'I Am Divine'
'I Am Divine'
When I woke up on the first day of the Louisiana International Film Festival's three-day stint in Baton Rouge, I appreciated that my chic boutique Hotel Indigo overlooked the mighty Mississippi and was only a block from two of the major viewing and party locations of the festival: the Manship Theatre in the modern (built in 2005) Shaw Center for the Arts, and the striking Gothic/Moorish Old State Capitol, built in 1847.  

Ian Birnie, the Festival's programming director, had told me that Mark Twain had loathed the building ("It is pathetic…that a whitewashed castle, with turrets and things…should ever have been built in this otherwise honorable place"), but I replied, sanguinely, that he had no idea what horrors in architecture the future would hold, making the Old State Capitol look benign in comparison.

Luckily I scored a ride from the hotel to the Celtic Media Centre (according to Google Maps, 9.4 miles away, "14 minutes by car, 2 hours 49 minutes on foot"), which was the site of an ambitious day-long program, including film workshops and panel discussions, screenings of films with a Louisiana connection, an Industry Expo, and the Mayor's Luncheon. 

We arrived at the immaculate, modern lot -- a sister studio to Raleigh Studios in Hollywood -- and toured the Industry Expo, vendors touting insurance, crew hiring, local housing, and car and equipment rentals.  Even though I was quick to tell them that I was not their target audience, I accumulated pens, caps, and cup sleeves galore.  I was more intrigued by the line-up of food trucks, including the Dolce Vita pizzeria, Pullin' Pork, Taco de Paco, Community Coffee, and the nicely-named Fleur de Licious, featuring porchetta sandwiches.  But I was there for an imminent luncheon, so instead I explored the main office building, where I could see that all the morning's workshops were gratifyingly full.

The luncheon featured green salad with chicken, pasta salad with shrimp, and the kind of mildly interesting boosterish speeches about the festival and Louisiana film production that don't demand full attention.  I was more interested in speaking with the two adjacent tables of young students from the Baton Rouge Mentorship Academy, a college-prep high school. They were an important part of the focus of the festival (whose full name is Louisiana International Film Festival and Mentorship Program), but they were whisked away into workshops before I got very far.

Afterwards I was treated to a fascinating tour of the studios by Director of Studio Operations Patrick Mulhearn, who pointed out the creative re-use of certain perks put in by rapper Master P when the facility was going to be the site of his recording studios:  shark tanks designed to be visible from his glass-walled shower, a helicopter landing pad, and a basketball court that became one of the complex's more intimate studios. It's here, I'm told, that Bella Swan and Edward Cullen (as impersonated by Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson) were in bed together when they were rudely interrupted by the sound of automatic weapon fire from the "Battleship" set across the lot. Mulhearn also said that some enterprising Twihards attempted to sneak onto the lot by boarding the "Battleship" crew bus, but were summarily discovered and dispatched.  The walls of the main office building are lined with huge blowups of photographs from some of the most famous movies shot in Louisiana, including "Louisiana Story" by Robert Flaherty and Martin Ritt's  "The Long Hot Summer."  Mulhearn points out Paul Newman, and reflexively I say "And that's Anthony Franciosa," which he seems pleased to know.

I hitch another ride back to downtown Baton Rouge -- the city feels a bit like the other LA to me, the one with minimalls and neighborhoods connected by freeways, and difficult to explore without a car.  But the rest of the day was to be contained within not much more than a block: three screenings at the Manship Theatre and a reception at the Old Capitol building.