Film Scoop: Film Fest magic

By Peter Hemminger

Your Jetta glides gracefully into the vacant parking stall. Your friends spill out of the car and make their way towards the mall. Pulling open the doors, you step into a world of gaudiness. Neon lights flash from every direction, posters battle one another for your attention, and above you an animatronic dragon spews billows of smoke. Upon reaching the end of the ticket queue, your wallet empties in exchange for two flimsy pieces of paper and a bag of stale popcorn with “flavour” squirted all over it. Your group files into the auditorium and stakes out an empty spot amidst screaming children and muscle-teed frat boys, your feet clinging to the floor like flypaper. Ah, film.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Once a year, devoted cinephiles get together to create a true filmic experience, a celebration of movies, movie-makers and movie-lovers alike. Since opening last Friday evening, the sixth annual Calgary International Film Festival has provided a delicious alternative to the garish megaplexes dominating the landscape.

The festival’s sense of community separates it from the movie norm. Audiences are encouraged to mingle before screenings and applaud after them, breaking the usual barrier of passivity. At the screening of Buster Keaton’s The General not only was there a live organ player, audiences were encouraged to cheer for the hero and boo at the villain in a throwback to the days where fun didn’t come with a social stigma. Certain screenings even boast the filmmakers themselves, willing to take part in stilted question and answer sessions before allowing you to get them drunk in the Kaboom Room, the official Film Fest party spot atop the Uptown.

Instead of seeing the same generic plot filled in by different, yet oddly similar, actors, the Festival provides an impressive array of diversity. French sex farces and feminist documentaries rub shoulders with zombies spawned by tree sap and vegetables re-enacting Greek tragedy. The Fest’s tag line this year is “A film for every film lover,” and if the screenings so far are any indication, they hit the mark. Through carefully planned scheduling, audiences could have seen Deep Blue, a majestic undersea documentary narrated by the ever-sexy Pierce Brosnan; The Child (L’Enfant), winner of this year’s Palm d’Or at Cannes; and Tale of Two Sisters, a Korean ghost story in the vein of The Ring or The Grudge, among dozens of others. Certainly a more appealing option than the latest Vin Diesel family comedy.

Of course, nothing on such a grand scale could happen without its share of hardships. Eating nothing but popcorn and pizza-by-the-slice for days on end can have dire effects when the only exercise you get is by walking from theatre to theatre. It can also be hard on the old ego to get home feeling exhausted after doing little but sitting still and staring forwards all day long. Then again, being able to brag about seeing 16 movies in four days makes up for any extra pounds and permanently deformed buttocks.

The Fest isn’t without flaws. Late starts to screenings are pretty much the norm, and volunteers are forced to awkwardly apologize for the technical difficulties causing the wrong movie being shown. Normally this is only a minor inconvenience, but sometimes the movies actually start so late you have to choose between missing the end of one film or the beginning of the next. The ads running before the screenings are mildly entertaining, but pass holders who are watching more than a couple of films would probably appreciate a bit more variety. Sometimes, not often mind you but sometimes, you can stumble onto films so god-awful they make you question the value of independent film altogether. Still, for every disappointment, there are a dozen hidden gems just waiting to be discovered.

You shift in your uncomfortable seat and hear your shoe tear itself away from the adhesive floor. You check your watch thinking Richard Gere should be convincing the far-too-young bombshell it was all a big misunderstanding any minute now. He does, they kiss, the credits role and you gather your things. You’re angry your money didn’t buy you any more than the opportunity to turn your brain off for 90 minutes; then again, you always feel this way after a trip to the megaplex. This could be the only way you experience film, or you could take the step into the world of the bizarre, the quirky, the artistic, the rewarding. The Calgary International Film Fest will be waiting.

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