' ' Cinema Romantico: Escape: The Film Festival

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Escape: The Film Festival

The Sundance Film Festival began last Thursday, continuing through today, and like most everything else in the Pandemic era, it has been moved online. This, of course, is antithetical to the film festival experience, which is as much about the place and the hordes of the moviegoing faithful, or the less than faithful, the movers and shakers, buyers and seekers, people who want to be seen and people who want to be seen more. If you’re not waiting in a long line, did you really go to a film festival? Of course, ever since film festivals became so entangled with the awards show industry complex, not to mention the advent of social media, the rush to pass instantaneous judgment has virtually overwhelmed their other purposes, altruistic or otherwise. The buzz and condemnation on Nate Parker’s “Birth of a Nation” came and went before I even saw it and each year round about this time my social media feed is flooded with Tweet reviews that may well not be the last word but front like they are anyway. Part of this, of course, is the festival bubble; when you’re in it, the outside world ceases to exist. That’s good! That’s the point of the festival! But at some point the line between the festival bubble and the real world began evaporating and, this year, in 2021, Pandemic Earth, the festival bubble has both been pierced and left us all trapped within. I am not at Sundance and, yet, Sundance and its attendant hubbub is all around.

All this rushed through my mind over the weekend when my sister alerted me to Gothenberg, Sweden’s 2021 Göteborg Film Festival which has, as Lisa Abend puts it for The New York Times, not “so much accepted social distancing as escalated it.” That is because in addition to holding screenings for a single person at different urban venues, they also held an online video contestant attracting 12,000 applicants to send one person to the remote North Atlantic island of Pater Noster to screen the entire fest alone in the lighthouse keeper’s house. A 41-year old emergency nurse from Skovde, Lisa Enroth, won. “Enroth won't be allowed a cellphone, a laptop, a book or any other distractions,” writes Francesa Street. No Tweet reviews! Not that her solo film festival will be some arduous game show-ish nonsense. “The stay at the island will be perfectly safe,” Street quotes the festival’s artistic director Jonas Holmberg saying. “The person will have a soft bed and nice food.” Enroth herself weighed in by online video diary: “I have been chosen to stay in this marvellous place for a week, just watching movies and enjoying the nature and the serenity and the loneliness.” I almost shed a tear.

It’s strange. Much like the line inside and outside the festival bubble has blurred, so has the line between homespace and workspace, between personal space and the steady, maddening drip of the world, leaving me with nowhere to go to shut down and shut off, the invasive white noise of the outside world having finally punctured my last, sacred vestige of privacy, lying awake at night, the flashing lights, to quote Arcade Fire, settled deep in my brain. And so I find myself yearning not for the slopes and scenic streets of Park City, nor for the French Riviera of Cannes, nor for the Valhalla of the TIFF Bell Lightbox, but for a distant island in the North Atlantic with just movies, rattling around in my head as I listen to the crashing waves. And maybe a bottle of Lagavulin too.     

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