Press Pause: On Waiting and Watching

Especially in this time of year, the festival season wrapping up shortly with AFI Fest bringing up the rear in the coming weeks, the conversation for any given film starts well before a general audience can pay to see it. We rely on the festivals to stoke anticipation for what will be the Must See conversation movies of the fall, starting all the way back in May at Cannes. Then, you’ll get a second wave when the film actually drops to a usually limited audience in the major cities. By the time it hits your city, for those of us outside of the top 20 markets, you may have already read backlash to the backlash of any given film; you come to the conversation surrounding the film as a reactor to it rather than a participant in it.

This has been one of my major frustrations as a film-lover and one of the misguided excuses I’ve used to have delayed starting this site. So how do I respond to the challenge as someone who’s trying to grow their voice in this discussion? The short answer is: I don’t. Though the large amount of reviews in the first week would make it seem otherwise, filmmixtape will not just be about what you can go see this week. The site will be the past, present, and future, and hopefully reflect my point of view (my mixtape-style tastes, if you will).

But, at the end of the day, why complain about waiting a few extra weeks just to say I’m in the conversation as it’s happening (especially as it’s presumptuous to think I’m really being heard)? While I want to devour everything I can and would love to be able to see films that are stuck with the most minimal distribution, think of the film-lovers that never get to experience even the most taken-for-granted prestige picks in the theatre just because of what part of the country they’re living.

This is where I get to be a local fanboy.

We’re lucky to say we’ve had a rapid expansion to what we can see, and soon, thanks to the efforts of Gateway Film Center. The programming gives us a wide breadth: they’re equally as comfortable showing a foreign film that could build a cult following as they are with showing an emerging new voice as they are with the top-tier mainstream releases. Their rotating series allow major film buffs the chance to see the greats like Hitchcock on the big screen, or even the college horror crowd to gag at a weekly shocker that probably won’t play anywhere else in the entire state.

But despite its location and demographic, it’s not just a young crowd. This year, my screenings there of Ex Machina and Inside Out had to be among the most diverse crowds I’ve ever been a part of, age, race, you know name it. The unique atmosphere it fosters is centered on the movies themselves, and it’s the place to go if you want to experience a movie with a crowd that wants nothing but to love what they’re going to see.

For someone like me, it’s also the fastest in town to get a limited release.

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We’re a true word of mouth city, in ways beyond movie-going. Our film representation of that is our beloved Drexel. I remember the days of my dad taking me to see basically anything they programmed. We saw on “opening night” to a full crowd, albeit in a smaller auditorium, a movie no one had heard of called Donnie Darko, long before it reached DVD cult ubiquity. He took 13-year-old me to see Dancer in the Dark (twice, such a trooper) because I thought it was the only thing that ever existed ever.

But this is a crowd that’s game to see anything and go the extra step and talk to people about it, a hub for word of mouth. I remember seeing a half-full (this time in the biggest auditorium) You Can Count On Me on “opening” night. We adored it and demanded our family see it the next week, and there was a line half-way down the block.

These places know their audience wants and they bring it to us as fast as we can. The great blessing is that they’re both non-profit, hopefully keeping them at our grasp and doing what they’re doing well for as long as possible.

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It’s not all about the small movies though. Right around the corner, I’ve got Studio 35 programming the big budget movies that their single screen demands. It’s my ultimate first choice because it’s in our neighbor, part of the local community, and typically screens the big movies you care about. Again, they also drive a film-passionate crowd, the kind that you want to watch The Avengers with and won’t have to deal with indifferent teenagers on their cell phones. Luckily, they’re reaching the financial prosperity to potentially add on a screen and grow their already engaging programming.

So why am I really complaining at all? How many odd teenagers like me had a theatre in their city (or state) even play Dancer in the Dark? Most of Darko‘s initial big fans didn’t realize it actually had a theatrical release. How many foreign films or documentaries do those people even have the opportunity of seeing in a theatre, let alone the good ones?

This is a post about gratitude. I’m lucky to live in a city, while not the first stop on a movie’s release plan, that is somewhere that I can take in more than the average filmgoer and be able to share that experience with others. I feel a great deal of pride for my theatres, as much as I do the films they’ve ushered to me. They’re as much a reason for me starting this endeavor as the movies I’ll be begging you to see.

So thank you! Thank you all so much for reading, and stick around.

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