Cinephilia and masochism often go hand in hand, particularly at film festivals. Those who attend one are likely to get the so-called “festival bug,” inspiring further attendance and more drastic stunts. In all-out slogs, the generally accepted threshold for lunacy is five films in a day. At that point, critical faculties and general sanity start to go out the door. You’re seeing films, but you really begin to slowly stop seeing them.
So, because my natural case of the festival bug has reached near terminal status (and Friday’s programming at Fantastic Fest was jam-packed with gems too good to pass up), I decided to up the ante and see if I could handle six films in a day. This has to qualify as the decathlon of the film world or something.
The following is my account of 18 hours in utter madness as I told it to myself in fits and spurts on an iPhone note. I recorded just about anything that might affect my read on a given film in the hopes that it illuminates what kind of environmental and personal factors may exert influence over the reception of a film.
(A quick clarifying note: Fantastic Fest is the Alamo Drafthouse theater chain’s film festival dedicated to genre programming. It’s all held conveniently in one single location in Austin, Texas, cutting down on frustrating transit that can limit film attendance at larger festivals.)
One strong coffee in the system and one small banana scarfed down from the house of my gracious hosts.
Had to run and get a quick iced coffee from Starbucks. Not taking any chances. Of course the line is moving slowly. American Honey starts in 12 minutes just down the street, but naturally I’m panicking.
Just realizing my recharging Mophie case didn’t charge last night, and I’ve been texting liberally this morning. Didn’t charge my phone. 68%. Crap. Guarantee I’ll come out of the screening under 60% somehow because iPhones.
I’m settled in for an 8:20 A.M. press and industry screening of American Honey. It’s arguably my most anticipated film of Fantastic Fest despite being one of the least on-brand films they programmed. I hoped to see it with a big crowd at the public screening, but my only chance to talk with the film’s star (and fellow Houstonian) Sasha Lane is at the step-and-repeat before that screening. Asking a question there requires attending this showing, so here I am with no more than a dozen people.
God bless the Chameleon Cold Brew folks set up outside. I take a swig of cold Mexican iced coffee with the gusto of someone pounding shots at the bar.
I’m walking around the theater complex sipping my coffee and texting people about how much I loved American Honey. A bee flies into my face, and I let out a nice expletive. So much for letting that film, which celebrates kindness to all creatures, live inside me.
I’m recalling all the shots from the film. I perceived the intent, was keen on when focus changed, when the camera moved, when it lingered, when the attention turned the landscape. Is it early morning clarity or the fact that I’m a devotee of Andrea Arnold and Robbie Ryan’s last collaboration, Fish Tank?
Holy mackerel, my head is THROBBING … and right as I sit down for The Red Turtle. I’ll need to run back to my car to grab that aspirin from the center console as soon as the film is over. Well, hopefully the pretzel and queso will help relieve some of the pain for the time being.
Wishing there was some kind of way I could mainline articles about the making of American Honey and interviews with Sasha Lane – needing some inspiration and fast given that my interview (all two minutes of it) is in eight hours, most of which will be occupied by sitting down and staring at a screen.
Also, I look down at my Fitbit and notice I’m hovering around 2,700 steps. Crap. I’m going to have to just do some aimless walking later if I’m going to hit that 10,000 step mark.
As I got up from my seat, someone behind me apologized for how much they moved around; they said they couldn’t get comfortable in their seat. I might have to take a cue from this guy later today…
Had I not seen American Honey and The Red Turtle in succession, I probably never would have connected their respective takes on human benevolence to animals. But the first film is still the one that’s occupying the most space in my mind. I’ve never been particularly moved by Studio Ghibli films — which Film Twitter would have you think makes me some kind of monster — and The Red Turtle didn’t really change the story.
I decided to walk to lunch and it started raining. Not because of any meteorological phenomenon, but solely because I decided to leave my rain jacket in the car. I got kimchi fries from Austin’s famous Chi’lantro BBQ, which is probably a bad idea because I’ve only had kimchi a few times and I’m not sure how well that’s going to sit in my stomach. The fries are already going to be like a rock in my intestines.
Also, they don’t have WiFi, so I use my phone as a mobile hotspot to scout more Sasha Lane background information on my iPad. Down to 39% now.
Walking back to the theater, and I just realized I’ve been at this for six hours already. That means I have 12 to go. Oy.
Just saw Mason from Boyhood – Ellar Coltrane – and did a massive double take. He’s on the phone, though, and is a normal person so I don’t feel right going up and saying anything.
Fitbit check in as my next film, 24×36, starts – 5,614 steps.
UGH, where did this zit on the left side of my lip come from…
I have spilled iced coffee on my shorts twice thanks to a leaky cup at the little coffee place across the street from the theater. Ellar Coltrane is sitting two tables over from me. We made eye contact at one point, and any hope of going over and talking before Toni Erdmann is shot while it looks like I’ve pissed my pants twice.
I had a nice five-minute chat with Amy Nicholson from MTV News. She had tweeted out a call for any press attendees to fill out her team for the Satanic Panic Room, an Alamo Drafthouse variation on the “escape room” craze sweeping the nation. Naturally, I responded because why not? I didn’t make the team because it turns out she wasn’t really looking for a stranger, but she did encourage me to introduce myself. So I did.
