Remember that time I spent four weeks in Mexico City taking a Spanish language course? It seems like decades ago, but it was actually earlier this year. It’s a reminder that 2020 was off to a decent start for a few weeks before it became an annus horribilis.
While I was in Mexico City, I resided in the language school flophouse, a shared space on the top floor of the the same building that housed the school itself. One of my fellow residents was Emil Gallardo, an up-and-coming filmmaker from Oakland, California. At the time, he had just had a short film accepted into the Phoenix Film Festival. I told him I’d make an effort to attend one of its screenings when I was back home in March, which was then only a few weeks away.
Little did I know the kind of global upheaval the next few weeks would bring.
The film festival was obviously postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The first postponement notice came only six days after I bought tickets. At first, the date on the electronic tickets was updated to June, but it was only as a placeholder until they picked a new date. The new date wasn’t announced until four weeks ago. Ticket holders were given the option of deferring to next year’s festival, making a tax-deductible donation of the tickets, or attending on the new date. The new date for our tickets was this past Saturday at 4:55 pm.
After discussing the options, Kathryn and I decided to attend the festival and make an evening of it. I hadn’t been to a cinema since February, and I think it’d been even longer for Kathryn. Dinner and a movie, even if in the wrong order, sounded like a nice departure from the “new normal.”
If you’re reading this and thinking, with all the pandemic fear, now is a terrible time to be at a cinema, let me say this: There may never be a better time to go to the movies! Due to all the temporary sanitation protocols, the theater was cleaned so thoroughly between screenings, you could almost eat off the floor. Also, every other pair of seats was taped off, staggered between rows, so there was no one sitting two seats to the left or right of each couple, nor directly in front of or behind each couple. As someone who nearly always ends up seated behind someone nine inches taller than myself, the experience at the cinema this weekend was a delight. Although there aren’t many new films being released this year, this is definitely the time to catch a second-run film or an old classic you’ve always wanted to see on the big screen.
At the festival theater, the seats were assigned by the cinema staff. I don’t know if that’s happening at all theaters now, but we’d been to this cinema before and had never had assigned seats. Since festival pass holders got first pick of seats, and since we had single-screening tickets, we ended up in the third row, which is a little too close to the screen for both of us. That was really the only bummer of the evening.
Since the film we wanted to see has a running time of about 15 minutes, the screening was combined with five other short films, all shown back-to-back, for a total of about an hour and 20 minutes. When Kathryn and I attended the French Film Festival in Richmond back in 2017, we discovered we enjoy shorts a lot. In fact, one of the most memorable films for us was a 25-minute court métrage called Au loin, Baltimore. We typically have little exposure to shorts, so we were happy to have an excuse to see several more.
I won’t dive too deeply into the details of the individual films, but with six short films from six different filmmakers, we were able to see a wide range of talents. The lead-off film, for example, had no dialogue whatsoever. It was entirely about the cinematography and the music. Other films were entirely about the dialogue. Some films had plot twists that were foreshadowed yet somehow still managed to surprise. Most films featured unknown actors, while one starred an actor who was recognizable from a long-running television series. Another film had some intentionally cheesy special effects.
Emil’s film, 1, 2, 3, All Eyes on Me, was fifth of the six films screened. The film, for me, was about empathy for the main character, an elementary school art teacher. Considering my heart was racing by the end of the film, mission accomplished. I won’t spoil the ending!
The Phoenix Film Festival takes place in a part of Phoenix that has a Scottsdale zip code, leading some people to think of it as a part of Scottsdale. As a result of this identity crisis, the dining choices in the area reflect a Scottsdale attitude of being either somewhat pretentious, wildly pretentious, or fast food. We went with the first option and had dinner at Café Pino, an Italian restaurant conveniently located just a few steps away from the theater.
We’d eaten at Pino once before, years ago, and once we sat down we wondered aloud why we hadn’t been back. It really isn’t far from where we live. The atmosphere was pleasant, the service was attentive without being pushy, and the food — which was just pizza for us — was excellent and correctly priced for the area, although perhaps a little pricey for Phoenix in general. Sadly, there weren’t a lot of patrons, even though there was a film festival taking place at their front door. Even with the sanitation protocols in place, they could have easily seated half over again as many diners. Whether economic uncertainty or just plain fear, it seems like few of us are dining out right now.
For Kathryn and me, the dinner and a movie made for an enjoyable evening out and a chance to feel somewhat normal again, while also being an unfortunate reminder of how much continues to be stolen from so many of us this year.