Angela’s top filmgoing experiences of 2017

By Shotgun CinemaPublished on 02/01/2018

The doomsday clock for cinema apparently marches onward (the 2017 box office numbers aren’t helping the situation), but I continue to find transformative experiences in filmgoing. Film festivals are bringing together filmmakers and content creators to explore what it means to experience work in public, and arthouse cinemas are doing their part to keep the filmgoing experience alive and well. Cinemas such as the Music Box Theatre, New Beverly Cinema, Film Forum, and the new Metrograph bring together thoughtful, well-researched programming and high-quality projection to create memorable experiences at each screening. Seeing groups like the Chicago Film Society and the Secret Celluloid Society/Nite Owl Theater thriving while presenting only films on film is an indication that the future of film exhibition can indeed be brighter than what thinkpieces are suggesting.


I struggled pulling together a top films of 2017 list, but not due to a lack of choices. While I certainly had a few favorite films that didn’t appear on other top films lists, my choices were in line with a lot of other lists, and quite frankly, I didn’t feel the need to regurgitate similar sentiments. So instead, I offer you my favorite filmgoing experiences of last year as a means to remind you (and myself) that sharing a darkened room with strangers continues to be a crucial means to consuming movies.


Favorite Filmgoing Experiences of 2017

Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, 2017): Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of director Christopher Nolan’s work, but I appreciate his adherence to his format preference and  was thrilled to be hired as a projectionist for his 70mm release of Dunkirk. To have friends texting me to see the booth is incredibly rewarding: passing along that knowledge of film is crucial to the preservation of the art form, even in simply showing people what a film strip looks like. And while I don’t care to argue the virtues of film vs. digital (it’s a moot argument at this point – these are two very different formats), I will vehemently defend the continued value of film projection, if even as simply a means to experience the different look, feel, and sound of viewing a film projected. Selfishly, it was such a pleasure to handle film day after day, and I hope directors continue to demand theatrical film projection. (Although it should be noted that I never got to see Dunkirk in a theatre, only from the projection booth.)


To Be or Not to Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942): In addition to Shotgun Cinema, I’m an adjunct instructor in the UNO Film and Theatre department, teaching film studies courses to primarily production-focused students. In my History of Cinema course this past fall, I showed my students Ernst Lubitsch’s seminal anti-war comedy To Be or Not to Be, which was received with uproarious laughter and applause at the end. While our screening room is less than ideal, the experiences of watching this with my students reminded me of similar screenings I attended while in college that I couldn’t help but have a visceral response to (via laughing, crying, or applauding).


The Nitrate Picture Show: I’ve made a promise to myself to make the annual pilgrimage to the Nitrate Picture Show, a film festival at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, NY, devoted to screening only nitrate film prints. This year’s edition included Yasujiro Ozu’s captivating Early Summer, a vastly underseen Czechoslovakian drama The Strike by Karel Stekly, Hollywood classics such as Irvin Reis’ The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer and George Sidney’s Anchors Aweigh, and a particularly stunning print of Jules Dassin’s Night and the City. The final screening of the festival is kept a secret until showtime, and this year’s selection was the increasingly wacky Restless Blood, a 1946 Finnish drama from Teuvo Tulio (a nearly impossible title to find for home viewing). The Dryden Theatre, housed within the Eastman Museum, is a cinematic sanctuary: no food or drinks are allowed in the space, and no one would dare look at their phone during screenings. I always look forward to returning to this unique celebration of nitrate film.


Full Aperture: Ladies Shooting Punks: Putting on pop-up film screenings can present a lot of unexpected challenges, and our Full Aperture: Ladies Shooting Punks screening began with a broken air conditioning system. A stop-gap measure sort of helped cool the NOPA gallery, but the sweltering June heat was truly oppressive. Fortunately, the best possible audience showed up for the night, and we couldn’t have been luckier to have such a laid-back group. We took (necessary) fresh air breaks between each reel change, and everyone seemed to embrace the atmosphere in conjunction with the DIY-don’t give a fuck attitude of the program.   


Strong Island (Yance Ford, 2017): Unlike other contemporary documentaries that focus on systemic racism and violence, Yance Ford’s Strong Island is a deeply personal examination of the death of his family (both existential and literal) following the racially motivated murder of his brother in the early 90s. Ford frames himself in a tight close-up, giving the viewer no choice but to confront the horrific and deeply moving answers to questions asked by the producers about his brother’s murder. This is the type of film that demands a public screening: the experience of Ford’s candid answers and thoughts about racialized violence in the U.S. is so urgent, and his face draws you in fully. I had a hard time getting out of my seat after this film.  


The Challenge (Yuri Ancarani, 2016): Yuri Ancarani’s The Challenge is aptly titled: this verite-style documentary shares the exceedingly dull existence of ultra-rich Qatar men. By contrast, Ancarani delivered a lively post-screening discussion at the Milwaukee Film Festival, poking fun at both his choice to follow these men and how the film presents its audience with a challenge to sit through it. Jokes aside, Ancarani’s cinematography is stunning, drawing you into a secret gold-drenched world of motorcycles, Lamborghinis, pet cheetahs, and falconry traditions. Combined with an operatic scores, The Challenge was an immersive experience for me, one that could really only happen in the cinema.


Cathode Cinema Presents: EMPIRICAL IRON I : Nūberu Bāgu and Experimental Japanese Animation of the Shōwa Era: During a trip to Los Angeles this summer, Travis and I attended a small gallery screening of experimental Japanese films, old and new. The space was jam-packed, with folks lying on bean bags in front of the first row of chairs, and all doors and windows opened for some air flow (this was another no-air-conditioning event). Although the program was a bit uneven, we watched a stunning short from Hiroshi Teshigahara and an eclectic grouping of animated and live-action shorts. These types of screenings give me hope for the future of exhibition: there will always be curious, hungry filmgoers that are willing to trust programmers in their quest for new films to consume.


Lemon (Janicza Bruno, 2017): I missed Lemon at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, so I was looking forward to projecting it at the Sidewalk Film Festival in August. Filmmaker Janicza Bruno presents a nuanced look at privilege and failure and how they intersect with race. While the jokes can be difficult to sit through, they build to an incredibly smart crescendo that examines the mediocrity of the white male lead (played perfectly by Bruno’s husband and collaborator Brett Gelman). Bruno doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable, and it’s unfortunate that some folks at the Sidewalk screening walked out before grasping the full effect. The “Million Matzoh Balls” song is worth the price of admission alone.


Stop Making Sense (Jonathan Demme, 1984): For those of you who attended this screening, you know. Stop Making Sense is like Mardi Gras for me: unabashed love, great outfits, and spontaneous dancing. I promise you, dear cinephiles/Talking Heads enthusiasts, to host a screening of this film every year that is filled with unbridled joy.




Upcoming Screenings

Science on Screen: Primer (2004)
dir. Shane Carruth