10 Years Ago…A Family Odyssey (part 3)

Part 1 of this article can be found here, and part 2 can be found here.

Day Three: Thursday September 13, 2001

When I awoke the next morning, Beth was already out and about. I went off to deliver the 35mm print of “Ball in the House” and to arrange for a tech check later in the day. The streets in Toronto’s Yorkville neighborhood were not bustling the way they usually are in the middle of the festival. Walking back to the hotel, I ran into Paul Cohen, then the head of Manhattan Pictures. He greeted me with “Have you found a way back to New York yet?” I responded, “I just got here last night.” He said “You’re kidding.” I explained that I had driven up to deliver the print and to premiere my film. He informed me that all the Americans at the festival were gone already or were desperately trying to get home, by whatever means necessary. My heart sank as I realized that whatever hopes we had of making a distribution deal on the film at the festival were pretty much over.

I found Beth back in the hotel room with the kids. She told me she had gotten up early and gone into the underground shopping mall that lies beneath the Marriott to get coffee. She bought a local newspaper, sat down with her coffee and as she started reading, she began to cry. That newspaper was to be the beginning of a collection of local newspapers that she began to acquire as we continued our trip.

The whole gang of us arrived expectantly at the Uptown Theater, where the premiere was to take place; Beth and the kids, Tanya and her family and Stephen and his girlfriend. All the excitement died down when we saw the paltry number people on line outside the theater. We took a collective deep breath and without actually saying anything, girded ourselves for trying to make the most of a not-very-good situation.

Beth & the kids had never seen the finished film, so they decided to stay and watch. By the time we were introduced on the stage, the auditorium was about 1/3 full. The film festival folks were very sweet in their introductions, pointing out to the audience how many hoops we had jumped through to be there. And the movie started.

My usual routine at these sorts of events is to pace in the back of the theater until I can tell if the audience is with the film or not. At that point I check my watch to see what time the film will end, and head out for a drink. On this night, as I paced through not one, not two, but three expected laugh lines, all of them falling flat, I needed a drink even more than usual.

On the way out of the theater, I was beating myself up. Why was I so intent on having this premiere when the world was obviously focused on other things? Why would anyone be interested in a dark dysfunctional family comedy at a time like this? No wonder no one was laughing.

I went to a divey bar right next door to the Uptown. It was a dark, damp place with a smell of stale beer. Three old guys were huddled around the bar, watching the news on television. There were those images again…the towers imploding, over and over again. I ordered a glass of wine.

One of the older guys said drunkenly, “Those Americans got what they deserved,” and the other two guys nodded their heads in agreement. I turned to them and angrily responded, “You guys have no idea what you’re taking about. I just came in from New York last night. I was there when it happened. Do you really think the people of New York City deserve to have this happen to them? What did we ever do to deserve this?” This was the only time I can ever remember having this kind of public emotional outburst. One of the guys said,”Hey, sorry guy. Nothing personal,” and he bought me a drink… and then another. Pretty soon we were all good buddies.

I went back to the Uptown to catch the end of the screening. There was scattered applause and a short Q&A, and then off to “celebrate,” which of course, no one was in the mood to do. During dinner, I mentioned to one of the film festival staff that we had to leave early the next morning to get Jeff to Chicago in time for his college orientation. I was told that there had been reports of huge backups at the border between Windsor and Detroit. She gave me directions to a smaller border crossing that passes through an Indian reservation a bit north of Windsor. She said it would take us a bit out of our way, but we would avoid all the traffic. It sounded like a good idea to me.


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