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By Don R. Lewis | June 13, 2007

I recently attended a film festival and saw a movie that the audience just did not get. I wasn’t all that crazy about the film either, but there’s been plenty of times when “”I” didn’t like a film the audience ate up. The opposite has also happened, but in this case, I think I was not digging it just as much as the rest of my theater mates.

Of course I’m not going to mention what film or what festival it was. What’s the point of that aside from just being a big meanie. Instead what I want to write about is how a movie bombs at a festival. A kind of blow by blow account if you will. I’ve been to hundreds of films at tons of fests yet one thing always remains the same: the vibe at a movie that’s tanking.

The first thing you notice is the fact that people are tuning out. Fidgeting in their seats, looking around, sighing, groaning, text messaging and even talking. This usually happens in the first fifteen minutes. Many times a chunk of people will leave around the fifteen minute mark. Others will stick it out but will continue to be noticeably distracted and/or annoyed. By this time there’s an almost visible tension in the air, the kind you would get when you were a kid and a parent stared you down wordlessly as you misbehaved. I usually feel bad for the filmmaker or equally as annoyed with them as the rest of the audience. In the case of the movie I’m using here as an example, I felt bad for the filmmaker. Until something happened in the film that was so out of place, so gratuitous and lame, it managed to annoy me as well as shake loose the people in the theater who had been hanging on like crusty fall leaves on tree. Perhaps out of respect or empathy or hope the ship would be righted. In this example, around twenty people got up at the halfway mark and left the theater. Also notable at this point are the people who usually leave a “”this is bullshit!” or “”this movie sucks! on their way out the door. Ouch.

For those who choose to stick around for the Q&A (or in this case, the chance for the filmmaker to explain themselves) another thing always happens. The applause is a smattering and there are no immediate questions. After an awkward few moments, whoever introduced the filmmaker to the crowd usually throws them a softball or asks them to introduce cast and crew on hand. After that, more awkward silence. It sucks too because it becomes clear no one has the balls to chastise or question the filmmaker, but since the lights are on, nobody wants to leave either. You’re kind of trapped as if someone farted in an elevator.

Finally it happens. A hand slowly rises, confidently, yet quietly. The filmmaker calls on the person and the inevitable question of “”So”¦what was that supposed to be” is uttered. That my friends, is the anatomy of a film bombing at a film festival.

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