Renee O’Connor in San Francisco – ‘One Weekend A Month’ screening

I was lucky enough to have a chance to see Renee's short film 'One Weekend A Month' which was playing at the University of San Francisco as part of the closing night of a Latin film festival, Cine Latino. This was great news for me, since it’s a local event (I live about 45 minutes south of San Francisco) and any chance to see Renee’s work, I certainly try my best not to pass up.

After meeting up and eating dinner with my friends Chieko and Jennie, we parked and went to the theater. I met up with a few other fans, Wendy and Caprice, from Denver. In the midst chatting with everyone, I spotted a very familiar looking blonde figure walking down the sidewalk towards us. My face went from a smile to utter slack-jawed, gaping disbelief and amazement. I just about punched Chieko in the arm and whispered, 'Is that Renee?’ Yes it was Renee, looking as beautiful and blonde as ever in a patterned skirt and jean jacket. For Renee show up at this screening, unannounced and VERY unexpected was beyond my wildest expectations, especially since she’s always been my favorite actress from XWP.

As we entered the lobby, Renee was talking to the director of ‘One Weekend A Month’, Eric Escobar and a few other folks. Once she was free Renee was graciously willing to mingle with her fans. I admit I was so nervous that Chieko had to take my camera and point to me as she said to Renee 'She really wants a picture with you.' I thanked Renee for coming as well as for her performance in January at the con and how she’d brought me to tears. She said her thanks and said that tonight's film was pretty sad. I joked that I had tissues, so I was all set. Renee also talked about her experience shooting ‘Alien Abduction’ in Bulgaria and how shooting there was like when she was first shooting in New Zealand with a relatively new film industry and crew in that country.

When our group went in the theater to see the film, I was near the middle of a row, watching Renee settle down two rows directly in front of me, along with Eric and the young actress who plays her daughter in the film. It was rather surreal, knowing that Renee was right there. My poor brain was still valiantly trying to process the fact that she was attending the screening in the first place!

REVIEW: One Weekend A Month

The film 'One Weekend A Month' was about a single mom, Meg (Renee), who is in the National Guard who is called to active duty in Baghdad. The film is a series of phone calls as Meg confirms the rumors that her unit is going off to war and her increasing desperation as she tries to find someone to take care of her two young children. I paraphrased moments from the film, and apologies for any errors, but this is how I remember it.

Over the credits, the sound of a TV report is heard, describing the action and casualties in Iraq. The film's opening shot is of Meg doing pushups on her living room floor. (Renee doing pushups is an impressive sight! ) As Meg collapses, exhausted on the floor, her 10-year-old daughter, Adriana (?) passes in front of the camera and switches the channel to cartoons. Still on the floor, Meg mutters that Adriana gets to watch ten minutes of cartoons before getting ready for school. Meg pushes herself up and exits the room.

Cut to a shot of the hallway looking into the kitchen of the small apartment where Adriana is taking care of her younger brother Zach and trying to feed him breakfast. Adriana goes in the hallway and pounds on the bathroom door where we can hear Meg taking a shower. She says that they're out of milk. Meg replies to drink soy milk. There's none of that either. Meg replies curtly to just give Zach the cereal. Meanwhile, Zach is making a mess on the floor with dry cereal flying everywhere.

The phone rings and Meg answers, her hair still wet from her shower. She's dressed in jeans and a black tank top. When she faces away from the camera, a tattoo on the back of her right shoulder of a panther. On the phone is a reservist from Meg's unit where she reports that she heard it from another reservist who is 'really sure' that their unit is going to be deployed soon. Meg presses her for what exactly this other reservist said, 'Is he really sure, or not sure? F***!' After she hangs up, she calls the reservist who started the rumor and he confirms that 'he's really sure' they will be shipped out. In the corner, Adriana reminds Meg in a small voice that they have to go to school.

Meg has had enough of this and calls the sergeant of the unit. She gets a message machine. She calls around again, realizing that this is for real and that she needs to find someone to take care of her kids. The sergeant calls her back and says 'Yes, we're going.' in a matter of weeks. The camera pauses as it lingers on Meg's face, the picture of frustration and a growing sense of hopelessness. Meg begs the sergeant that she can't put the kids with her mom –that she just wrote her mom down as the caretaker in her papers. It was a bad decision, and Meg doesn't want her kids to live with her mom. When asked why, she replies 'Because of their stepdad! I don't want my kids in that house!' The implications of Meg’s statement are chilling and unsettling. When Meg asks 'What if I just stay?' she's told flatly, 'That's not an option.' Again, Meg's daughter reminds her that about school - Meg angrily brushes her off.

