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"When is it okay to walk out of a movie?" James Ponsoldt asked on the Filmmaker blog yesterday. The post was inspired by his sitting through at Sundance a film he loathed; it was his attempt to redeem the experience by turning what might have been a withering dismissal into something more open-ended about the nature of moviegoing. It got a lot of comments quickly. A couple people thought it wasn't fair that he wouldn't name the film. One person called us a "PR site" for not doing so. Another person thought the post was "an attack," although I responded that it couldn't be an attack if we didn't name the target. Some people thought James was rejecting a kind of difficult cinema and rose to the defense of the nameless auteur who challenged his audience so. (Knowing James, I can assure you this is not the case -- he's the first in line for the most punishing of cinematic pleasures.)
Stepping back, though, I think what confounded people about the piece was the broader question it raises about the contract between moviegoer and filmmaker at a film festival. In the commercial cinema, that contract is ratified by a ticket price. In essence, you've done your duty to the filmmaker the moment you step into the theater. Walking out of a movie is like selling a losing stock -- it's hard to do without feeling that you've made a mistake, and that's a powerful incentive to keep watching. At a festival, things are different. You're among a film's first audiences, and you feel the responsibility of your opinion. But if you've got a press or industry pass, you haven't bought a ticket. You can get into anything, and your time is your investment. You don't want to squander it. Walking out of a movie, in fact, might only mean walking into another that you'd like better, that would reward your time more. In Toronto, for example, it's easy to theater hop, which means that your decision to see a movie is made more casually. "I'll check out the first 30 minutes of this film and if I don't like it skip out and see that film next door." It's a zero-sum game. One film's loss becomes another's gain. (I will never write about a film I haven't seen in its entirety... but I know people who do.) I've certainly discovered great films I never would have if I hadn't known that it would be easy to walk out. At Sundance, though, it's different. The movies are scheduled in such a way and the theaters are spread out enough that walking out of a movie really means you are seeing one less movie that day. Since most festival journalists consider their watch-count as a badge of pride, that's another powerful incentive to stay. (Conversely, I've fallen in love with films only because I resisted the urge to walk out. For example, I went from disliking Ronald Bronstein's Frownland in the first 15 minutes to being puzzled to being intrigued to liking it to, several days later, loving it.)
In an industry context, walking out can have both personal and professional consequences. A war of words arose at Sundance this year when The Hollywood Reporter reported on walkouts at the industry screening of Dito Monteil's The Son of No One. The suggestion that a buyer of a hotly anticipated film might have left early could have knocked six, seven figures off the acquisitions price. There is, in fact, a kind of kabuki that occurs in industry screenings, a sense of shared decorum that magnifies the significance of a walk out. (I remember being both personally hurt and, business-wise, anxious when a prominent woman in the industry I once worked for walked out of one of my Sundance premieres years ago.)
But what about the more fanciful, even artistic, reasons for walking out? Reasons removed from any relationship to the filmmaking business? I've been trying to remember who (some Surrealist? a Situationist?) said they would walk into a movie half way through and immediately walk out as soon as the plot became comprehensible. Or, what about the simple sensory pleasure associated with exiting the movie theater, irrespective of whatever film you might have seen. Wrote Roland Barthes in his essay, "Leaving the Movie Theater," "There is something to confess: your speaker likes to leave a movie theater. Back out on the more or less empty, more or less brightly lit sidewalk (it is invariably at night, and during the week, that he goes), and heading uncertainly for some cafe or other, he walks in silence (he doesn't like discussing the film he's just seen), a little dazed, wrapped up in himself, feeling the cold -- he's sleepy, that's what he's thinking, his body has become sopitive, soft, limp, and he feels a little disjointed, even (for a moral organization, relief comes only from this quarter) irresponsible. In other words, obviously, he's coming out of hypnosis."
When do you walk out of movies? And why? You can always email me at editor.filmmakermagazine AT gmail.com, or post on the thread linked above.
IFP'S 2011 INDEPENDENT FILMMAKER LABS OPEN FOR SUBMISSIONS Open to all first time documentary and narrative feature directors with films in post-production, IFP's Independent Filmmaker Labs are a year-long fellowship supporting independent filmmakers when they need it most: through the completion, marketing, and distribution of their first features. The Labs provide community, mentorship, and film-specific strategies to help filmmakers reach their artistic goals, support the film's launch, and maximize exposure in the global marketplace. Drawing from a national candidate pool, 20 projects (10 documentaries and 10 narratives) are selected for three immersive week-long labs held over the course of the year. The Labs focus first on creative feedback and the finishing process, followed by audience engagement and marketing strategies, and ending with distribution plans and options just as projects finish and have begun festival submissions. Recent Lab Project alumni include Ron Eyal & Eleanor Burke's 2011 Slamdance Best Narrative Feature Grand Jury Prize winner, Stranger Things; Dee Rees' Pariah, acquired by Focus Features at Sundance, Alrick Brown's Sundance World Narrative Audience winner, Kinyarwanda; and Victoria Mahoney's Yelling to the Sky, which world premieres this week at the Berlin International Film Festival. As part of IFP's ongoing commitment to diversity, the Independent Filmmaker Labs seeks to ensure that at least half of the participating projects have an inclusive range of races, genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities, and physical abilities in key creative positions. Upcoming deadlines for the 2011 Labs are March 11 (Documentary) and April 8 (Narrative). Additional detailed information and online applications are now available here
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CEDAR RAPIDS Miguel Arteta (Chuck & Buck, Youth in Revolt) returns with Cedar Rapids, a quirky comedy starring Ed Helms (The Office) as Tim, an insurance salesman who is sent to the "big city" of Cedar Rapids, Iowa to represent his company at a convention. There he makes the memorable acquaintance of three longtime insurance convention goers, played by John C. Reilly, Anne Heche and Isiah Whitlock Jr., who quickly introduce Tim to their boozing, partying lifestyle. The film also features comedic turns by Stephen Root, Sigourney Weaver, Alia Shawkat, Kurtwood Smith and Rob Corddry. Check out Filmmakermagazine.com tomorrow for a video interview with Arteta. POETRY South Korean director Lee Chang-dong's (Secret Sunshine) poignant and beautiful Poetry stars famed actress Jeong-hie Yun as Yang Mija, an elderly grandmother living on government assistance and caring for her teenage grandson, who selfishly rebukes her care. When Mija is diagnosed with an early onset of Alzheimer's, she copes with this news by enrolling in a local poetry class, writing about the beauty of the natural world around her. Meanwhile, her grandson is embroiled in a tragic scandal, and Mija tries to help him save face. This week on the blog, Filmmaker says goodbye to Maria Schneider (pictured left) and Tura Satana; Neoflix is charged with not paying filmmakers and its owner JC responds; the SXSW '11 lineup is announced; Jamie Stuart's Sundance "masterpiece" is revealed; and are you a nobody filmmaker?
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PETER BYCK, CARBON NATION By Brandon Harris
Hope is easy to sell, but fear is easier. Billing itself as a "climate change solutions" movie, Peter Byck's Carbon Nation doesn't want you to panic. If fear of the consequences of climate change has been the primary emotional content associated with the slew of climate themed docs that have found their way to screens in the wake of An Inconvenient Truth, Carbon Nation dwells more on the possibilities that technological innovation, communitarian initiative and an end to political gridlock could have on our world. read more
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Regular Deadline: June 30
Festival Dates: Nov. 4-6