The Importance of [Seemingly Permeable] Boundaries at the Film Festival

Curator's Note

Recently, I undertook two weeks of participant observation as a volunteer for the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). Part of my time was spent on the production team for a number of special events, including appearances of actor Edward Norton, SIFF’s honoree for 2010.

In the first clip, Ed takes part in a Q&A session following the premiere screening of his newest film. Earlier in the day, for the run-through, I sat in the interviewer’s chair as he sat in Ed’s. Also, during this interview, I am in the projection booth of the theater running the lights.

In the second clip, Ed is on stage introducing the Spike Lee film 25th Hour and discussing Do The Right Thing. Here we are frustrated as viewers: only split-second glimpses of the actor are afforded us, and they are not enough.

In the third clip, Ed stands before the SIFF backdrop for an interview with AMC. At the moment the actor is giving this interview, I am just off-camera to his right maintaining the boundary between the incoming crowd and the space afforded to the media for photos and interviews.

In the last clip, Ed introduces a midnight screening of Fight Club with an anecdote related to the completion of the film. This glimpse “behind the scenes” enriches the viewing experience of a film that, most likely, everyone’s already seen.

Film festivals create multiple opportunities for access to extraordinary, ephemeral happenings that derive their exceptionality from both the boundaries normally set between non-media and media personnel and space and events such as these which suggest the permeability of those boundaries. Janet Harbord (2009) has suggested as much, pointing out the paradoxical juxtaposition of the recorded film and the live event (“the manufactured time of the festival” [44]). I would suggest that the paradox is pushed further in the existence of the clips presented here (especially the one with bad lighting, which only reemphasizes the importance of “being there”) as well as in my comments positioning me in proximity to that manufactured time. Norton, SIFF, the audience, and I all benefit from the process of reification inherent in the recording, sharing, and reporting upon the “live” event.

Work Cited:

Harbord, J. (2009). Film festivals-time-event. In Iordanova, D. & Rhyne, R., eds. Film festival yearbook 1: The festival circuit. St. Andrews: St. Andrews Film Studies.


All of these clips deserve some analysis, but I think my favorite is the one where you can see the two cell phones trying to record/snap a photo of Norton.  Coming on the heels of Toby's sensitive description of the importance of place in Thessaloniki in yesterday's post, your comment here takes us to an alternate extreme--what happens when place is replaced by technology?

Does it matter where Norton is when his purpose at this particular festival is excised by a recording device that makes sense through his star image rather than through the event of the festival?

One of the historic values of the film festival has been community, the pilgrimage to the site, the collective experience of filmgoing and conversation.  As you note, these clips demonstrate the removal of boundaries--between star and fan, between place and non-place/no-place, between now and then.  

Considering the collapse of these boundaries, how do we make sense of the film festival experience today?  

Thanks for a great set of clips and questions.


Good questions, Karen. I guess I would suggest that the presence and usage of mobile recording technologies, the quick turnaround and populist bent of blog posts, and the democracy of YouTube and Vimeo enhance rather than detract from the value of the film festival.

If I'm watching this, and I'm a big movie geek, am I going to be more or less likely to try to attend next year's festival? What I encounter here is pleasurable and informative, sure, but wouldn't it be a lot cooler to "be there" [and, importantly, be the person recording and posting this material]?

To me, there is a circularity to the process, whereby the reproduction of the ephemeral, rather than cheapening it by making it available to anyone with a computer, further increases the value of those places and occasions that offer it. This value is then leveraged to encourage stars, directors, etc to attend screenings, thereby supplying a fresh batch of ephemera.

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