Posted by: Matt Q. McGovern | October 29, 2013

Muse: The 2013 Film Festival

The 22nd annual Philadelphia Film Festival has just recently come to a close, and this was the first time in years that I wasn’t able to take off from work for it.  The fest ran from Thursday the 17th to the 27th, so there were two weekends to devote to it, as well as a very, very tiring workweek in between.  I ended up seeing 2 movies a night during the workweek.  The downside of this is the fact that there wasn’t enough time to digest everything, as I needed to quickly unwind afterwards and go to bed if I wanted to get up for work the next morning.  I forced myself to write a few words about the films I saw each night, both to advertise the festival to friends as well as to do that mental digestion.

That mental digestion is important, because the writer in me is affected when I see films from all over the world.  In many of these festivals, there are likely to be films that you may never see again.  If you do, it may be years before you’ll be able to get it, whether by purchasing the import from the country of origin, or if you’re lucky you’ll find it on Netflix or some other mainstream streaming service/library.  This information is only available to those of us that take the time to keep looking for those films, years after the festival.  There have been films I’ve bought for family five or six years after I originally saw the movie during a filmfest. 

This devotion to films, for me, runs parallel to my devotions as a reader.  Both hobbies feed the writer in me.  While it’s true that I’ve been a fan of both for long before I discovered writing, it’s also true that as soon as I began writing, I saw it constantly in the films I saw and books I read.  Back in the day, I used to concentrate on horror movies more than anything else.  I’m no longer surprised to observe that in this last filmfest, the percentage of horror films I saw was probably less than 10%.  Story and character development are more important to me now.

One of my favorite characteristics of the filmfest is the representation of foreign films.  Other countries have different histories and folklore to draw from.  They also implement plot structures that can differ widely from what we’re used to seeing here in America.  The feeling, for me, is a more liberating viewing experience.  You never know how a story is going to end when you’re seeing a film that isn’t guaranteeing the typical Hollywood ending.  The result of this tends to put plot structure and the noticeable differences foremost on my mind, even if I didn’t specifically target that to think about before choosing the movie to see.

Another benefit I’ve observed is from seeing movies that are heavily featuring character development above all else, and the filmfest has always done well in this regard.  There was one movie I saw that was three hours long, featuring nothing else but the story of a character growing up.  There was no action, or crazy events in this story.  It would never have made it to the mainstream movie screens of America, even if it had been cut in half.  It was so well done that I felt like I could read the characters’ minds as the movie went along.  I was so into the characters that I couldn’t help thinking of any similar situation I could put the characters from my writing into.  How would they feel if they were in such-and-such a situation, etc.  What is going on with some of my characters outside the main story that I’m writing?  Seeing movies like these puts me there.

One movie I saw had a particular element of dress that had a comedic effect, even though the movie itself wasn’t a comedy.  I think the intent was slightly tongue-in-cheek, as many movies are.  What stood out to me was the consistency of this element in the film and brought to mind a writer’s approach to detail.  I’ve been told before to appeal to the senses of the reader, in particular to single out one or two senses (hearing, sight, smell, etc.).  Seeing the dedication to wardrobe in a movie setting that wouldn’t normally have done so (there was no reason for the characters to wear suits as much as they did – especially during menial labor, etc.) made me think of the dedication a writer has to have to expressing a particular sense for the reader, and staying with it.

Lastly, these filmfests often have an actor or director from the film come out for the screening and do a question and answer session afterwards.  These are rewarding in so many ways and I’m usually one of the first people to ask them a question.  The actors are very into the characters and always have a lot to say about how they prepared themselves for it.  If you’re really lucky, someone that was involved with the screen writing will be there.

There are number of things that feed the muse for writing, but for me, the annual Philadelphia film festival is still my favorite.

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