The Rollercoaster of Film Programming

First week back after a long holiday break is hard, amiright? Even if only a four-day “work” week. These are some looong work days.

I’m in the stage of my job where most of my waking hours are spent watching films, back to back to back. Documentary after documentary. All day and into the night. It is binging on a different level.

It is an emotional rollercoaster.

photo by Ilnur Kalimullin

In the past 48 hours I have watched documentaries spanning the following topics:

  • severe illness and the health care system
  • a biography of an author
  • the historical oppression of the LGBTQ community
  • the profile of an artist with cancer
  • the serial murder of prostitutes
  • a homeless artist
  • an exposé on bad police officers
  • racism in America
  • opiate addiction

The subjects above are vague to respect the filmmakers, but you get the idea. Telling a good story means showing the darker sides of humanity. And there are so many shades of darkness in this world. By the end of the day, I’m emotionally exhausted from the empathy and intellect that’s involved in watching each story. Even if the film is really, really bad – and believe me they can be – emotional effort is involved.

Tomorrow will be very similar to today. More stories of tragedy and hope. More stories of the world going to hell, slivers of hope and how we can try to make it better. I feel like I’m in a daze. The days blur into one and I loose track of time. This rollercoaster is going full speed and I can see the ups and downs ahead. My head hurts and my eyes burn.

All this watching means I am not leaving the house much. Other than emailing, socializing is minimal. The grocery store clerk probably wonders why I’m so chatty at the check out. “I really like your nail polish” counts as human interaction in my book.

This is the tough part of the job. The non-glamourous part. Some days are more rewarding than others. Yesterday I was fortunate. I saw a beautiful film. One that connected to a personal part of my own experience. I understood the character’s pain. My heart ached for her and the others in her world. I went through a journey of anger, sadness, and hope. It was magic. My heart was racing. I am excited that others will discover it soon as well.

Then, just like that, the moment was over and I was in the midst of a bad film again, dissecting the elements and issues. Seeing the world at its worst, holding out hope for a glimpse of magic again.

This emotional rollercoaster is at the core of festival programming. Watching and filtering and analyzing. Repeat. It is not for everyone and there are days when I struggle with it. I want to change the world, but get frustrated when I think I’m only “watching films”. I have to believe that curating can better the world, if only in a small way. It may be too difficult to measure, but this rollercoaster will lead me to sharing a moment that may change a life or inspire action. Remembering my place in this magic keeps me going.

Have you ever been in the deep end of your work or life and yet felt like you were right where you’re suppose to be? How do you describe your role to yourself when things are rough?

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