Give It Your Best & No Less – Part 3

The majority of my involvement with the film festival took place in the weeks leading up to the event and for only three days of it. Read about the start of this journey in Part 1 and Part 2. I missed the two busiest, most exciting days of the festival to be with my family in Marco Island, FL for the funeral of our cousin, Cheryl Hutchinson. Although I was sad to have missed the festival’s pinnacle, I was happy to reconnect, even if under tragic circumstances, with a side of my family I haven’t seen in 17 years.

While I missed out on a couple of days, there are still a few highlights, experiences, and some insights worth sharing from the three days I was active during the event.

Opening Night Jitters

All of us were nervous for opening night – its a part of showbusiness – but none more than Christel Jules, my colleague and friend. Christel is the kind of professional that thrives on minute details well in advance so as to mentally prepare for whatever circumstances arise. This level of attention to detail is both a blessing and a curse.

Let me explain.

Christel probably had in her mind exactly how the event would play out. Moment by moment, a mental simulation of the expectations, the experiences, and the roles of everyone that attended and participated in each activity of the festival. The information that was communicated left holes in that simulation, causing anxiety.

Why So Anxious?

Christel can visualize the desired end result and works toward that end. Visualization is part of the secret strategy behind successful planning – when you know what is expected by everyone, you can build beyond it to exceed expectations. I understand the anxiety produced by the knowable unknown factors because I use to also deal with organizations that did not disclose the minute details until we were in the thick of it. However, my life philosophies have helped me deal with these anxieties and I now accept what is out of my control, even if it appears to be something that should be within it.

When working with organizations there are often many moving parts that the details of which are left undiscussed. Sometimes because other individuals in the org don’t see the value in such small details or because of a lack of vision and good planning skills within the leadership or, like in the case of TCIFF, they’ve been doing it so long that the details are second nature to the experienced.

All of this is a concern to anyone involved because everyone wants to be on the winning team and a part of something special, unique, and successful. I had faith in Joe and Eva’s experience because I’ve dealt with similar situations in the past that turned out better than I imagined despite the holes left in my mental simulation. Christel soon realized within the night that her anxiety could be laid to rest because the house was packed and the film – impactful.

Opening night was a success.

Finding Courage Debuts

The featured opening night film was Finding Courage, a documentary detailing one family’s loss and escape from the Chinese Regime’s violent persecution of those practicing Falun Gong. Those found practicing the religion were terribly tortured by Chinese officials and the reasons for this are discussed from both sides in the film; those that worked for the government and those that were persecuted by it. For the officials that committed these atrocities, it came down to one thing; money. It was an unexpected film that we later learned has been blacklisted at many other festivals because the Chinese government paid for it to be blocked.

Soak that in for a moment.

Freedom Isn’t Free, Its Priceless

In China, freedom of speech doesn’t exist. People are taken, tortured, and killed for expressing their beliefs and their opinions. In the US, it’s a pillar of our society. It’s why many of our men and women in the military fight – to protect our freedoms and democracy…

Yet, some, here, would take payment to silence the voices of those suffering elsewhere?

That did not sit well with me, nor should it sit well with any American. To all those festivals that blacklisted the documentary in exchange for payment, you’ve fallen far from the greatest gift of film – to tell stories and teach lessons. People need to know, and by silencing the voices of others, you are a part of the corrupted system that dares remove the freedom of speech from the modern world.

I am so incredibly proud to be a part of a festival that creates a safe and fair place for all voices to be heard. The TCIFF is truly independent and full of courage thanks to Joe and Eva Garafalo. I encourage anyone that is willing and able to continue supporting their efforts by donating to the TCIFF to keep it that way.

Celebrating 35-Years Alive

At the end of the evening, I was graced with a birthday cake from my new friends and colleagues in the TCIFF to mark the end of the opening night and celebrate my 35th year in life. It was a wonderful way to spend my birthday and an excellent kick-off to the festival. I’m honored and proud to have been a part of it, and equally pleased that many of my friends and family could come out and join me for the evening. Presence is the greatest gift.

Technical Difficulties

Thursday, the night following the opening reception, was a beautiful evening of film screenings at the Residence Inn by Marriott in SLW.

But Friday… (haha)…

The film screenings were scheduled to begin at 12:00 PM at AMC Theatre, but they didn’t. Apparently, the theatre had tested the connection between a technician’s individual laptop and the projector prior to the screening and everything worked fine, but when Alex Garafalo, Joe and Eva’s very talented son and TCIFF’s technician, showed up with his Macbook Pro, suddenly the video and audio kept alternating between which one would and wouldn’t work. The AMC Theatre technician couldn’t figure out why, and his laptop was not on the premises.

