Chores and Joys of Film Previewing
Updated: Jul 30, 2019
By Susan Cilento
Last year, around this time, I watched at least forty films in three weeks as part of previewing submissions for SAGA Adelaide 2018. Well, it was forty once you take away the films submitted by all-male crews. For real, either our submission guidelines could be clearer or they really didn’t have anything better to do. Or maybe it was a more insidious need to stick their beaks in what we’re doing...but I don’t like to think of anyone like that, if I can help it. Films are always showing me that when you pay attention to people, you learn (but maybe I don’t need another lesson in ‘man with something to say’). Anyway, I had a film festival all to myself.
These past months, each time I go to preview films for 2019, it’s a bit of a wrestle. I’ve usually put it off for days or weeks as I work through my other life commitments, it eats at my mind, and finally seems like a chore. I set up my computer with my television, sit down with a notepad, then press play like I’ve signed up to watch a Work Health and Safety training video. But, then, the film actually starts and it’s thoughtful or different or confusing or shocking and I relax, thinking ‘Oh, yes, I remember now –
I fucking love films.’
These filmmakers have put their lives and craft into a piece of art, and I’m the lucky one who gets to watch it. I see the exciting potential in some films and the problems in others. Last year, I agonised over one particular confrontational film that I worried the audience wouldn’t ‘get’. I decided it would do too much damage if that was the case, it was too risky. That was a mistake. That was when I let our audience down. I didn’t respect their intelligence. I said no to that film.
I also said no to another film called By the Ocean by Janae Hall. Maybe, at the time, I didn’t like the stop motion style or didn’t find the seagull-poop joke funny. Others at SAGA Adelaide said yes to it, and it played at our festival. I might have felt slighted, but it became apparent very quickly how wrong I was.
This film washed over the audience. They took a breath of salty air and exhaled their troubles to the sea breeze. Sitting on chairs for a few days, you become sleepy, become tired of focusing, fatigued from exercising your empathy by watching difficult films.
From memory, when I introduced the film, I said something like this:
This film isn’t meant to convince you of anything in particular, except perhaps how nice it is to be at the beach. Let it wash over you.
It did. Their shoulders drooped, faces loosened as they eased into this retreat.
Who knows what kind of grouch I was being when I said no to this film the first time – but, then again, that’s also fine. This is why we work as a team, to check each other and challenge our own conceptions of what it means for something to be ‘good’. What is good for me is not for others. What I pass up might be meaningful to someone else. The mistake is to deny people the space they need to work it out.
SAGA Adelaide is a space for international female filmmakers. As an audience, we seek empathy. As programmers, we take care of each other so that we can keep handling difficult material together.
Chief Administrator and Volunteer Coordinator
SAGA Adelaide: WIFF