The independent movie theater in my town puts on an annual Secret Film Festival. Their tagline is “the titles are secret, the awesomeness is not.” The itinerary is movie after movie from midnight to noon. A film fanatics dream. All the decisiveness has been taken care of for you. This is for the hard-core movie buff, as it is quite a commitment when you buy that ticket. You are locking yourself into twelve hours of unknown movie watching. The challenge and the suspense were a big draw for me.
This year is the first year I attended and it happened to be their 10th annual event. I had no idea what to expect and I also didn’t know anyone who has done it or even knew about it. They put the “secret” in Secret Film Festival, for sure. I “napped” from 7:30pm to 11:30pm on Saturday night. I woke up, made an espresso and packed my bag. It was like packing for a hike or a picnic, but with junk food. I had chips, granola bars, Red Vines, and a giant Nalgene bottle of water. I dressed comfortably in yoga pants and a sweatshirt. Still sleepy-eyed, I went into town. I drove past bars and clubs still filled with late-night patrons. In my mind, downtown would have been deserted, there would have been ample parking, and only a few crazy people like me making their way to the theater. In reality, it was a busy Saturday night and I struggled to find a close parking spot. I found something relatively close, but the meter would kick in eight hours later. I set an alert on my phone so I could come out and move my car or feed the meter. As I approached the theater I was surprised again. There was a line down the block of pajama-clad movie nomads with backpacks and blankets and pillows. At twelve o’clock on the dot they opened the doors and the long line filtered in pretty fast. “Enjoy your shows,” said the ticket-taker. I bought my first round of popcorn and a soda and found a seat in the largest of the three screening rooms. It felt like sleep-away camp. The same type of excitement, but without the sleep. Our host welcomed us and explained how it works for us newbies. There were lots of veterans in the audience. Even a smattering of hands went up when the host asked if anyone had attended all ten festivals. The first year the festival was called the Mystery Movie Marathon and people thought that it would be all mystery genre films. Each film is introduced right before it starts. After the first three movies, you are given options. They will give you a cryptic description of your two options and time to make it to the other theater based on your choice. Then it ends with a closing film in the main auditorium. You receive a program at the end of the night (well, day, actually). You have in and out privileges; you are not held captive. And it ends with a raffle drawing of ten secret (of course) prizes. The concession stand is equipped with specialty items like donuts, bagels, and coffee to go along with their exceptional organic and GMO-free popcorn.
The first film was described as a Western if Jim Jarmusch had directed another Western and Wes Anderson had directed the action scenes. Totally an accurate description I soon found out. “Slow West” was a perfect choice for the opening film. It had won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year. Michael Fassbinder is phenomenal as a bad-ass cowboy alongside the nuanced Kodi Smit-McPhee. Next was the short comedic film, “The Sidekick.” Rob Benedict plays a superhero’s bumbling buddy who loses his position and goes from fighting bad guys to fighting unemployment. Third was “Spring,” a unique horror/love story starring indie favorite, Lou Taylor Pucci. It’s aptly described by a review from rogerebert.com as a “hybrid of Richard Linklater and H.P. Lovecraft.” After the third film, I was getting in the groove of it. I wasn’t sure if the films would be a mix of new and classic, big-budget or small independents, but now I was getting a sense that the films were all going to be soon-to-be released, film festival favorites. Now it was our turn to make some decisions. For the fourth film you could choose from a dramedy adventure based on an urban legend based on a true story or a horror film similar to “Open Water” but set in the woods. I went with the first option being too much of a scaredy cat to choose the scary movie. My choice ended up being “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” over “Backcountry.” I’m not sure if I made the best decision. My proclivity to avoid the horror genre may have steered me wrong. I took my first short snooze during “Kumiko.” There were parts that I liked. I can see why it had been nominated for Independent Spirit Awards for lead actress and director, but there were several times that the story dragged, thus the opportunity to get some shut-eye. After “Kumiko,” I took a quick bathroom break and replenished my drink. That helped push the doubts that I could make it until the end back and renewed my energy. Our next options were given to us. We could choose between a sci-fi thriller or a dark comedy described as the anti-“Napolean Dynamite.” Whatever that means. I did not find out as I chose the sci-fi thriller. I was happy with my choice. “Coherence” was an awesomely mind-bending ride. It also mentioned the town we were in and specifically the university, of which many students were in attendance. I’m not sure how the other option, “Buzzard,” turned out to be, but I’m still somewhat interested.
After the fifth movie, I went to feed the meter. I stepped out into the bright early morning sun. Several delirious and sleepy marathoners milled around smoking or stretching their legs, reviewing the films with their fellow cinephiles. After the brief reprieve, I hunkered back down in the dark theater ready for film number six. Again, my fearful nature made my choice. It was between a horror movie about a ghostly STD (huh?) and a cult drama. “Faults” was playing in the other theater, so for the first time I found a new seat for the next hour and a half. “Faults” fell the way of “Kumiko” for me. It had its moments, but was dull overall and provided me with short snooze #2. I’m not sure if “It Follows” was any better. I was rewarded though, afterwards, with the seventh and final film. “What We Do In The Shadows” completed the marathon. Just like “Slow West” was a proper opening film, “Shadows” was a perfect closing film. “Flight of the Conchords” Jemaine Clement is writer, director, and star of this vampire mockumentary. Being sleep deprived and punchy was the ideal state of mind to watch this outlandish, silly comedy. The credits rolled more than twelve hours after I started this cinematic pilgrimage. I felt a wave of accomplishment rush over me. I sat through and lost all the raffle prizes (good ones, too, like seasons 1-4 of “Game of Thrones” on DVD) and then packed up my belongings and left my temporary home. Outside the sun was blinding and the cheery, awake pedestrians breezed past me. The zombie-like stupor that threatened to consume me was fought off by a giddy buzz I had from what I had just experienced. I didn’t even crash when I got home. I relished my triumph over that epic marathon. Closest thing a film buff can get to a runner’s high, I suppose.
Photo Source: Erin Allen