The editing cuts quickly from angle to angle between Meg’s sentences, phone calls, and dialing, which emphasize her frustration. In addition, the sound in the background is almost like a pulsating rhythm, consciously building the tension. It sure matched the pounding of my pulse, that's for sure! At one heartbreaking moment, Meg hangs up and sobs, dejectedly crying 'Oh, f***!' as the picture slowly fades out.

Meg even tries calling her ex. He doesn't listen to her and replies in slurred voice 'You're going where?' Meg shouts, trying to get through to him, 'You could be a father to your son!' Crazed giggling is her only answer and Meg realizes, asking rhetorically 'Are you stoned?' She tries calling a fellow reservist. Can her mom move over to her place and take her kids? Desperately, she begs, 'You know, she really likes them.' The reservist replies with an exasperated no, since her mom will be already taking care of her own kids.

Finally, as her last resort, Meg reluctantly calls her mom. The phone call turns into a shouting match as her mom says the kids can live with her, and Meg refuses back down. The mom sounds irrational and irritated as she and Meg argue. Again, Meg says she doesn't want her kids near their stepdad, Buddy. Meg is in the narrow hallway, leaning against a door during the last few minutes of this conversation, the camera's tight angles and jerky shots adding to her desperation and nowhere to go scenario.

The last scene is another tearjerker. Meg has told her Adriana earlier to go to her room. But her daughter has heard everything. The camera shows both of them against opposite walls, Meg sinking down to the floor with the phone in her hand, crying. Adriana comes around the wall to give her mom a hug, wiping her own tears with a tissue. She tells Meg ‘I can take care of Zach.’ They hug desperately, both crying as the shot fades out.

After the films (there were three films shown that night) there was a Q&A with the three directors and actors/subjects of the films. I was happy to read that Renee mentioned this film in the last issue of the Chakram newsletter, about how Meg isn't the most attentive mother and how she's just made some bad choices in her life. Eric said that he was inspired to do this film since he's had family in the reserves all his life. He wanted to make a film about someone who chooses this life not necessarily based on desire but lack of options, and what happens to families when reservists are called off to war. This was the first time the film had been shown in front of an audience and Eric seemed happy with the response. The girl who played Adriana said it was her first acting experience and she said she just acted naturally and if Eric liked it, it was okay. She was such a cutie and a real professional actress already!

Eric said they shot the film over a 13-hour day but rehearsed it for a few weekends before shooting it in an apartment in Oakland. But there was no actual script – it was all improvised. Renee did rehearse with the actors on the other end of the line and they just made actual calls all day for 13 hours for what was 11 minutes of total screen time. I also asked Eric how long it was from concept to the finished product and he said eight weeks. When asked what he'd do next, he said that he'd like to work on a longer version of 'One Weekend A Month' where he shows Meg coming back after a year in combat and the changes that have happened. How cool that would be if that got made!

After the Q&A, our group went down to the front to chat with Renee and Eric. We got a chance to say our thanks to the directors of the other films. Eric was so surprised that Wendy and Caprice had come from Colorado to see this film. He saw Chieko and me wearing our Xena and Gabrielle jackets and said 'Oh, now I get it!' He had no idea that Xena fans would be interested in this film.

Renee eventually sought out our little group and started chatting. She wondered if she should show this film at the convention since it was so different than anything she'd done and it was such a sad piece. She said she still gets emotional every time she sees it. We assured her that we wanted her to show this film, since we love her work as a whole, not just the character of Gabrielle. I asked her how much research she'd done for this role. She said she'd talked to two reservists and related the experience of a woman who'd gone overseas when her baby was an infant and came back after a year, and her own child didn't know her. Incredibly sad.

I thanked Renee for saying that she'd come to the convention in January and how it meant so much to me that she keeps coming to these events. She said she didn't know what she'd do this next year, 'just hang out'. I told her that would be fine! Renee didn't know if she'd do a performance like last year since it was a lot of work and time. She left us with a 'Guess I'll see you in January!' Renee was just plain polite to everyone as I’ve always heard, and I'm sure is still simply amazed by her ardent fan base.

As our group congregated in the lobby, Renee and Eric walked by us and went out the door and that was that. I still can't believe that Renee made the effort to come up to Northern California, to support this little but powerful film. I doubt that there were more than 15 fans that were there to see the film specifically because of Renee. It was a very laid back and casual atmosphere, with only a few requests for pictures with Renee and the directors and no one asking Renee to sign anything. Just the fact that she had shown up unexpectedly and took the time to talk with us was more than anyone expected. Even the fact that my camera malfunctioned and blurred the picture I had with Renee couldn’t diminish the experience. All in all, the night was a very lovely surprise! I sincerely thank Renee and Eric for their work and dedication to their film.

(C) 1996-2008 MaryD All rights reserved

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