As this is turning out to be a year of firsts, I decided after being in the film group for over eight years that it was high-time to cut my teeth on a real film festival as an accredited journalist. Since Cannes is very far away and a bit too exotic for my first go at the whole official process, I settled on applying for the local Hamburg Filmfest: so utterly convenient, or so I thought.
My application was sent in with a 30-Euro fee, which would later provide me with a photo press pass, a nifty HH laptop bag full of schedules and a Filmfest button, in case I was feeling like advertising the whole shebang. That fee also entitled me to see as many of the hundred or so films FOR FREE, and much more. Of course, I went ahead with all this fully realizing that I have a teaching job, an AWC post on the board, Currents deadlines, a family and days filled with sports, activities and play dates for my three kids; not a lot of free time to sit quietly in a theater for seven days of continuous screening schedules. I think I made an internal decision to do a Scarlett O’Hara: “I can’t think about that now…I’ll think about that tomorrow.”
When “tomorrow” was approaching, I sadly thought I might get to squeeze in one or two morning films; certainly not enough to justify my application fee. But, thinking cap now found and on my head, maybe a few more in the evenings when my husband could stay with the children; I started to brighten up a bit. Already happier about my rash decision to forge ahead and BE A REAL CRITIC, my hopes were soundly dashed again by a surprise, week-long business trip that my husband had to take at the same time as the Filmfest Hamburg. Big film plans crashed, and burned. But sometimes, if you really want something, you charge through the brick walls, and with some real finagling, you can make it work.
I mapped out a chaotic schedule with my babysitter and agreed to pay her 100 euro for a few hours a day here and there, and combined that with some fancy string-pulling with the in-laws over the weekend. My schedule was going to be tight, with no room for a traffic jam before the Elbtunnel or a bite to eat anywhere except the Grindel Kino. I have been a multi-tasker for years, and I called up all of my sneaky skills plus a few prayers to the universe to will my way into making the Filmfest finally happen for me, after passing it by longingly year after year due to time constraints.
I think I might have been the first one at the Grindel on day one to pick up the packet and the schedule, thanks to being up bright and early for the morning school run. Film reviewers are not known for their fresh-as-a-daisy approach to early starts, as one can see them hunched around their Milchkaffee at a ten a.m. screening. But, it afforded me about an hour to coordinate my picks with my calendar and sitter plan, as I highlighted what I thought looked interesting in the meager time frame I had at my disposal. One film in particular was on my list of “must-sees”, a documentary about walking the Camino Santiago de Compostela, a newly hatched dream of my own. With three different showings on various days, none of them quite fit, as much as I prodded my plan. The universe did not deliver that time, and I had to let that fish go.
One tends to get in a bit of an addictive fever, probably due to sitting in the dark, emerging for a few minutes to use the restroom, grab a coffee and move to the neighboring cinema to begin yet another few hours of immersion in the world of someone else\'s imagination. You can see as many as six or seven films a day if you begin at 10 am, and some people do manage to get to that crazy goal. In the theater, sometimes you hear some snoring behind you, other times you see critics busily SMS-ing during a dull moment. Everyone finds a way to keep feeding the Filmfest monkey, myself included. My biggest dash was running from a film at the Grindel to the #105 bus to get to Cinemaxx Dammtor, in 10 minutes flat, only to find that the line was way too long to make the featured movie. Night tickets are tough to acquire, as there are only around 60 or so for all the critics, and when they are gone, you have to either pay or accept defeat. Instead of throwing in the towel, I of course ran back on the bus to the Grindel to find out which tickets they had for RIGHT NOW…blind picks will do for the Filmfest junkie.
I have to say I’m happy to have managed seeing 10 films, a number I am rather proud of considering my limited time. I moved from naïve first-timer, virginal once again for a brief flickering moment, to a driven, accredited, authentic film reviewer. I learned you can bribe the cashier by pleading with an American accent, you can ride the bus without paying if you think you deserve it, and even bad films can seem OK if you had to plan, plan, plan to get there. I learned to pack my lunch and bring a thermos of coffee, however “uncool” that may be, and learned where free parking can be found near Grindel. Sticking to my guns enabled me to realize another dream despite the tremendous efforts, all for the love of entertainment.
I was impressed with at least half of my film choices, and will definitely shoot for another festival since you can’t eat just one. So next time you pass something by with the excuse that you don’t have the time, I say you never have lived until you learn to stretch that minute to the limit, at least for a seven day film festival.