By Zachary Stein
This March marks another chance to withstand the cinematic endurance test that is The Nickelodeon Theatre’s annual Secret Film Festival. Now in its ninth year, the festival has been building a strong following, with lines extending around the block of the historic Del Mar theatre. This ain’t your granddad’s film festival although by the end you certainly feel weathered and evolved. One enters the theatre around 11:30pm on Saturday night and does not leave until well past noon the following day. Nearly twelve hours of cinematic splendor interrupted only by bathroom breaks between the movies.
To the casual filmgoer this may seem like a nightmare, a cacophony of plots, characters and popcorn to juggle around in a sleep-deprived haze. But to the true film lover it is a gift of untold riches —an opportunity to watch at least five films that have not yet been released for the price equivalent of $3 a pop. Not to mention the chance to spend the night surrounded by an audience as dedicated as you are, eager to see the type of eclectic programming that the festival is known for. Those whom make it through ‘til the end are rewarded with the bounty of a large raffle, with everything from free DVDs, movie tickets and a ton of merchandise. The raffle is the Medal of Honor rewarded for spending hours in the trenches with your fellow film lovers.
Previous years have hosted advanced screenings of popular hits such as The Darjeeling Limited (2007), Lars and the Real Girl (2007), Oldboy (2003), and Mud (2013), and independent comedies like The Squid and the Whale (2005), and It’s a Disaster (2013). Subversive science fictions have also graced the screen, with films like Beyond the Black Rainbow (2012) and Upstream Color (2013). Horror comedies seem to be a staple with movies like Juan of the Dead (2009), 100 Bloody Acres (2013), and Sightseers (2013), and world cinema fare such as The Raid: Redemption (2011), and The Good the Bad and the Weird (2008). The point here is to highlight the range of tastes and genres that one will be exposed to during the evening and into the morning. For those who are squeamish of blood or have a deep aversion to particular genres, an alternative film is given in the upstairs screens. The caveat, however, is in the events name. The films are only revealed the moment a title appears on screen, although savvy viewers may be able to figure out the selections from the few hints given away before each show, it’s best to go in cold as the secrecy adds to the suspense of the night.
It’s important to note that for many viewers, this will be the only chance of seeing these films on the big screen, which is more significant now than ever in the world of “straight-to-streaming and DVD.” Many times these limited releases tend to be the highlights, and seeing any film on a giant screen with dynamic full surround sound is the only way to do it right.
Hopefully if you’re reading this you have been going to the Del Mar’s excellent line up of midnight movies each weekend, and you should feel right at home at the Secret Film Festival. However, the festival is a very different beast. The typical high levels of excitement at the midnights are amped up to the extreme, and the mass enthusiasm is contagious, addictive and more than enough to get through the night.
Like always, The Del Mar pulls out all the stops and provides concessions to fit each stage of hunger that you will no doubt go through during the night. You can start out the evening with the traditional popcorn and soda before moving to Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwiches, Nutella sandwiches, cereal, fruit and other breakfast-y foods that are available.
If you’re a student from a town with a lone chain multiplex, this event is especially for you. A vibrant cinema culture is a rare and extraordinary thing that tends to only be available in major metropolitan areas. It’s unique for a seaside town like Santa Cruz to hold such an event and you owe it to yourself to experience it while you live here, especially if it is in a grand independently run theatre like The Del Mar. You’re not always going to have it this good.
The Secret Film Festival will be held on Saturday, March 8th at midnight, at the Del Mar Theatre on Pacific Ave. Tickets are $15 and you can buy them in advance or on the night of from the Del Mar’s Box office.