Friday, April 03, 2009

Festival express

I know there's some curiosity about my recent exercise in moviegoing by seeing 44 films in eight days at the festival--not the most I've done, I don't think--so I thought now would be a good opportunity to share some insights about the experience.

First of all, I think it's taken me until today to recover completely. Keep in mind that I didn't attend eight straight days but four on, two off, and four on. With sessions beginning as early as 9:15 a.m. and lasting until nearly 2 a.m., one can spend almost an entire day seeing nothing but movies. I wouldn't recommend it, but the option exists.

One of the most common questions I get when telling people I've done this is, "Is it fun?" I wouldn't be putting myself through it if I weren't deriving some pleasure from the practice. I'd liken it to distance running. If you get little to nothing out of a voluntary activity, I can't imagine doing it, especially when it requires pushing one's limits.

I enjoy getting to see good films that may take months to come to town, if they ever make it. I like the discovery process of rifling through the festival guide to find what I hope are the gems and being surprised and pleased when I come upon them. Getting away from home for a short bit is also welcome. Really, that's enough.

It's inevitable that I see a fair number of mediocrities and a few real stinkers, but it comes with the territory. Yes, it's tiring, and yes, I can reach my breaking points. I've had films that I've probably slept through as much as I've seen, and there are times when the experience can feel confining. Nevertheless, there's always the promise of something better just an hour or two later. Never mind the critic designation; as a cinephile, that's the driving force. Something potentially good or great awaits with each new film.

The other most common question is, "How do you keep them all straight/how do you remember what each of the films is about?" This question sort of confuses me because each film is usually different enough from the others that they don't blur together. I may also be wired for retaining a lot of information because I will remember more than is probably typical. At the festival I will take notes to get my thoughts and reactions down so that I don't risk losing them. My specific responses are what I'm more likely to forget than plot points and such.

Since I'm credentialed, I have open access to anything I want to see. Passholders are given top priority for seating, so I don't have to fight the masses to get a seat. Except in a couple of rare cases I got the exact seat I wanted--on the aisle in the back on the lefthand side--every time. Both of these aspects make the festival less stressful. With a seat claimed I spend less time waiting in line to get in and have a few extra minutes to go to the restroom, get something to eat, or glimpse the outside.

Much of what I saw at the festival won't ever come across your radar, but a couple of the best films I saw are also higher profile (comparatively speaking). Sugar is one of the best baseball films I've seen, in part because it reveals an untold but crucial story of how a Latin American player might move through the system. Moon is a science fiction mindbender with Sam Rockwell that I won't say much about because it's best experienced with little foreknowledge. The former opened in New York and Los Angeles today. The latter debuts in June.

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