Thank god for the New York Film Festival, where every year I buckle under the pressure of a glut of art and groan to anyone who will listen: “I didn’t see enough!”
Whenever I see a bunch of films in a condensed period, my notes run conspiratorial: an inventory of the weird resonances that link one to another, beats that reflect my taste in selection as much as any semblance of collective consciousness.
There’s something special about taking part in a treasure hunt at the heart of a hidden gem of a festival. True/False Film Festival feels special because it’s so intimate, populated by cinephiles who love the underestimated and misunderstood genre of documentary features.
That so many of the films at the New York Film Festival this year focused on ugly and stressful subjects feels not like a demerit, but rather a catharsis—a healing that can only be done in a dark room, surrounded by others.
As I walked up the steps to the Walter Reade theater, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of triumph, my first day back on campus. Everyone was there! In line, tired, clutching cheap coffee and festival badges. Some people got haircuts. Even the grumps were buzzing, happy to finally have some place to be.
There were days where I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be able to sit with loved ones and share these first-time viewings in real time, and others when the combination of quarantine cabin fever and less-than-stellar runs of films made it seem like everything would be mediocre. A privilege and, 32 movies, shorts, and episodes later, a pile-up.
If there was any tangible loss in a virtual Sundance, it wasn’t the loss of celebrity sightings and frostbitten extremities; it was the loss of a shared narrative on what the week had provided.
I frequently took my mental temperature after this year’s Sundance screenings, searching for symptoms of that dreaded ailment, festival fever. I’ve fought mightily to maintain critical detachment, but it bears acknowledgement that the following assessments were made during one of the most emotionally tumultuous weeks I can remember.