in a committed relationship of three years – it is, she further shared, an open relationship (though her boyfriend is not in the adult film industry). She’d like to continue working in both adult films and independents, saying she’s not about to “say f*ck you” to the people who got her where she is today. It was an interesting film enhanced with the insight of its star, who leads a very different lifestyle than most of us.

So, in between running around doing my worker bee part to help the festival run smoothly, I’ve been able to catch a few great flicks I definitely recommend. Next week I’ll delve more into the stress, craziness and fun behind the scenes of the film festival.

Read Megan’s last blog: Small World Experiences

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