By Erica Kim
When I say I went to a festival, people assume it was Coachella. I see the envy rise up from their toes as they squirm and it migrates to their lips with the first, “I wish I could have gone.” I correct them, “No, I meant the Newport Film Festival that happened April 21 to the 28.” More often than not, I’m met with slow nods and “Oh’s.”
Film festivals have an infamous reputation that “only artsy fartsy people come out,” as Pam, a New Yorker and regular festival attendee, put it. So, when I arrived at the Island Cinema in Fashion Island, I was pleasantly surprised to not feel completely out of place: there are people who fashion maxi dresses, but also people snug in jeans. The email confirmation said the dress code is “cocktail party wear,” but I stand in front of the ticket booth in leggings and a sweater. It’s 2 p.m. when groups in their late 20s weave into the booth to pick up their tickets, but 20 minutes in, and conversations near the bar are dominated by people 40 and older.
At 2:30, the first movie, “Showing Roots,” begins. Many times throughout the film, hearty laughter erupts from the audience whenever Pearl — played by Uzo Aduba, famous for her role in “Orange is the New Black” — makes a cheeky remark. Set in the 1970s, this movie explores racial tensions in their small town via Pearl and Violet’s biracial partnership over a hair salon.
Throughout, the audience voyages through waves of emotion. We laugh at the “jive ass walk,” and cry when Pearl tells Violet their partnership meant everything to her. At times we can only respond with silence because we know how relevant the topic of racism is still today.
The next movie, “Tyrus,” is a documentary that details the life of Tyrus Wong, a 105-year-old Chinese-American legendary artist. The film follows Tyrus’s immigration from China and his journey rising up to the studios of Hollywood whilst capturing his whimsical personality. It is the most cinematically-pleasing film of the night, causing my neighbor to [periodically comment, “That’s beautiful” or “haunting.” In the end, the film is not only about Tyrus, but also illuminates the struggles that Chinese-Americans faced in the 20th century.
When I stood up to walk out of theater, I felt a slight disturbance. There is this whole other part of history I was only vaguely aware of, but never really knew. To be blunt, I feel the burden of privilege as a university student. I have the opportunity to pick and choose what I want to learn but realize I don’t actively utilize it to connect to others.
The last movie, “Buddy Solitaire,” feels the closest to my idea of independent film culture; it’s a well-executed film created despite a limited budget, and ultimately points to a greater lesson. In this case, the movie is about a struggling comedian teaching stand-up comedy to a low-risk counseling group. During the Q&A, director Kuang Lee points out that the movie is meant to draw parallels between comedy and pain. Thunderous accolades fill the room at the end of the film.
It’s hard to describe the film festival to people who haven’t gone. I can tell them, if I’m being honest, that there were huddles of pretentious people mixed in with down-to-earth characters. I could go on reviewing the films. But, whatever I say, won’t really change the reputation that film festivals are much too foreign compared to the popular music festivals.
I’m not going to lie. Film festivals are a different kind of festival, but difference shouldn’t connote that it’s not as fun or enjoyable. By the end of the night, all I knew was that I loved the experience. I guess people have to go for themselves to see that there’s something there for everyone.