Film-fest field guide
Who goes and how to spot them
At 8 years old, the Sacramento International Film and Music Festival might be on the verge of seeming a little sceney. This is as it should be. With a dozen features, 50-plus shorts and 30-plus music videos shown over five days, this year’s fest offers nothing if not variety—and that goes for the crowd, too. No longer is it entirely about watching movies; sometimes the most compelling entertainment comes from watching audiences. And so, below, a quick guide to the types of folks most likely to attend, and the festival fare most likely to interest them.
The prospector attends every film festival with a simple plan: Find a cinematic gem, blog about it, get congratulated (by, like, three people) for knowing about it before most people did, and then seem so over it upon its full theatrical release, if ever one comes. This person may speak too loudly and often demand the last word, even if no one’s listening. It’s hard to determine whether the sneer results from disaffection or nearsightedness. At this year’s Sac Film and Music Fest, the prospector might have high hopes for Commit, a dramatic opening-night feature about two Internet buddies’ suicide pact, or for festival-circuit favorite August the First, a Nigerian-American family drama.
Notwithstanding unconvincingly pretended anti-establishment attitudes, the tourist seems quite normal and nice—your average well-dressed, Sactown mag-toting, L Wine Lounge-lingering young professional. On average s/he prefers performance art to be experienced from the safe remove of a movie screen, and seems glad to come down from Rocklin for the evening—if also glad to skeedaddle back there when it’s over. But meanwhile s/he’s game for a friendly debate over whether a feature like The Metrosexual is too late to the table or just too precious, or whether a short subject like Agnieszka: A Dark Symphony of 2039 is excitingly experimental or just mental.
A common breed of Sacramento moviegoer. Maybe by day some of them pose as cool kids, but by night, when the moon is bright, a compulsion rages within them: They can’t stop loving puerile, salacious, low-budget schlock. They figure they’d better not miss the feature horror flick See Jane Run, whose tagline, “It’s hard to scream with your mouth full,” pretty much says it all. Likewise, all that such moviegoers need to know about the festival’s “Midnight Shorts Madness” program is that it’s for mature audiences only and that it closes with a movie called Zombie Love.
Who finds it so ironic and amusing that a slate of shorts including something called Zombie Love could be described as “for mature audiences only.” This glowering character has written off the film-festival experience altogether, and would just love for you to ask why then does he keep coming back year after year. He really doesn’t know, he’ll say with a calculatedly heavy sigh, given that the film medium is pretty much dead and there’s nothing to see here but a bunch of talentless hacks wasting other people’s money and time on so much mental masturbation. Tell him that the phrase “mental masturbation” makes you think of Annie Hall and he’ll probably just roll his eyes—but look carefully: It could just be to hide the tears. His only hope here is When a Man Falls in the Forest, an ensemble drama of Midwestern middle-class sadness with Timothy Hutton, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Sharon Stone in serious mode, and veteran indie-flick go-to mope Dylan Baker (remember the pedophile in Todd Solondz’s Happiness? Yeah, that guy).
The social servicer
Even without becoming cynical, some people simply opt out of standard commercial American cinema. They just don’t go to the movies, not anymore. Dutifully, though, because it’s important, they do see films. Documentary shorts, for example, like Pilgrimage, about the transformative postwar history of a Japanese-American internment camp; or Desarrollo Humano, which presents the human face of the United Nations’ Report on Human Development; or Generation Tehran, about Iran’s youth culture; or Granny D Goes to Washington, about the obscure folk hero Doris “Granny D” Haddock, an 89-year-old woman who walked 3,200 miles in the name of campaign-finance reform. The fest is ready for people like this—apparently and perhaps rightly presuming them godless and thus programming these docs for Sunday morning.
This serious-minded and ambitious young soul likely will attend the festival-hosted conversation with producer Larry Meistrich—though perhaps less because he helped develop Sling Blade and You Can Count on Me, two of the more exceptional American independent films of the past 20 years, than because any industry inroad will do. True, 20 years worth of film history sometimes seems like an awful lot to such students, but at least they’re a little curious. More than some. For example:
The retarded adolescent
He probably laughed upon reading the word retarded just now. Yes, he is probably a he. And he has had his fill—maybe one or two, for that anthropology class junior year—of social-message movies. If he’s to be challenged by a film, he’d prefer familiar-seeming challenges, like maybe-it’s-a-dream-time-travel plot points and Vietnam combat drama. He feels at home among guns getting cocked and grizzled narrators intoning clichés like, “Smoke ’em if you got ’em.” For these reasons, he will enjoy A.W.O.L., one of a half dozen shorts screening together on Saturday afternoon.
Generally this crowd consists of people who know people in the bands for which local filmmakers made music videos, as part of the “Sac Music Seen” program. Mostly they’d rather hang around outside the theater smoking and comparing tats. But they might be inclined to check out the slightly emo-seeming Commit.
These people can be seen scanning the Crest lobby crowd with a predatory gaze, in search of someone—anyone—who might give a crap that they hung out with Timothy Hutton at an Angels game that one time. “This so isn’t Sundance,” they tend to exclaim derisively, starting or ending conversations. Surely you’ll find a starfucker or two lurking, original screenplay tucked under one arm, at the festival’s public talk with Sacramento-native writer-director Joe Carnahan (Narc, Smokin’ Aces, various skirmishes with SN&R).
Which is a short way of saying faintly coke-bloated former frat boy social-climbing politico, for whom the Crest seems like a good place to take a date because it’s not far from the Capitol, should the need arise to dash back to the office and chalk up. Such a person doesn’t seem to pay much attention to the movie no matter what it is—nor really to his date, who’s just happy not to be at another sports bar for once. This guy’ll likely hit the Carnahan convo, if only to drift back out halfway through, and maybe scope the Sac Music Seen scene. “I didn’t even know we had a film festival here,” he’ll be heard to say more than once while grinning oafishly. Conceivably he could like the starchy-jock-strap drama Road to Victory, about a college football player whose steroid use renders him impotent just in time for hooking up with a hottie stripper.
This conspicuously open-hearted individual, usually a person of outwardly sunny disposition, can’t bear to criticize for fear of hurting the festival’s feelings. Instead, to show support and some hometown pride, she or he makes it a point to see as much of the fest as possible. That includes even the “Student Days” shorts program, from which the patronizer typically favors fare such as One-Eyed Marky and the Gay Caballeros—from the University of Colorado, an agreeably studentish live-action short built around an animated flight of fancy: Its eponymous hero discovers, allegorically, that maybe it is better to have a hypnotic eye-patch and be unique than to have two eyes like everybody else and be normal. The patronizer is also a viewer with sense enough to embrace any movie featuring pugs in life preservers, and so also will see the nonfiction feature An American Opera, for which director Tom McPhee spent months in post-Katrina New Orleans documenting the trials and tribulations of rescued house pets.
Usually a pasty, slouching, self-important critic, hovering in a darkened theater corner or trying to seem busy so as to avoid seeming lonely, this individual combines characteristics from all of the others above. Most commonly confused with the cynic, the aloofist remains recognizable by a peculiar pallor and proneness to glum superiority; he’s above even cynicism. When judging the films no longer is enough, the aloofist judges the people who come to see them. But, you know, still doesn’t care.