In December of 1996, I was a programmer and producer of the Slamdance Film Festival, the punk alternative to Sundance. It was the third year of the festival, and we were still a very scrappy bunch. At the time all films were submitted on VHS tapes. We got over a thousand submissions that year. Each of us would take home a plastic mail bin full of tapes every night to watch, and as you can imagine, a large majority of the films submitted were not of acceptable quality, making my job the cinematic equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack. The tapes only had the titles of the films and maybe the director's name. There was no other information to go on. When you picked up a tape from the bin you had no idea what you were getting.
Late one night, faced with a mountain of tapes and a looming deadline, I pull a tape out of my bin. It was a documentary called Perfect Moment. I inserted the tape in the VCR and pressed play. The movie began with the unmistakable, inimitable voice of Maya Angelou piercing the silence of my tiny one-bedroom apartment in Loz Feliz. She was reading not one of her own works but rather an adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe's short story, The Masque Of The Red Death, which considering the film's introductory subject matter -- the unrelenting reality of the AIDS crisis -- was eerily fitting. As I watched the first five minutes of the film, all I could think was whoever directed this was a great artist -- not only did this film need to be in the festival, but I had to become friends with him.
But this documentary had a larger scope, as it turned out. People from all walks of life were asked the same question: "If you were about to die, what moment would you remember most?" The film featured luminaries such as Phillip Glass, Edward Albee and Larry King along with priests, gang members, veterans and the homeless. I realized that I had discovered something special, singular and haunting. When the film ended I knew I had made a great discovery. I was ecstatic.
The next day I got in touch with the director, Nicholas Hondrogen, and told him how moved I was by his film. And I was not alone: in January of 1997, the film screened at Slamdance and won the Audience Award. By the end of the festival, Nick and I had become close friends. And over the next decade, we grew as close as two heterosexual men could be. He was at once like an older brother and father figure to me. But in 2007, our friendship ended tragically, nearly as fast as it had begun, when Nicholas died of mesothelioma cancer. I miss him every day, and there is always a small part of me that is empty because he is not here.
Perfect Moment was overlooked by potential distributors, meaning that it was never screened in theaters or on TV. When Maya Angelou died, I immediately thought about her powerful performance in this documentary that deals with truly timeless subject matter. Which, of course, begs the question: What moment will you remember when you look back on her iconic life?
Here is the clip from the opening of Perfect Moment as a tribute to Maya Angelou's life and her work.
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