Jeff Wells should be ashamed of himself

There is a film blogger named Jeffrey Wells, whose site, Hollywood Elsewhere, is fairly well read within the industry. He’s not a film critic, per se, though he does often express his opinions about movies. Mostly he writes about the whole Hollywood business, everything from behind-the-scenes deals to ad campaigns to distribution strategies.

He was one of the people invited to appear on the panel about film criticism this morning at the Oxford Film Festival, and I was eager to meet him. Though we’ve been attending many of the same festivals for several years, I’d never actually talked to him, and I was curious to learn whether he was as much of a condescending, humorless curmudgeon as he seems in his blog. Maybe it was all an act, or maybe in person it would be funny and not off-putting. I’ve certainly been misinterpreted before, so I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions about him as a person.

Our introduction was affable enough, and we chatted briefly at the opening-night party. My impression was that maybe he plays the role of the ever-offended grouch online because it’s interesting and is perfectly reasonable in everyday life.

And then he refused to appear on the film criticism panel because he couldn’t get wifi in his hotel room.

I’m not making this up. I’m not even exaggerating. The festival invited him here ONLY to be on the panel. I’m sure they hoped he’d write about it on his blog, too, but his official reason for being there was the panel. They paid for his plane ticket. They covered his hotel room. And he refused to do the panel — remember, the ONE THING HE WAS THERE FOR — because of the unreliable Internet access in the hotel. (The free hotel.)

Here’s what he wrote on his blog this morning:

I arrived in Oxford around 5:30 pm and checked into the Oxford Downtown Inn, courtesy of the Oxford Film Festival. And then the wireless issues began.

It’s now just before 6 am and the issues haven’t stopped, and I’ve decided to cut bait as a result. That’s right — I’m outta here, flying back to NYC. Or maybe I’ll drive south a bit and cruise around, find an adventure, something. Any place with decent wifi I call home.

The hotel doesn’t offer wireless in the rooms, providing instead a late-20th-Century ethernet cable connection for internet access. Except the cable is only eight inches long — the only time in my life that I’ve ever seen or heard of a connection cable this short — and the connection it delivers is erratic and/or not strong enough, the result being that transferring jpegs to my server via FTP software stopped working almost immediately. I resorted to my AT&T Air Card, which worked for a while last night but stopped working this morning for some reason. It’s now 5:40 am and my only working connection right now (albeit a “very low” one) is the wireless that the hotel offers in the lobby only.

I can’t do this. I won’t do this. This is not 1997, and if a regional film festival is unable to provide easy, high-speed wifi to its journalist guests then no offense but it just shouldn’t invite them down in the first place. I mean, c’mon. Bless Oxford, Mississippi in all other respects. It’s a soothing, pleasingly upscale, obviously highly cultured college town with a real-deal 19th Century atmosphere, and the Oxford Film Festival has been, for me, a charmer in every respect except for the ridiculous internet situation. If I can’t post easily and swiftly, there’s really no point in being here.

So I’m packing my bags and heading back to Memphis this morning. I really don’t have time for this jazz. I’m not there to sip moonshine and read Faulkner — I’m here to work, and it’s just too much work, too frustrating and too inconvenient to accomplish this goal.

Sure enough, he didn’t go to the panel. When the rest of us gathered outside the hotel to get a ride over to the venue, he was in the lobby with his laptop, but he did not join us. He did, however, join us at the restaurant afterward for the festival-provided drinks and lunch.

And he’s staying in town after all, as posted later in the day:

Okay, now I’m not not leaving Oxford. The festival guys put me into another hotel — a nice plastic Holiday Inn — that has flawless wifi. All’s well again. I missed, however, this morning’s critics & media panel, which was moderated by James Rocchi somewhere on the Ole Miss campus. I was scheduled to take part, but I was so angry at the wifi troubles that I blew it off. I stayed up really late trying to fix things, couldn’t sleep, woke up at 4:30 am, the hell with it.

In other words: I threw a fit and declined to do the one thing that was required of me.

Let me make this clear. This small film festival, which operates primarily on donations and the tireless work of volunteers, paid several hundred dollars to fly Jeffrey Wells out here and get him a hotel room, all so that he could be a guest on the panel. They hoped his relatively high profile in the movie blogosphere would help create cachet for the still-growing young festival. And then he repaid them by snottily refusing to fulfill his obligation.

I understand that having no Internet access is a problem. For someone who runs his site as a one-man show, and who needs to be able to post items online throughout the day, it’s not merely a mild inconvenience — it’s death. Heck, I was annoyed, too. I had to go down to the lobby well after midnight last night to post today’s movie reviews. It was irritating. But I didn’t think for a moment to punish the festival for it!

Wells had every reason to call the festival staff and say, “Listen, the hotel is great, I really appreciate you finding such comfortable lodgings for us instead of some cheap, dirty place outside of town. One problem, though — the Internet access is unreliable, and I absolutely have to have it in order to do my work. Is there any way to move me somewhere else?”

But he didn’t do that. Instead, he told the festival staff — after having already told the world on his blog — that he wouldn’t be appearing on the panel. And then, still believing himself to be the aggrieved party here, he has the nerve to stay in town, to keep suckling off the teat of the people who wasted several hundred dollars on him.

Unbelievable. This is such astonishing arrogance and jackassery that I can scarcely believe it’s the behavior of an actual person and not a movie character. The hotel has screwed up your life? Fine. Complain about it, get it taken care of, get upset if you want. But it doesn’t prevent you from still doing the ONE THING you were contracted to do. WHY ELSE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE HERE, WELLS?

Do you think the festival wanted you here just for your sunny personality, and that the panel was just an oh-by-the-way kind of thing? It wasn’t, and you know it wasn’t. I doubt there was any confusion when you were invited as to WHY you were being invited. You had no other official duties, no other obligations. Festivals that merely want your press coverage don’t pay your expenses to get you there.

This is ungentlemanly behavior of the worst order, Wells. You should be ashamed to have wasted the festival’s time and resources so childishly. You owe the staff an apology — and whatever they paid for your plane ticket.

UPDATE: Wells has responded by claiming to be the victim of schoolyard picking-on, with no wrongdoing on his part. Enjoy the hilarity!