Monday, January 19, 2009

The Giving

I think it's fitting that on this auspicious day - Dolly Parton's birthday! - I should start to wrap up the prologue to our story, and bring this blog into the present by recounting how my Dolly-seeking efforts eventually bore fruit, and I received the greatest gift an independent filmmaker with a dream could ask for. (not to mention an unexpected treat from Viggo Mortensen)

So, where did I leave off last week? Right, so there I was - it was coming up on the end of August, production funding deadline was fast approaching in November - and I was no closer to Dolly, or her blessing, or a distributor than I had been from the very beginning of this project. 

Or so I thought...

Those "research" habits I'd developed over the years still had me compulsively going to visit the various web sites that had anything at all to do with Dolly (and yes, I've been recently told by a few readers that Facebook would have saved me a whole lot of time - but I'm kind of old-school about this interweb thing and besides that, I truly believe that all things come to pass in the time they're meant to).  Anyway, there I was, doing my habitual cyber rounds when I happened on an item posted at (the most comprehensive fan site I've found yet) that changed the course of things in a big way.

It was on this site - admirably mastered  by Mr. Duane Gordon - that I discovered a news item about a new documentary on Dolly's Imagination Library (her children's literacy foundation) coming to Canada.  I feverishly did some follow-up research on "The Book Lady" and discovered that Dolly had personally appeared in the film, and that the filmmakers were indeed Canadian.  I did some basic deductions and figured that they would have had fairly close dealings with Ms. Parton or her people in order to have achieved that kind of access to her. And since we Canadians are such a neighbourly people, maybe they'd be willing to give a fellow Canuck filmmaker some pointers on how to go about connecting with Dolly Parton...?

After some further digging, I was able to contact one of the filmmakers in Nova Scotia, Brad Horvath, the brainchild and producer behind "The Book Lady". He was immediately and graciously responsive. He answered my email within minutes, saying he'd be happy to recount his experience in contacting and achieving access to Dolly Parton. Not only that, but he cc'd the director of the film, Natasha Ryan, saying she'd be just as happy to give me her insights and experience.  Love these Canucks.  I instantly emailed them both back: When could we talk?  I could call them, or they could call me at their convenience. But the following day, I would be unreachable as I was enroute to Toronto.  

Another of Barbara's films had been invited to screen at the Toronto Film Festival, so we'd hatched a plan that I would travel from Montreal to crash in her Toronto hotel room for a few days during the big event and we'd do whatever kind of schmoozing we could to create some advance buzz around our project.

Within minutes, Natasha had emailed me back saying coincidentally she was going to be in Toronto for a job. Did I want to meet up while I was in town? Um, yeah!

So, I pack up my car and off I go to Toronto - glad for a concrete reason to be there but trying not to get my hopes up too high.  Six hours later, I meet Barbara in the lobby of the posh hotel where she's had a room booked for her by festival organizers, and we go to check in. Only to be told that there's just one bed in the room. We look at each other - can we do that? Can we sleep together for five nights? If we can do that, we reason, chances are we can make a film together...! Simultaneously we beg the clerk for a room with two beds. Unfortunately, the hotel's been sold out for months. Film festival, you know. Yeah. We know. 

The bed is a queen-size, the clerk offers helpfully.

Hanging our heads and clenching our butts, we take the keys and go off to our room. Once we settle the age-old debate about who gets which side of the bed, we head out to navigate the streets of Toronto and the daunting labyrinth that is a big-timey international film festival.

Exiting the Royal York Hotel, who should we bump into but Viggo Mortensen - standing right there on the sidewalk, casually resplendent in bare feet and having a smoke with Ed Harris.  Barbara and I blush furiously, pinch each other and walk faster.  That, we both agree once out of earshot, was a very good sign. Of what, we're not sure - but it felt great!

Over the next two days, we make our best attempts at schmoozing - at which I unfailingly suck - but Barbara's a great person to riff off of, and I eventually catch a bit of the festival beat. So while she goes to do some press for her latest film, A No-Hit, No-Run Summer directed by Francis Leclerc, I feel ready to meet with Natasha Ryan.

We hook up and have a great lunch. Natasha is more than forthcoming about her experience shooting not only Dolly Parton, but Miley Cyrus, Keith Urban and Robert Munsch!  We talk about what Natasha calls the Dolly Parton paradox - her larger-than-life looks and her down-to-earth nature - both of which Natasha can personally vouch for. And her many admirable causes - most notably the Imagination Library.  But with all the anecdotal information, Natasha admits it's really Brad who managed to get the access to all the personalities - and most especially Dolly. 

After Natasha comes with me to a screening of Barbara and Francis' film, we part ways, and she urges me to contact Brad again for more nuts and bolts advice on getting access to Dolly.  Which I immediately do. Still don't know if this is the breakthrough I'm hoping it is, but I keep on pushing. 

While I wait to hear back from Brad, Barbara and I go about the business of the rest of the festival. We go to a blur of cocktails and screenings and after-parties.  We hone in on industry types - solo and in tandem - trying by any means necessary to talk up our project, The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom. As I think I've mentioned, I am conversationally-challenged, so I would systematically have at least a couple drinks to get me through these functions.

After one particularly long day of such functions (and drinks), our taxi dropped us off in front of our hotel.  This evening, Barbara and I were in the company of Francis Leclerc and Marc Robitaille, the writer of Francis' film.  Francis is a huge hockey fan and a red-blooded Quebecois boy.  So when he heard about us spotting Viggo Mortensen, his fondest wish was to meet Viggo during the festival and talk hockey, in French, with the actor who is a well-known Canadiens fan and multi-linguist. 

When we spilled out of our taxi that night, we were all delighted to find ourselves face to flushed faces with Viggo Mortensen - dressed this fine evening in a Montreal Canadiens shirt bearing the number 27 (Alex Kovalev). Talk about signs!

So Marc, being that oddest of animals - a very gregarious writer - just walked on up to Mr. Mortensen and hailed him like a brother - in French. Viggo responded pleasantly in French and smiled at all of us standing there beaming at him like idiots. Marc stepped forward first and formally introduced himself, holding out his hand. A surprisingly star-struck Francis woodenly did the same. But when it came my turn and I held out my hand, Viggo took it, clasped my elbow with his other hand and pulled me toward him for two very warm kisses - one on each cheek.  Thank god Barbara arrived right then after paying the cab and planted two right back on him - because I was at a complete loss for a charming comeback. 

It took a day or two after returning home to Montreal for the glow of the festival to wear off.  It was a small personal triumph that I'd even put myself out there on that circuit as I had. Felt good and hopeful about the Canadian Dolly connection I'd found. 

But I still hadn't heard back from Brad.  As the month of September was quickly slipping away, I started to get nervous.  Did Natasha tell him that I was really a geek in person?  Should I have offered to buy her popcorn at the film? I wrote another email to Brad, trying to stay light, and waited...

Okay, I have just about blogged myself right out at this point! My eyes are seriously crossing - and if you've managed to read this far, no doubt yours are too.  But I promise I'll come back fresh, pick up this thread next Monday and tie this particular package up in a bow.  

Meantime, wishing Dolly Parton a very happy birthday and hoping you'll all come back now, ya hear?!