I feel inclined to like Paul Osborne’s Official Rejection, but not because it is a good film. As a film critic, I am drawn to any movie whose premise is that we (filmmakers, critics, distributors, audience members, etc.) are all complicit in a broken system. The film, which follows a number of filmmakers around the festival circuit during the course of a year, is seemingly propagandizing the concept that big name festivals are a scourge on independent filmmaking. They take your hopes and dreams and money and make you feel like shit when they reject you without cause or justifiation.
So yes, I liked it, because its heart. Mr. Osborne and his dedicated team traverse the North American festival wasteland in search of fame and fortune, but moreso recognition of any sort. A key player here is director Scott Storm, whose film, Ten ‘Til Noon, is the main focus of the festival hopping. (Paul Osborne also wrote that film) Broken up into segments which parallel the process of distributing a film via the festival pipe, Official Rejection is tight, funny and generally easy on the eyes. The film is mostly successful as an educational tool for young filmmakers. It demystifies many of the paradigms that they may think they understand, particularly the idea that a screening at a festival is the first step to getting noticed, getting riches, getting famous, etc.
Also, the filmmakers call attention to the importance of the camaraderie that has become the lifeblood of many festivals. When you throw a bunch of creatives into the same volatile foxhole, you are bound to hit on something exciting, something electric. New relationships are forged, new perspectives are discovered, and people come together in ways that they may never have done under other circumstances.
Which brings us to the film’s greatest weakness: while trying to deconstruct the horrors of the North American film festivals, Mr. Osborne and friends become smitten with them. Their hatred of the majors brings them even closer to the minor festivals, though I should say that Chicago’s IndieFest gets the rawest deal of any of them in the film. I could amend that to say that feature director Blayne Weaver gets the rawest deal, but you’ll have to see the film to understand that reference. Nevertheless, no matter how much the filmmakers tell us that the festival system is broken, they keep returning to it as the same solution.
In my opinion (and you asked for it, that’s why you’re here), there must be a better way to get your films out there, to reach an audience, than the same old ways that we have relied on for decades. There is also no historical frame of reference in this movie. It should be noted that as long as there has been art, there have been critics; as long as there have been fests, there have been anti-fests. This is not a new phenomenon, just one that has been amplified by the prevalence of the equipment required to make a film. It is so funny that the same people who wish to democratize cinema (filmmakers) will end up getting burned by the inundation of new work being created faster, quicker, and cheaper every single day. We want everyone to make a movie, just not while we’re trying to sell ours.
All that ranting and raving aside, Official Rejection is a solid film that all film enthusiasts should see. If you are not in the mood for a discussion on the current state of cinema distribution, there is plenty for you to love here. And if you are on the inside and you absolutely hate this film, well, at least Paul Osborne has opened up the conversation.