Basically, I have devoted much of this week to figuring out my screening schedule for South by Southwest, which starts next Friday (I'll be flying out to Austin, Texas, on Thursday). That shouldn't be too difficult, at least on the face of it...but, as usual, I've discovered a way to overthink even a film-festival screening schedule and have found myself obsessing over it during my lunch breaks and during moments of relatively inactivity at work.
I think what I'm obsessing over is trying to strike a balance between my inner journalist's obligation to take chances on previously not-buzzed-about world premieres—in the hopes of discovering, say, the next Tiny Furniture—and my inner cinephile's excitement at finally seeing some of the films screening at SXSW that have generated buzz at previous festivals (films like Werner Herzog's 3D Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Miranda July's The Future and Susanne Bier's recent Oscar-winning In a Better World, among others). So far, I have come up with schedule after schedule, never satisfied that I was striking that balance enough to my liking. (Plus, my SXSW partner-in-crime, fellow House Next Door contributor Jonathan Pacheco, had already come up with his own tentative schedule earlier in the week, so I'm also trying to settle on a schedule that doesn't overlap too much with his.)
Last night, though, as I sat at a McDonald's (drinking a Shamrock Shake, by the way—because I was craving one yesterday), played around with SXSW Go—the festival's official app—on my iPhone and contemplated my schedule some more, I decided upon this approach: I would spend the first five days of the festival focusing more on catching as many of the world and North America premieres as I could, and then—because the SXSW Film Conference technically ends on March 15, even though screenings go on until the 19th—spend the rest of my time there filling in whatever gaps I wish to fill in.
Now I just have to nail down which films to see each day. Of course, even if I do figure out my day-to-day screening schedule, I'll probably need to allow for the possibility of last-minute changes—in case, for instance, buzz begins to generate around a certain world-premiere film that I haven't seen up to that point and I feel a strong need to see it as soon as possible. And then there's that dreaded fatigue I keep hearing about from seasoned film-festival attendees: If I decide to try to squeeze in, like, five films a day, including midnight screenings, I may well find myself dozing off through some films as the week drags on and the sleep deprivation accumulates. (Maybe you could consider my current mildly sleep-deprived state a practice run?)
However it all shakes out, at the very least I can take heart in the fact that, even before SXSW has started, I feel like I'm already getting the kind of film-festival experience that I was hoping to get out of this first foray into covering a festival outside of New York.
All that, then, has taken up my thoughts throughout this past week; thus the light blogging. I suspect next week will probably be the same story, as I pack, smooth out details and finally, on Thursday, fly out to Austin.
In the meantime, enjoy the following clip:
This is apropos of nothing, really, except that a) It made me laugh, and b) It comes from a well-regarded film from 1969 that I finally saw this past Monday at IFC Center: the late Arthur Penn's Alice's Restaurant. Though it certainly plays as a fascinating time capsule, the film is still a deeply moving experience in the way Penn mixes empathy with a palpable critical distance from the hippie lifestyle it depicts with such warmth and detail. That devastatingly lengthy final shot, of Alice standing alone outdoors as the camera pans slowly, behind trees, to the left, still haunts me, especially shorn as it is of any non-diegetic music to punctuate the moment. Did Penn, however unintentionally, foretell the loss of idealism that would hit many Americans in the 1970s? Whether it did or not, for all its (deliberate, I assume) roughness, Alice's Restaurant, as a film, feels like more of a deeply personal and heartfelt effort for Penn than even his previous film, the epochal Bonnie and Clyde.
And to think a film like Alice's Restaurant got major-studio backing! I doubt a film as daringly plotless and exploratory as this would inspire such confidence these days...