Short Cuts

There's a lot of irony going on at the corner of Echo Park Avenue and Delta Street. Seated at a sidewalk table outside Chango Coffee House on a very hot Wednesday, the young-looking 39-year-old Sundance Festival short-film programmer Roberta Marie Munroe has just gotten word that her own short film has been rejected by the Toronto Film Festival. “My phone rang 10 minutes ago,” says the Canadian-born first-time director, lighting an American Spirit.“I saw it was a 416 area code, so I picked up. I was so upset, especially because I am from Toronto and I know those people.”Munroe’s initial instinct was to fire off “a scathing or begging” e-mail to the festival programmers, but her friend Josh, whom she happened to have bumped into here moments prior to her receiving the call, has been encouraging her to cool down first.“An e-mail is finite,” he says, leaning back in his chair and taking a drag off her smoke.“I didn’t tell her not to send it. I just told her to go to the gym, go to the beach, get something to eat and then write the e-mail.”Josh, coincidentally, is also a filmmaker, and first met the openly gay Munroe last year after she accepted his short into Sundance. He’s currently working on a feature-length documentary and admits he has sent angry e-mails in the past that may have made already heated situations worse.“I mean, I reject thousands of films all the time,” Munroe explains with a warm smile.“I reject my friends’ films! People I have dinner and drinks with, people that have cried on my shoulder about others rejecting their film, and then I reject their film. However, when it happens to you, the adult goes out the window and you’re [emotionally] 15 again, and you’re like ‘fuck you!’ ”Munroe laughs at herself.“I know, is this karma? It’s difficult to separate you — the person — from the external film. They aren’t rejecting me the person. [As a programmer] I’m never rejecting the person. I often think the person is very talented, but it’s just not working for us in the moment.”What are some of the reasons you’ve rejected films for Sundance?“There are a myriad of reasons other than it not being good. We get, like, 3,800 short films submitted every year. We show maybe 80? That’s like 4 percent. There are at least 30 films every year that we all love but can’t show. They’re too long. They played at too many festivals and have already gotten enough exposure. ‘We showed your film last year . . .’”Josh, do you think it’s karma that Roberta has been rejected like this?“I don’t know. The world is chaotic.”Have you ever been rejected as an artist?“Sure. But I think when I’m rejected, I have already judged myself so harshly, it kind of washes off me.”So it’s a relief to be rejected?“No. But I think it’s a surprise when I get accepted. I think the only reason you keep doing things you think are important is because it’s the only way to keep yourself from killing yourself.”Roberta, what’s your film about?“It’s a love story about two young black lesbians in a domestically violent relationship. It shows both points of view.”And you’re also writing a book?“Yes, it’s called How To Make a Short Film.”Are you writing a chapter on festival rejection?“Yes.”“What would you say to a programmer who gets a film rejected?” Josh asks, taking another drag.“I would say, ‘As a programmer, you know there are a million reasons why you can’t show a really great film, and there are more than a thousand festivals all over the world. While this is a great festival, your film would probably do better at a smaller festival. [Where] it would garner more press and get more attention.’ I would say, ‘Move on! Work on your next project, work on your script, write your book, do good things for yourself, have coffee with your friend.’ ”Postscript: Roberta Marie Munroe’s “lesbica” short is called Dani & Alice. It has been accepted into more than 20 festivals, including CineVegas, the São Paulo International Film Festival, and Africa in the Picture, Europe’s premier African film festival. She also teaches a summer course through the Innercity Filmmakers program in conjunction with USC.

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