For the Love of Storytelling - Why I Can't Stop Going to Film Festivals
by Alex Billington
January 29, 2016
When you really think about it - film festivals are a bit crazy. They gather up 100+ films, show them all 3 or 4 times over the course of 10 days, invite thousands and thousands of movie fans to town, and most of us (at least many of my colleagues) watch as many of them as we can. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, we all get to tweet and discuss these films instantly, spreading the word about what's good (or bad) to fellow film fans who are not in attendance. While everyone else around the world is going about their normal day jobs, thousands of us (various members of the press, industry, cinephiles and beyond) are packing in 3, 4, or 5, sometimes even 6 films every day. We're desperate to see something that leaves us in awe. I adore festivals.
Why do we do this? Why do we subject ourselves to a few hours of sleep each night, barely one meal a day, trudging through the cold and snow just to stare at a screen for hours? Why so much stress and anxiety? It's because great films make your life better. This comes true every day. It's because great films inspire us to be passionate, they make us care about other people no matter their suffering or differences, they make us think deeply about the world we live on, and wonder how we can make this a better place for everyone. They open up our minds to think about different stories that we've never heard before, showing us unique perspectives, and they address in subtle ways the concerns, fears, anxieties, fixations and joys of storytellers.
Every film that I see at a film festival, no matter if it's good or bad, makes me a better person. I mean that. They have taught me about different lifestyles, different ways to cope, different ways to learn or change. They have taught me that this world is an amazingly big place, with so much beauty to be found, even in the darkest places. They have shown me that we're all individuals, and we shouldn't be anyone but ourselves; but we're also all the same, we're all human beings with feelings and love to offer. They have reminded me that I'm not alone in my fears, my convictions. They have shown me there are other ways to approach every situation. They have shown me the most respectable people are the ones who care the most about others.
These are only some of the reasons why I can't stop going to film festivals. It's not just the films, but it's all the people, the experiences, the friends, the volunteers, and everyone I meet along the way. It's about being able to shake the hand and chat with a filmmaker whose film I just saw the night before. It's about giving a proper standing ovation to the cast and crew that made a film that left me floored and in tears. It's about engaging in lively discussions with strangers about their favorite films they've seen during the festival. It's about being filled with vivid emotions when a person you just learned about is suddenly standing in front of you. It's about catching up with old friends, making new ones, and recognizing that we're all here together.
I have an immense amount of respect for each and every filmmaker / screenwriter / producer / actor I meet at film festivals. They are the storytellers that have made my life better. These are the people that have inspired me to be a better person and open my mind. They have figured out how to reach deep into each and every one of us, stir up emotions, grab our attention, and make our minds light up with thoughts. They are the ones going all out, committing so much time and money to create a 90 minute (or 120 minute) movie that audiences may or may not love. These are the people who are risking everything to express their true selves. Film festivals are where storytellers thrive, and where I get to fall in love with the stories they've told.
It really hit me when I was at the annual "blogger party" at Sundance this year. This is my 10th year back at Sundance, and I feel like a true veteran, as I know this town so well. At the party, I met a few young bloggers (including Sergio from Crossfader Mag + Jasper and Nelson from Cinemacy) attending for their first time. We chatted about films and festivals, and I suddenly realized in the middle of a conversation that I was passing the torch to the next generation. I remember my first time at Sundance, looking up to all the other critics who had been attending for years. But this time I was the old one, I was the guy who'd been around forever, imparting wisdom to newcomers. I am truly honored, and humbled, to still be here 10 years later.
Film festivals are my jam. I love them more than I love just about anything else. I still love attending for all 10 days, it's the complete experience. I still love packing in 5 films in a day, no matter how tired I am. I still love walking in to watch a film I don't know anything about, in hopes that maybe it's everything I've been waiting to see. I still love meeting people at film festivals, talking with friends old and new, and catching up with my colleagues in the industry. We're all here with the same goal - to be moved by unforgettable stories; to seek out great films and rave about the ones we love. This is what cinema is all about – the power to connect, inspire, engage, change, improve. Thank you, Sundance, for all these fond memories over the years.