Geez, this café is crowded now. And I’m sweating like crazy. The fabric around my armpits will probably be gone by midnight.
Settled in for Toni Erdmann in all of its 162-minute glory. I had to snag a seat directly by the exit since I’ll have to bolt out to make it to the step-and-repeat for Sasha Lane at 8 P.M. About halfway through, I’ll order some dinner to pace out the meal – but I do have a nagging fear of the check not coming back in time and holding me up.
Also, only in the 6,700 step range? Come on.
Sprinted out of Toni Erdmann to make it to the bathroom and then out to the red carpet. Turns out, still waiting on Sasha Lane.
Still holding on. Guess I’ll take this opportunity to digest Toni Erdmann since I didn’t take my customary minute of contemplation as the credits roll.
Nothing from a step-and-repeat, red carpet interview deserves its own write-up. So here’s what happened in my two minutes chatting with Sasha Lane.
MARSHALL: Can you tell me a little bit more about the Nicaragua fundraiser you have on your social media pages?
SASHA LANE: Yeah, what I like about it is that it’s not just a bunch of people sending in money and bringing things. We’re going there to build with the families in the community, we’re doing it together and think education is a really important thing that people are lacking. If you just give them the smarts and the tools to do what they do, then we don’t have to just ship over clothes and funding. They can learn how to build things.
MARSHALL: When did you all come up with the idea?
SASHA LANE: Actually, I got it from Riley [Keough, her American Honey co-star]. She did it last year in the fall, and she told me about it.
MARSHALL: Is that the real Kristen Stewart on there?
SASHA LANE [giggling]: Yeah!
MARSHALL: You seem really engaged in social and political issues. Was that informed at all by the road trip in American Honey and what you saw?
SASHA LANE: I mean, I know this part of America. I’ve lived this life. I’ve been so aware of it since I was born. Especially with everything that’s going on now, I think it’s really cool that it’s coming out because so many people know about this stuff and refuse to see it. They turn an eye.
MARSHALL: I loved how the camera moved in surprising ways in the movie. Did you know beforehand in the shots how Robbie [Ryan, director of photography] and Andrea [Arnold, director] would get up in your face or change focus?
SASHA LANE: Yeah, she told me from the beginning that it’s very much going to follow me. You are living through me. I didn’t know to the extent of, like, they need my shoulder or so close that my dreads are getting caught in the camera thing. I was like, “That’s a little much.” But they made it very intimate and comfortable to where it didn’t feel weird or awkward that it was in my face.
I’m currently walking around the lobby trying to find a place where the air is blowing strongly. Can’t find one. I need some place to cool off after walking a solid 1,500 steps down South Lamar.
Quickly reminded of why I love this festival – I noticed a post in the Fantastic Fest Fiends Facebook group with two kind fellow festers offering up free Black Phillip themed beer. Yes, that Black Phillip from 2015 Fantastic Fest hit The Witch. This magnanimous couple heard about it, tracked down a case in Michigan and schlepped 25 pounds of it to Austin. Only to give it away for FREE. Angels walk among us.
I’m starting to enter full festival body mode. The edges of my eyelids are burning. My nostrils are in open revolt over the fragrant chili one seat over. Intestines are uneasy (and that thick Pecan Porter shake probably did not help matters). My backside and the seat seem to fuse together into one swampy lagoon.
Festival fatigue starts to set in, too. I feel like I can say “time is a flat circle” as convincingly as Matthew McConaughey in True Detective. Was I sitting in The Bad Batch for two days or two hours? My mind drifted elsewhere during Keanu Reeves’ big speech in the climax. Can’t say it’s a point of pride, but it happened. I still feel like I registered everything that happened, even if a few scenes did blur together.
Phew, finally hit 10,000 steps while moseying around the Overlook Hotel-patterned carpet in the lobby.
I told myself I was done buying food from Alamo Drafthouse for the day. Then, I realized that I wanted to try their milk and cookies, and the milk will actually help keep me awake for the nearly two-hour runtime of The Girl with All the Gifts. (Milk putting you to sleep is a MYTH, people.)
I hit my head on table pole when trying to slide out from underneath the table in front of me. Thanks a lot, people sitting next to me.
There’s a large indention in my hair, my eyelids are suddenly heaviest part of body, all that food I ate during the day feels ready to spill out of my esophagus, my posture is undeniably slouched and I came to rely on my fist to keep my face pointed at screen.
I started to notice stupid things like how Gemma Arterton kind of looks like Mads Mikkelsen, or how Glenn Close’s character just spews a lot of exposition. I still followed the arc of the film but definitely missed some of the fine print about what they were doing and why they needed to do it. (But hey, I’ve seen zombie films with fresh eyes that don’t really provide clear answers to these questions.)
Everyone seems as tired as me. I feel like two people easily could have nailed me leaving the parking garage. Hopefully “Choices (Yup)” from American Honey will get me through the drive to get back to bed.
Is Safe Neighborhood really worth getting out bed for? I could easily just sleep through my alarms. Five hours of sleep in exchange for 18 hours of viewing doesn’t feel fair. But alas, I get up to do it all again – it’s only three movies today, though. I’m not that crazy. No one runs back-to-back marathons.
Follow Marshall Shaffer on Twitter (@media_marshall).