by Sara Michelle Fetters -
SGN A&E Writer
CINERAMA FAN FILM SERIES
Today begins one of the more unique, and dare I say unprecedented, film festivals in Seattle's rich, lush and esoteric cinematic history. The Cinerama stages what it is proudly calling a 'Fan Film Series,' 45 motion pictures spanning seven-plus decades screening over the next two weeks, all determined by an Internet vote done through the theatre's website.
'It was my idea,' laughs Cinerama Director of Operations Greg Wood, 'I honestly had no idea if we could pull it off. We sort of just sprung it up on the website. There was no guarantee people would end up voting in the numbers they did. This festival seems to have generated quite a lot of excitement. Here's hoping they all buy tickets.'
The films being showcased are an incredible hodgepodge of differing genres and subject matters. The Hunt for Red October and On the Waterfront, The Wizard of Oz and My Neighbor Totoro, No Country for Old Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Inception and Akira, Moulin Rouge! and The Sound of Music, these are only a small sampling of the motion pictures chosen by the popular vote. 'It really wasn't a surprise that Blade Runner ended up as the number one vote-getter,' says Wood. 'It's been a long time since Warner Bros has allowed the film to be screened. I had a suspicion it would come out on top. I was actually more surprised by how close everything was. The finished list was always in doubt up until the last minute of voting. I was amazed how close number two through fifty in the end finally were.'
And that included films not originally on the ballot. While over a 100 motion pictures were listed on the website to choose from, there was also a selection for 'fan favorites' that allowed for write-in picks, and in this case a few of those accumulated enough votes to screen during the festival. 'Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Big Lebowski were overwhelming fan favorites,' states Wood. 'It was apparent early on we were going to have to make room for both. But there were a few others that garnered a number of votes that we decided against adding to the festival.'
And why is that? 'We have our reasons,' he says with a grin. 'You'll notice there is no 70mm, there isn't a bulk of sci-fi, because we have some things in place for next year that audiences will hopefully be excited about. This [Fan Film Series] was more of an excuse to program a bunch of random stuff you more than likely wouldn't get the chance to see at the Cinerama probably. But, next year, we've got things in the pipeline where we'll be able to showcase a bunch of titles people were asking about.'
What I think I personally love about this festival is that it clearly showcases Seattle's unabashed love for cinema of all types, the fact Citizen Kane and Casablanca were two of the top picks alongside the likes of Akira and Big Trouble in Little China tickling my heart to no-end. 'Die Hard surprised me,' admits Wood candidly. 'I didn't see that doing so well. There were a lot of votes for Die Hard. I expect we're going to end up with a pretty raucous crowd for that one.'
'But, there were a lot of titles we clearly didn't put on the ballot on purpose,' he adds casually. 'Lawrence of Arabia wasn't on the list mainly because we show it so often, but there were so many write-ins for it we felt like adding a screening was the right thing to do. But there were a lot of other Cinerama movies we purposely left off, like How the West Was Won. And, I mean, I almost refuse at this point to show 2001: A Space Odyssey unless we're showing it in 70mm and we knew we weren't going to do any 70mm for this festival. Even though it was an audience vote, we still had a game plan in regards to scheduling; I like to think we knew what we were doing.'
'It's a weird time of year to schedule a film festival, honestly. We didn't really want to do the sci-fi festival again right now as it's really kind of a dead time of year, so many people out of town or doing other things right at the start of September. But we also didn't have anything we wanted to schedule as a first-run title, as it's just as dead a time period for the industry, these first two weeks of the month. This felt like a good way to engage our customers and get them excited about something. It's just a fun idea.'
As far as fun ideas go, part of trying to keep things exciting and atypical at the theatre, the Cinerama just completed its first ever 'Summer Rewind,' a quirky selection of films given a single day's showcase (the lone exception being Pixar's Inside Out, garnering a single matinee screening each day of the week) ranging from popular box office hits (Jurassic World) to under-the-radar critical darlings (Dope). 'I knew we had three weeks to get through before we were scheduled to show Everest,' explains Wood. 'We talked about bringing back Mad Max: Fury Road for another week. We talked about finding something else that could play for a week to happy audiences. It suddenly struck us to do something similar to what we did in regards to the Academy Awards earlier this year, show a single movie a day that we felt deserved another look.'
'It allowed us to bring in things that we knew would do really well like Mad Max and Jurassic World while at the same time showcasing films we felt audiences might have initially passed on, like Dope and Magic Mike XXL. It allowed us to show a hit comedy like Trainwreck, which isn't normally the kind of film we get to show at the Cinerama, as well as Southpaw, a movie a lot of people were talking about but for whatever reason didn't go and see. It was just a lot of fun to program.'
As for overall conditions and the continuing health of the theatre itself, Wood couldn't be happier. 'Ever since the renovation we've been on a really, really good pace,' he proudly states. 'Things have been going exceedingly well. We're heavily dependent on quality of content, the movies themselves, and for the most part the titles we've showcased have garnered a strong response from our customer base. But, we also have great relations with the studios. No other theatre in the country was allowed to show Avengers: Age of Ultron for only two weeks; we were, which allowed us to program Mad Max: Fury Road for a week.'
'I actually have a feeling Mad Max: Fury Road is going to be one of those movies that goes down like 2001 or Lawrence of Arabia, that it's going to become one of those Cinerama staples Seattle audiences are always eager to see,' posits Wood. 'The response from people to that film, how excited they get, it's almost beyond belief.'
As for the new releases set to play the theatre through the end of the year, Wood's enthusiasm is clear. 'The slate coming up is pretty terrific,' he states. 'Everest, The Martian, the new James Bond film [Spectre], Star Wars, I think that lineup speaks for itself. We're excited, no question.'
As to that latter title, I can't help but try to find out if Wood and his team has anything special planned in regards to The Force returning to the Cinerama. 'Yes, yes, I'm sure people would want to know about that,' he chuckles. 'It's rather frustrating, actually. I'd love to tell you what's going to be happening in December when that film is released, but we just have to wait for good old Disney to let us all know what it is they're planning on doing. Once they do that, then we can start revealing what we think we're going to do in regards to the return of Star Wars to the Cinerama.'
Switching back to current events, with 45 films to choose from, I ask Wood what five he would choose to see, the caveat being he could only choose films unlikely to screen at the theatre again for quite some time, if ever. 'Oh, man,' he laughs. 'Way to put me on the spot.'
Thinking for a moment, he answers, 'Well, Blade Runner, without question. We haven't been able to have that at the Cinerama in such a long time. You just need to see that one there. I would also go with Blue Velvet, that's going to be extraordinary. I'd also see Chinatown, definitely. I'm not sure it's a 'top five' kind of movie but The Last of the Mohicans is amazing at the Cinerama. I think I'd have to throw that in there; I just love that movie. And I guess I would say Raiders of the Lost Ark. We'll probably get it back again at some point, but it's still Raiders. You can't go wrong with Raiders of the Lost Ark.'
As for the overall vote, ruminating once again on the idea that Seattle voters chose motion pictures like The Sting, The Godfather, The Big Lebowski, Almost Famous, Labyrinth, Donnie Darko, Fight Club, Top Gun, Ghostbusters and Forrest Gump to all play alongside one another, when one steps back and takes it all in the diversity and eclecticism of the lineup can't help but impress. 'It just sums up the love for the Cinerama, don't you think?' asks Wood. 'It's just such an awesome place to see anything. Who wouldn't want to go see a Harry Potter movie [Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban] and Citizen Kane at the same venue? I certainly would, and it's apparent Seattle audiences must feel the same because that's what they voted for.'
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