I am still relatively new to Santa Cruz and have lived here just shy of a year. I admire the musicians who decorate Pacific Avenue with their instruments and songs. At night, the skinny trees along the storefront are wrapped in luminescence, giving night time strolls the beauty of December. I’ve been seeing posters around town for the 7th Annual Santa Cruz Secret Film Festival, hosted by the Del Mar Theater downtown, and decided to check it out.
Let me preface by saying I had an amazing time, and as long as I am in this silly little town, I will be attending all future Secret Film Festivals. I went with a few friends and when we arrived at 11pm, the line was already half way down the block. By 11:45pm, the line was around the block and out of sight. The excitement in the air was palpable. I have been to midnight premiers for films before, but this was different. This was not one film, where upon its conclusion I would return to Pacific giddy with the other filmgoers reveling in being among the first to see the movie. This was a marathon, six films and one short over the course of twelve cockcrow hours. The people in line had a look of excitement, but behind this lingered the knowledge that the next time they stepped through the Del Mar’s doors, it will be noon.
Originally called “The Mystery Movie Marthon”, the Santa Cruz Secret Film Festival primarily screens independent films that might not otherwise make it onto theater screens nation-wide. It’s an awesome experience. But as I discovered, it is also a test of endurance. At around midnight the theater opened their doors to the crowd. As we all filed in, the plaque outside the main theater (which normally lists the title of the film) read “ ? “. Let the mystery begin!
- God Bless America
When the usher described this as “a film where a man stops tolerating the world around him”, I had my suspicions that “God Bless America” would be the film. It is amusing in its own rite, but after a while it is hard to not see it as being what the film itself is critiquing. There were some parts that I found hilarious; the parody of reality television at the beginning was perfectly executed. A friend of mine in attendance described it as “Falling Down” mixed with “Juno” and I’m inclined to agree. The gruesome tone of the film is set by the initial fantasy of the main character, Frank. He can see no other solution to the world around him other than vigilante violence, and the fantasy becomes reality when Frank discovers that he is afflicted with an inoperable brain tumor. Senseless violence has its own appeal, but the problem with “God Bless America” is it tries to make sense of the violence, and the explanation is weak. I would recommend seeing “God Bless America” if the trailer appeals to you, but I do not think it is a movie I need to see again.
I will applaud it for not developing anything more than a platonic relationship between the young female lead, Roxanne, and Frank. Yet, even that is presented in a somewhat pretentious manner. The female lead is grating and unrealistic. Frank is a possibility, Roxxie is not. Also, I think that is how she would spell her name. Not Roxy, but Roxxie. She thinks she’s edgy, but she mostly comes across as obnoxious and irritating. She confuses her teenage angst with being jaded.
I should note that at this point the entire theater is going strong. Everyone seems pretty set on staying until noon, and I admire this. It also scares me, ever so slightly. It is becoming clear who among us are new to this experience and that for others this is not their first rodeo.
1.5 PAC-MAN The Movie
I found the actual short online, so go ahead and give it a gander! It’s a pretty cute little film about Pac-Man, a little cliché with the military figure suspicious of new technology and the spunky tech-girl, but I liked it. At around this time people had a choice to make between staying in the main room and watching a “movie that people who like to go to events like this would enjoy” and a Spanish horror film. I decided to stick around in the main room. I had listened to an interview with Morgan Spurlock of “Supersize Me” fame on “The Nerdist” podcast the day before, and hoped that the film about to be shown would be Spurlock’s latest project, “Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope”.
2. Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope
I grew up in San Diego and have been to Comic Con a few times. I love it. It is an amazing experience where people who otherwise might not get a chance to really express their passion get an opportunity to do so with other people who are just as knowledgeable if not moreso about said hobby. The event itself has become overwhelmingly popular in recent years to the point where there have been rumors that the venue will have to be moved to Anaheim, CA or Las Vegas, NV in order better accommodate the massive demand for tickets.
That being said, I sorta have a soft spot for Comic Con and for all things related to it. I couldn’t stop grinning the whole duration of the documentary. “Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope” does such a magnificent job of capturing the excitement and wonder of the event. Also, Stan Lee is in it. Stan Lee is an adorable old man and the father of the nerd movement as we know it and is also a delightful person to watch talk. Other people featured are Joss Whedon, Kevin Smith, Seth Rogan and Seth Green, and several members of the comic industry. I loved this movie and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has even the slightest interest in Comic Con or comic books.
After this movie I found the first sleeper. I went to the bathroom and found a girl gently passed out on a couch. I heard murmurs that the Spanish horror film was disappointing, which only cemented my satisfaction in seeing the documentary. I heard it described as “You’ll like [‘Penumbra’] if you like sitting next to your friend while they talk on the phone, while watching a movie in a theater”. At this point it was 4am. Normal people are asleep. We are not normal people.
- Juan de los Muertos
The two choices for this segment were “’Shean of the Dead’, but in Spanish” or “110 minutes of the tunnel scene from ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’”. Maybe some people are in to being terrified. “But Katie!”, you’re shouting, “that scene wasn’t so bad!”. Fool.
Plus, “Shean of the Dead” is one of my favorite movies of all time. Simon Peg is a silly man and his films are golden.
“Juan of the Dead” is a Cuban ZomCom that covers the uprising of an apocalyptic outbreak and a scrappy band of survivors holding out in Havana. The story is familiar, but it is beloved and translates well onto the big screen. I started drifting in and out of sleep during this film, but I liked what I saw and will definitely be re-watching it. “Juan of the Dead” uses the medium of a zombie apocalypse to point out everything wrong with Castros’ Cuba.
It is now 6am in the theater. Bathroom pep talks are less inspiring and more and more people have succumbed to the sandman. People are busting out full gallons of Arizona Ice tea, pizzas, goldfish, and Red Bull. The theater reeks of caffeine and every time I hear a can crack open, I am physically disgusted.
- The Sound of Noise
Silly Swedes and their music. This movie is catchy. I’d describe it as a crime musical, but there is something more to it. The music isn’t being weaponized (well, maybe the drum set at the beginning is), it’s being used to make people more aware of the power of rhythm. I decided to check out the alternate film and missed part of “The Sound of Noise”. I regret it. The alternate movie was an Irish horror film about two hitman and their entanglement in a cult. Potential to be awesome, but the accents were so thick I had a hard time making out what was going on and the character development was slow. “The Sound of Noise” is more my vibe.
My friends and I are weak. We cannot go on. I have been to movies and entered with it being light outside and exited to the moon, but I have never entered a theater at night and left during the day. It is unsettling; a bizarre time of day when Taco Bell is closed, but only for another hour or so and the air chills your face but not your hands. I was under prepared for this festival, but when I return for the 8th Annual Santa Cruz Secret Film Festival, I will be ready.
Also worth mentioning are the other two films shown from 8am-12pm, “The Raid” and “Goon”.
- The Raid
I was gone by this point, but I figure it is worth mentioning the other two films screened. “The Raid” is an Indonesian action film following the siege of an apartment filled with thugs armed to the teeth. It was well-received by the audience and several of the people I asked about after said this was their favorite movie from the whole festival. I interviewed friends that stayed for the whole festival and was told that it is worth watching. Beautiful action scenes, minimal plot. I can dig it.
Again, I was gone for this film, but I was informed that “Goon” is a goofy hockey comedy from Canada. Extremely lovable protagonist and a perfect light-hearted film to end the festival.