As I was covering SXSW Film for TH, I spent my time in line waiting to get into screenings to observe and chat with my queue-neighbors. Like my colleague Lori Moffatt, I attended most of the screenings with a film pass. I kept thinking about my experience as a music fan, going to free SXSW music shows and ACL Fest, and how rabid music fans differ from serial filmgoers, and what these tribes have in common.
Among the film-pass people I’ve met at various theaters, I found that they tend to be local Austinites. In contrast, more of the SXSW music fans, even the wristband- and badge-less, hail from out-of-town, and with ACL Fest it’s about even. Film-pass folks are loyal, too—many buy SXSW Film passes every year, much like ACL Fest goers. My cinephile friends Tina and Michael are in the film-pass camp, and they also get passes for the Austin Film Festival in the fall.
Film-pass people are a hardy, tenacious bunch. The steady rain on the first two days of SX Film didn’t deter long lines of pass-people, hoping to get into the premiere showing of the docu-thriller The Imposter (most did not) or to see Trash Dance or Killer Joe (most if not all did). Everyone I spoke to in the pass lines managed to get into their must-see screenings, and knew to avoid the tiny Violet Crown or Ritz theatres. Many were also waiting until later in the week, when SX Music starts, to see the popular buzz films.
I’ve always prided myself on the number of bands I can see in one day at ACL Fest (at least five to eight), but with films, I could only manage one on that rainy Saturday, three on Sunday, and one per weekday. Some of the pass-folks I spoke to saw at least three or four movies a day. There’s also a more defined schedule with films, and figuring in travel and wait times. Plus, movies generally start with more punctuality than music performances.
There doesn’t seem to be a stereotype for pass-people: I’ve met a cinema-obsessed teen and her mom; a petite middle-aged woman who works full-time yet had seen 14 films by Tuesday night; a film critic for an online movie site; an older gentleman who’s a big Will Ferrell fan; as well as college students on spring break, and even fashionably-dressed, badge-less hipsters.
One difference I’ve noticed, as a music fan who often goes solo for SX- and ACL Fest, are the large numbers of singular film-goers, both female and male. The music events tend to draw more pairs and packs. Maybe the experience of watching a movie in a quiet, dark theater seems more suited to solo activity than seeing a live performance with a crowd of raucous music fans.
You can also make fast friends with the film bunch, as you’ll see some of the same people in line for different films, and they won’t hesitate to compare notes, and rave or rant on what they’ve seen. It’s a little harder to spot familiar strangers among the massive crowds at music shows, whether it’s SXSW or ACL Fest.
Finally, one curious thing I’ve noticed in the film lines (both badge and pass), and waiting for music to begin at wide-open spaces like Auditorium Shores, are the lack of iPads or e-readers and the presence of books, especially hardbound volumes, to pass the time. Seems the printed word may still be thriving, even at SXSW.