Friday, May 6, 2016

HRAFF Opening Night - I made it

For those of you on pins and needles about whether I got to go to HRAFF Opening Night after initially turning down my free ticket, well, the subject of this post has already spoiled the suspense for you.

I did indeed get to see Eva Orner's Chasing Asylum, a film so new it does not yet have a proper poster available on Google Images. It just had its world premiere last week at a documentary festival in Canada, and the screening last night was its third to the public overall.

When I emailed the HRAFF marketing person to ask if there were perhaps one more "secret" ticket that had been held back to the sold-out performance, she told me that indeed there was -- exactly one extra ticket. Whether it was really the only extra ticket or not, I'll probably never know, but I do know that it was waiting for me when I showed up at the box office Thursday night at around 6:25.

I thought I'd be burnt out on this stuff after five solid months of it from September through early February, but as it turned out, a good film can still speak to me, no matter how many similar ones I may have seen. The plight of refugees trying to enter Australia by boat -- who are instead diverted to detention centers on the small islands of Manus in Papua New Guinea, and the island nation of Nauru -- struck me freshly. So not only was it worth going just to swan about and enjoy the fruits of my labors, but also to see a movie that really moved me.

I ended up running into two fellow programmers in the lobby, one from my team and one from the team that selected the shorts program, but who I'd met before. The three of us sat together for the movie and the Q&A session with the director that followed. Two screening rooms at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) were filled for opening night, and since we were in the second theater, we had to watch the speeches on live video from the other one. But that hardly mattered, and if anything, gave us the freedom not to be as well-behaved an audience. (Not that we behaved poorly, but there were some people checking their phones during the Q&A who probably wouldn't have been doing so otherwise.)

Listening to about four speeches that kicked off the ceremony, I felt really glad that my wife had encouraged me to go to this. When you watch 80 movies over five months in putting together a film festival, the least you can do is show up and be feted on opening night. I wasn't thanked by name, of course, but our progamming team was thanked, and I did feel a bit of a rush of pride as this happened.

I wasn't sure what would follow the film, whether a small contigent of programmers would go off to get drinks, or whether I might even sneak off and see a second film in a nearby theater. You can imagine my surprise, then, when the Q&A wrapped up with the moderator telling us to go enjoy some drinks downstairs. Some? I had about eight. Or it felt like that, anyway. I started with a beer, and then flowed on to wine. And flowed. And flowed. And flowed.

And thank God for the tray-passed hors d'eouvres, as I hadn't managed to grab dinner before the screening.

And as I talked to a second programmer -- my viewing partner -- as well as the two I'd been sitting with, not to mention about three of their friends, and then a fourth programmer and the festival's coordinator and director, getting steadily drunker over the next 90 minutes, I thought really seriously for the first time about doing this again this year. The party at the end is all worth it. Am I right?

I'm a big hungover today, but that's a small price to pay for months of toil culminating in an evening of drinking and celebration. And through my hungover haze, I'm still basking in that glow.

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