August 13, 2020


Oh, motion pictures, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

A Top Ten List

Molly Shannon doing a Q&A after a screening of her film “Other People”

10. Every year SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) holds a film festival. For many, this event is the highlight of the year: a week to drop everything in the real world and sit in theatres, watching animation, documentaries, short films, and yes, even the big blockbusters that will hit theatres in the coming weeks. I’m lucky to have gone–not just because the occasional celebrity sighting, or even spending a week seeing films–but because the discussion at so many tables and street corners are thoughtful opinions about the multitude of work even a short film can entail. It isn’t just grab a camera and film some pretty people. Discussions about acting abounded, sure, but also about lighting, cinematography, directing, storyline, dialogue, film quality, and camera specs.

As a writer, I control all of these pieces in my work. Often, I don’t think about these different aspects separately. But when October rolls around and I’m enmeshed in these conversations, listening to those whose lives revolve around it, I am reminded about the cumulative effect of each department, how films, like symphony orchestras, are made up of pieces to contribute to the whole.

img_46629. I saw 24 works and attended 2 writing discussions from the screenwriters for two of the feature films. The theme of the week was Bring Tissues. I cried in almost every single film, often for very different reasons. Whether in joy after watching the feature-length documentary “The Freedom to Marry,” or in anguish during another feature-length documentary “Indivisible” (you try watching mothers kiss and touch their children through a fence and not cry), each film found an emotional touchstone. Once again, these films were a reminder to connect with an audience, to strive to share the experience of the narrative.

8. Conversations started with, “Hi, I wrote/directed/starred in _____. What is your project here?” Everyone sparkled with excitement for their work, and others’ work as well. I met lovely people from all around the country, and few lovely people from out of the country (hellooo, Ireland!).  There is a joy in following them on social media, seeing them succeed with their work–and then of course, bragging to my friends and family that I know them.

Me & Vinnie Paz, the boxer and subject of the film “Bleed For This”

7. There were many films I didn’t have a chance to see. Between scheduling conflicts, exhaustion, and panels running overtime, it was no wonder. But in some ways, I was glad of this. It kept us hungry, wanting more, scheduling an intricate dance of everyone’s time, asking to hold a seat nearby for a last-minute slip in when a Q&A ran overtime.

6. Brain Fatigue. Remember how it felt the last time you went running? Or a big workout, when you woke up the next day sore and aching? Your brain can feel like that. By the end of the week, I was both happy for the marathon to be over, and sad that every day of my life wasn’t this jam-packed. These films weren’t passive viewing; no playing video games on an iPad while watching these. They gripped, made you think, and yes, made you cry.

5. They weren’t all perfect. Some of the feature-lengths weren’t great. Same with some of the shorts. But that’s fine–wonderful, in fact. Finding the loose thread allowed an opening for discussion of how to improve it. Analyzing to see if it was editing, narrative, visuals, kept me on my toes.

Q&A panel for “Bleed For This” From the left, the moderator, then director/screenwriter Ben Younger, subject Vinnie Paz, star Miles Teller

4. I let myself just listen. You may not know that I am opinionated. Really opinionated. Sometimes I’m kind of a jerk about my opinion (sorry about that). But at the film fest, while I of course had my opinions, I gave my ego permission to take the week off. Listening to the people around me give viewpoints that I don’t have the expertise to even realize exist was such a treat. I loved hearing the breakdown and vocabulary of analysis that exists in film.

3. Despite the open bar, I didn’t drink that much. I went to the receptions every night, staying out late talking to new people. The cool part? I never had more than two drinks, despite the hours I spent there. I simply couldn’t drink faster while I was meeting the new people.

2. This was an excuse to hang out downtown ALL. DAY. I was able to sneak treats that I never otherwise allow myself: once the line was actually short in front of Leopold’s Ice Cream. The Coffee Fox wasn’t terribly crowded. I accidentally attended a sales meeting at Marche de Macarons. (true story)

img_47021. Movies are magical. Going to a film festival gave me a week of magic. A WEEK. From opening my eyes about the athletes of color during the 1936 Olympics, to showing me the love of adoptive parents in “Lion,” or listening to the always colorful Vinny Paz after the biopic of his life, “Bleed for This,” it showed me a world outside of my own existence. The heartbreaking stillness of “Moonlight” sat me squarely in a life I cannot imagine on my own.

This is why art is important. Why art is Grand. Art is a tool in which we can see an existence beyond our own, and if we are going to survive, we need a way to exercise our compassion.

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