The SXSW Film Festival has entered its fourth day here in Austin, Texas. Long lines, celebrities, and swag are all in abundance. My body and mind are still adjusting to seeing four to five films a day and the steady diet of theater popcorn and Shiner beer, but it's a small price to pay. It's a strange but rewarding experience, spending this much time in the dark.
Perhaps the biggest adjustment as an average filmgoer has been acclimating to the premiere experience, which is far different than the typical Friday night at the multiplex. For starters, the directors introduce their films with a little pandering, saying something along the lines of "It's so great to be in [insert city here], it's my favorite city in the world." There's also a Q&A afterwards, when the filmmakers and actors stand on the same stage where you just saw them projected. It's somewhat similar to eating at the chef's table at your local four-star restaurant. When the chef's that close, you run the risk of allowing personality and proximity to color your experience. (Which may not be such a terrible thing, come to think of it.)
Watching a film in the presence of its creators and cast can also be a little awkward. The other night I found myself slightly embarrassed when Chloe Sevigny's breasts appeared onscreen for the first of several sex scenes in Mr. Nice. She was sitting just a few rows ahead, and I was struck by conflicting impulses: stare at the screen; stare at her and see if she is staring at the screen; look away briefly from the scene in order to be polite; or in quick succession, do all three—which, of course, I did.
The premiere experience is rewarding because it pretty much guarantees a full house to enjoy the film with, and an enthusiastic one at that. Applause greets the opening of each film's title sequence, and at larger premieres after each actor's name appears, and for the main actors first scene in the film. And the clapping will continue off and on throughout the film—after a good fight scene perhaps, or a joke where the actor really nailed it. It's sort of like being at movie and a concert at the same time.
Along with that enthusiasm, the premiere experience (at least thus far) also means respect. There are no kids running around at premieres, no crying babies, no bored teenagers. Cell phones are silenced, tweeting is banned, and talking is a no-no. Ushers walk the aisles, reprimanding anyone rude enough to poke around on their iPhone during a film.
In an ideal world, going to the movies would be like this all the time—respectful, enthusiastic audiences; ushers to keep things in line; and a little bit of star power to amp things up.