When was the last time you went to a film where you genuinely had no idea was going to happen?
When was the last time you remember actually experiencing films, or do you feel like you’re just watching the same old thing over and over?
Go on, think about it. I can wait.
* * *
Okay, back now? That’s right, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? When I was a kid, I got to do this pretty often, because a great friend of mine invited me into the wild and wacky world of Chinese kung fu films, where I saw acrobatic feats I had no idea were possible and learned that writers and directors sometimes do kill every single hero by the final frame of the movie. Another friend introduced me to samurai films and I learned that action could be tense and silent, and death could come with a single swing of a blade.
Needless to say, those films turned my notions of storytelling upside down and made me wonder again, like when I was a kid. What’s going to happen next? What might happen next?
It’s sad when I go to a movie now and I pretty much know what the next steps in the narrative will be. Hollywood films particularly fall prey to this debilitating problem. They pay so much attention to audience surveys and to what people say they want, they forget that sometimes audiences just want to be surprised, and they want to feel. They want all the feels, in fact.
This is why Hollywood films get a bad rap. I know, it’s a guilty pleasure, watching another action movie where you know the main character isn’t really in any danger, and only his friends are going to take any sort of substantial damage. Where nothing really changes at the end of the film, and hope shines again like a light in the darkness…
I get it. I like them too. Sometimes. But here’s the deal. Sometimes, I want more. I want to be surprised, I want to make a new kind of memory, to examine the dark side of life, the little mustache twirling maniac in my mind cackling with glee, or the little boy crying with anger and sadness.
It’s okay. I think. I’m not crazier than you are, am I? But where do we find that type of experience?
I recommend film festivals. You can also visit your local library or e-book retailer, but for a quick dramatic shot in the eyes, local (or distant) film festivals deliver some spectacular content, and you’ll be able to share the experience with others.
I’m about to engage in some unabashed film exploration in about two weeks at the SDAFF Spring Showcase in San Diego, California. Come on down and join me and the Pacific Arts Movement team for a great time. Or find a festival near you. You don’t have to attend Sundance or Cannes to have a great time, and many times you’ll have better access to filmmakers at the smaller festivals.
Right now, I’m at WonderCon in Anaheim, CA. These actors and showrunners giving talks and signing autographs at big events like WonderCon and Comic-Con will sometimes roll their tanned and waxed meatsuits out to film festivals because they’re working on smaller independent features. You never know who you’ll end up meeting.
When you go, try something you wouldn’t ordinarily try. Experiment. You never know what you’ll find. The experience might be a little bit scary, but that’s what makes it memorable.