How I Got Banned From the Nokia at the Elevate Film Festival

Last month, the city’s most progressive and expansive tribes united downtown at the Nokia Theatre for the fifth annual Elevate Film Festival. I wore lipstick, crimson and lots of leg, and held hands tightly with actress-goddess-badass Jowharah Jones as we wove our way through a thick courtyard crowd of crushes, crashes and near-misses who magically, mystically, miraculously didn’t see us as we beelined for the PR gals, who handed us our laminates with smiles, hugs and kisses. This is one of those events that attracts L.A.’s lightest and brightest, not only for a shared cultural experience, but for community — for eye contact, for support, for yummy smiles and meaty hugs. Twenty-plus films (documentaries, music videos, commercials, short dramas, comedies) are made especially for the festival by emerging and established filmmakers in seven days’ time, and yes, they were the main attraction, but the festival was as multidimensional as we humans. There were cheerleaders pom-ponn–ing their way through the crowd, there was drumming, there was the appearance of local music-makers, the Luminaries, clad in white and good vibes, eagerly awaiting the premiere of their video, one of the festival entries.

The police presence was palpable, and security was tight. Armed, uniformed security officers roamed the courtyard, scowling at the celebratory crowd, whispering into walkie-talkies attached to their epaulets, circulating with a distinct air of authority and disdain, just waiting for a hippie to light up a joint or pee on a tree. Our bags were searched upon entry, as we passed through the theater’s metal detectors and relinquished our water bottles — well, some of us.

“You can’t bring that inside,” said one of the officers as he reached for the glass water jar I clutched to my red, raw-silk-draped breast.

“I’m diabetic,” I lied, the words slipping effortlessly off my tongue, as they have so many times before when I’ve defended my ubiquitous water jug. Water (a living consciousness) likes glass, and I tend toward the thirsty, so I’m never without a big ol’ jar of it, usually with rose quartz, minerals and liquid oxygen tossed in for kicks.

We took our seats as the last moments of an onstage drum circle reached their booming crescendo, the lights dimmed and the Elevate countdown meter rolled back to zero.

Inside Out, a documentary by SelfCentered founder and hipster meditation master Max Simon, was the first film to run. A few frames in, there I was onscreen — lotus-bound and larger than life. “Aaahhhh!” Jowharah shrieked. “You didn’t tell me!”

I didn’t tell Jowharah, or anyone else for that matter, that Simon and cinematographer Anka Malatynska, the hottest director of photography in town, had interviewed me for the documentary. I’d assumed my predilection for on-camera spaziness would relegate me to the cutting-room floor. Turns out I made the final cut, big time.

The rest of the films were conscious and global and plentiful, which made for a really long day. Global New Age overdose sent Jowharah home early, leaving me to fend for myself as the festival ended with a thick crowd trailing activist Christopher Howe, as he set off, right from the Nokia, on a long, lone walk to Brazil, armed with an arsenal of prayers and a backpack. Caught up in the revelry surrounding his departure, I stepped up onto a bench in the courtyard, aiming for a better vantage to find my ride, Tim, and to get a glimpse of the sendoff.

“Miss, you need to come down from there.”

I glanced down to see a short, angry security officer growling at me beneath a wide-brimmed hat and grumpy eyebrows.

“Why?” I asked, standing my ground.

“Because you’re in violation of the ‘no standing’ rule.”

Huh?

“That’s not a rule,” I replied.

We went back and forth from there, with the security guard insisting that I come down, and me, politely, but firmly, refusing to do so.

“There are a thousand cameras pointed at you right now,” he informed me. “You need to come down from that bench immediately or I’m going to have to call my supervisor.”

“I understand that you need to do your job,” I explained, not actually understanding the connection between the cameras, the supervisor and the imagined infraction of me standing on a slab of concrete. “And, I’m staying here, thank you.”

By this time, we’d attracted a small crowd.

“You’re not allowed to elevate at Elevate,” cracked a cute blond guy, pushing a bicycle as he walked past.

Angry officer handed me a glossy Code of Conduct pamphlet. I pored through it while he called for backup. I gleaned the basic arena rules crap (no fighting, no throwing shit), with a few conservative End Times criteria mixed in (no indecent messages on clothing), but didn’t find the “no standing” rule.

An agitated woman, “The Supervisor,” strutted toward me, brandishing the same wide-brimmed hat, the same mirrored sunglasses and the same bad attitude all over her frowning face. And so the inanity continued: She ordered me down; I refused to move. We volleyed; we got nowhere.

“You’re surrounded by a thousand cameras,” she told me, not sounding any more convincing than her underling.

A thousand? C’mon. We’re not in London, for Chrissakes.

Yet.

“We’re taking your picture, and you are permanently banned from the Nokia Theatre.”

“Do what you gotta do,” I said, towering above her from my bench.

Not that I gave a shit about ever returning to the Nokia Theatre — the Greek’s really more my style, Radiohead plays the Bowl and the Smashing Pumpkins are slated to play the Gibson — but the larger implications of the overly authoritarian aggression weren’t lost on me. And while they threatened to deflate my Elevate, the love and the light shone infinitely brighter, as they always do.

Tim texted me from the after-party. I stepped down into the dwindling crowd, and walked with friends, new and old, to celebrate into the wee hours of the night with great music, dazzling people and all the water I could drink.


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