Features and Columns

Talking Heads: The Best Things About Film Festivals

By  · Published on March 18th, 2011

Every week, Landon Palmer and Cole Abaius log on to their favorite chat client of 1996 as Expressionalism23 and 5DollarMilkshake in order to discuss some topical topic of interest.

This week, we avoid paradigm-shifting seriousness in favor of discussing what we love about film festivals. The energy, the electricity, the discovery, all of it comes together to create a communal experience that film demands but rarely sees anymore out of the festival circuit.

We both missed SXSW, but that doesn’t mean we’re not there in spirit.

Landon: ? ?So I’m sad to be missing out on SXSW this year, but I really needed to take the time off to spend some time with my cactus collection. I know I’ll catch up on the movies that I missed at some point, but when I think about the film festival experience – seeing as many movies in as little time as possible – I’m wondering if I’m better off as a film fan seeing the titles I’ve missed later on.?

??While I love me a good film festival, I’m wondering if it’s the best way to see a given movie. So what say you? What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of seeing movies in a festival setting???

Cole: ? ?Glad we’re not exploring a broad question this week.?

I’d challenge your assertion by asking: how are you going to see most of those festival movies you’re skipping? Most don’t get distribution, meaning that you just skipped out on your chance to see some great, amazing, incredible, life-changing movie that isn’t commercially viable enough to get bought.

?Landon: ? ?That’s quite true. And the highest of highs that the film festival experience offers is the opportunity to see something great that you may never see anywhere else, or great films that you see with a blank slate well before marketing and buzz and other peoples’ opinions kick in. That to me is what film fests offer that other viewing opportunities don’t.?
Cole: ? ?Definitely.? Plus the chance to eat way too much barbecue with friends.

I love the communal experience of it all against the background of supposed life or death situations.

Do I see quirky indie drama at noon if it means missing the sci-fi comedy? What if I choose wrong? What are other people doing? Why is there sauce all over my pants?

?Landon: ? ?And there’s always the other side of seeing something completely untested, and that’s seeing complete crap. It’s a risk when deciding, and a risk when you enter the movie theater.?
Cole: ? ?But that’s part of the fun. The gamble!? And then you get to walk out (if you’re not reviewing it for a middle-sized internet movie publication).

?Landon: ? ?It’s a fun risk, and I definitely get a communal high after seeing 20 movies in 5 days. My agenda here is more to the fact that we see these movies at festivals in a completely different context than other people will see them, and I find that interesting in terms of how we see the movie free from other factors that will inevitably take place.?

It’s an experience that one can only define on a case-by-case basis though, but it’s interesting nontheless in that it almost seems like a more “pure” way of going into a movie.
Cole: ? ?It seems pure, definitely. But one of the downsides is that you’re seeing so many movies that it’s difficult or impossible to sit and ruminate on what you’ve just seen.?
Landon: ? ?That’s the downside?
Cole: ? ?You’re forced to digest every morsel, no matter how heavy, like so much peach cobbler from that great barbecue place down the street.?

And if you’re reviewing, you have to bowel out that review fairly quickly before the avalanche of screenings.
But I think all of the negatives are wiped away clean by the sheer joy of discovering something brilliant.

?Landon: ? ?What’s wonderful about it is that it’s a way of seeing movies that seems impossible today, where in most other contexts we know everything about a movie, including whether or not it’s supposed to be great, months before setting our eyes on it?.?

Cole: ? ?Yes! Absolutely!? Maybe we get a synopsis, maybe just an image, maybe nothing at all. You’re right that it’s the only gateway to see movies blind out there today.
Landon: ? ?And it seems to be a location where the dialogue surrounding movies are created?. “Chaos Reigns,” for example.

?Cole: ? ?It’s that feeling of being in the middle of it all – like Jay Baruchel’s Sharpie-wielding character in Almost Famous, 0nly it’s the films themselves that are rock stars.

Landon: ? ?A few friends of mine recently watched Dogtooth, which I had recommended to them after seeing it at SXSW last year, and they had a completely different experience of the film since they had heard about it for months before from people like me, and I loved it so much in part because I had no idea what was awaiting me going in.?

This was a unique case in which the context in which we each saw the movie changed our experience of it completely.

Cole: ? ?Brain-scrambling movies are the best to see that way. I had a similar reaction to Alex De La Iglesia’s The Last Circus, and I fear my friends seeing it after hearing so many things about it.?

Plus, any movie at a festival is going to have the blessing/curse of immediate excitement. Whenever I’m at a festival, I’m like every other attendee – raring to go, ready to watch a ton of movies, prepared to be blown away.

?Landon: ? ?And it’s an odd position that we’re put in after seeing it, in which we establish the dialogue surrounding it. Take the many reactions to Jodie Foster’s The Beaver Wednesday night, for example.?
We have a role in word-of-mouth promotion when there are films that come from fests that we champion, but not a role in reception or advertising.

?Cole: ? ?And that’s assuming that nothing crazy happens. Take Red State at Sundance for example.?
The clamoring noise coming out of the festival had little to do with the movie and more to do with Kevin Smith’s spectacle. Situations like that seem ideal for movies coming out of the festival because 1) it creates buzz 2) that buzz has nothing to do with the quality or expecations-building of the movie itself

?Landon: ? ?And sensational events that do have something to do with the movie play a part in unofficial promotion as well, like people walking out of Antichrist in Cannes, or fainting during 127 Hours at Toronto. And that, in turn, changes how people view the film as later festival goers or commercial filmgoers then see that film as one that can induce walking out or fainting?.

And movies never seem to have as strong an effect either way as they did in their first festival run

?Cole: ? ?I don’t know. I fainted while watching sex, lies and videotape in my apartment once.?

Landon: ? ?Peter Gallagher’s eyebrows are that intimidating no matter how many times you see them?.

Cole: ? ?Truth.? It seems like the good old days used to see that sort of excitement at drive-ins or at midnight premieres. Now, it seems like all of that movie energy is solely bottled up at festivals. Which is sad, but not all that sad.

?Landon: ? ?Good point. It’s almost paradoxical. Film festivals exist in part to saturate media surrounding a film, but they’re also a rare place almost free from media saturation surrounding films.?

Should I say “almost” again?

Cole: ? ?Please do.?

Are you sad that we didn’t save Hollywood or note a massive paradigm shift this week?

Landon: ? ?Almost.?

Cole: ? ?I think if we had, I would have gotten to mention barbecue more.?

?Landon: ? ?More BBQ on the west coast would undoubtedly solve the story crisis.?

Cole: ? ?And there it is!? Hollywood saved!

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