Sunday, 26 February 2017

North La La Land

Howdy from California! So here I am in the San Francisco Bay Area, overlooking the famous
bay and San Francisco itself, while wearing my Borderlines Film Festival t-shirt kindly sent from Hereford, 5242 miles away! This is my third year of writing for the festival, but I haven't always been a "foreign correspondent". Back when I proudly lived in Hereford, I remember the old Ritz cinema  only seemed to show films at weekends, and mostly blockbuster fare, and then The Courtyard Arts Centre opened in 1998, bestowing a new source of independent cinema upon the local cinephiles. Unfortunately, I left Hereford just before Borderlines Film Festival began, or else I'm sure I would have been keenly involved from the get-go. A few relocations later and now I am settled in the sunshine state, where cinema was born.

Where multiscreen cinemas are now the norm in the UK (indeed, my home town had Europe's first multiplex), many neighbourhoods here within the various Bay Area cities have their own independent "movie theater". My local cinema is an opulent art deco building that somehow survived the 1989 earthquake and a modern renovation. The next closest cinema has a Wurlitzer organ ascend from its main auditorium’s stage, as if to play-in the evening's films. Across the Bay Area, and California itself, these old local cinemas are often downtown focal points, somewhat mirroring the local demographic in their film programming.

I think this local investment in, at times, quite esoteric independent and international films is a positive knock-on effect of being in relative proximity to Hollywood. It may be sunny all year round down in Los Angeles, but here in Northern California there is less sheen, perhaps a holdover from the gold rush pioneers who braved the Sierra Nevada mountains to settle amongst the redwoods of the Pacific northwest. I like to imagine them imbuing the Bay Area with a progressive attitude that lives on in the creative industries, as we have so many film production luminaries based locally, including Pixar, Industrial Light & Magic, and Lucasfilm. Living close to such a breadth of cinematic expertise is certainly a privilege, and Hereford and its surrounding countryside is lucky to have the equally pioneering Borderlines.

In recent months I've been fortunate to see films as diverse as Check It, Jackie, and Moonlight all in local independent cinemas that proudly screened them as part of film festivals (such as Frameline, or tangentially to the typically more mainstream Hollywood movies. It feels almost meta to have grown up with the first multiplex blockbusters in the middle of the UK, to living where scores of those movies were produced and filmed. There's certainly something uncanny about attending to one's daily business, only to recognise a hilly vista from Vertigo, or noticing that the latest Godzilla wasn't actually shot by the Golden Gate Bridge after all. 

So, leading up to the 89th Academy Awards ceremony this Sunday, celebrating what I would humbly say is a year of especially outstanding cinema, it dawns on me that I will do as I often have since falling in love with film in Hereford and look forward to the glitz of it all - except now from within the same time zone as Hollywood! Surreal. Hopefully there'll be some colourful wins this year. Now all I need to decide is whether to watch the Oscars on television from the comfort of home, or screening live down the block at the independent art deco flicks, here in North La La Land...

Duncan Wardlaw

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