On Thursday, I had agreed to volunteer my time starting around 2:00 PM on Friday, sooner if I could manage to complete some tasks before then. But I received a phone call from Joe around 12:30 PM requesting that I bring my laptop to AMC Theatre ASAP and help troubleshoot the equipment problem they were experiencing.

My first thought was, “What the hell could I possibly do to fix anything in a theatre. I’m not a technician, I’m a graphic designer, damn it.” But Joe was asking and I felt compelled to act because my life philosophies demand that I answer the call to help if one is issued. So, I packed up my laptop, had a short conversation with God, and was on my way.

I’m Here – Thats All I’ve Got To Offer

From my Snapchat

When I arrived and explained to the theatre crew what I was there for, they looked me up and down as if to ask, “what are you going to do?”, then they told me that there were already like five people up there. I told them there’s about to be six, and asked where I could find them. I was led upstairs to the projector floor, marking my third time being behind the scenes at a theatre, but my first time in this particular building.

When we reached Alex, I noticed he was on his own trying to troubleshoot the problem. Five people, huh? I told him I had very little A/V experience, but I came to help any way I could – having doubts as to what I could provide. He hooked my Macbook Pro up and we used an adapter for cables that I had, one slightly larger than his. Alex ran a few quick tests and somehow, everything just worked.

We guessed that the adapter may have made the difference or that perhaps the power supply of my 15″ Macbook Pro was necessary over his 13″ Macbook Pro to run both the audio and the video connections. Either way, Alex’s technical wizardry, and calm disposition were worth the entire theatre’s crew that day. Thanks to his skills and my presence, the screenings were back on track for 2:00 PM, requiring the 12:00 PM block to be added on to the end of the day.

Till Midnight, Ya’ll

From my Snap

As a result of the screening pushback, it was necessary for us to be at the theatre until midnight. I took a short reprieve in the afternoon to finish up tasks from earlier in the day, then returned to stick with Alex until the end. The last block of films included one written, directed, and shot by Lamarze Smith, a gentleman that I keep meeting in very different contexts, from adoption classes to community events to unlikely connections through others.

Lamarze had two films screening that day, Relationships and Where Is She? The films were very captivating and held all of our attention until the end at midnight. In the end, a group of IRSC students was exiting the theatre and asking questions about the film amongst themselves. I caught them just in time to introduce them to Lamarze, who was literally right behind them and exiting with his wife. A quick Q&A happened amongst us and ended in a photo-op for everyone just outside of the theatre, bringing the day to an end.

I entrusted Alex with my laptop as I would be leaving for the funeral in the morning, then I went home and broke my fast.

From my Snap

Where The Filmmakers Are The Stars

I didn’t return from Marco Island until late into the evening that Sunday, so I wasn’t able to make it to the Awards Gala for the event. I heard it was a fantastic evening with at least 60 individuals in attendance, among them some very prominent figures. From the photos, I can see the elegance and magic of Joe and Eva’s experience brought to life with help from their volunteers.

The beauty of the event’s Award Gala is the celebration of the completed works and the recognition of all those behind the scenes. All too often, we as an audience watch a movie and attribute its success or failure to the stars in it, ignoring the long scrolling lists of names of those involved off-screen to produce such compelling works.

At the TCIFF, filmmakers and the behind-the-scenes crew are given the attention and recognition that they, too, deserve.

I invite you to like their Facebook to view photos, videos, and the testimony of others about the experience.

In fact, if you are a filmmaker and would like to get involved, consider joining the Facebook group we created for the filmmakers: TCIFF Filmmakers & Co.

Final Thought

We are all connected and share this world with one another. A tragedy elsewhere – whether one person or an entire country – will ripple throughout our world and eventually impact us all, as unlikely as you may perceive that to be. You will play a role, whether you want to or not. Fortunately, you get to choose what that role is – be that virtuous or vile.

Choose to be the best version of yourself, and see it through to the end.


  1. Karyn Mu says:

    So true, we all need to be one and help each other and stay positive and keep moving forward.

  1. […] Coast International Film, Music, & Art Festival (Give It Your Best: Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3). During the same time, I appeared on the Brooklyn Cafe TV Show and BrainFlow Radio – each […]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: