“I’ve been at film festivals in Montréal and watched people faint,” says Eric Ford of the Burlington Film Society. “I don’t think you’re going to do that at home on your couch. [The theater experience is] larger than life, and I think that’s important.”
That’s why Ford, who is also the communication director at Burlington’s BCA Center, cofounded the BFS last January with local film scholar Barry Snyder. The group of cinephiles has no officers or membership cards and “zero dollars” of funding, Ford says. But since September, they’ve been holding monthly public screenings of movies that skipped Vermont theaters at Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center.
The BFS’ next offering, Compliance, screens on Thursday, December 20. Craig Zobel’s drama may not make people faint, but it did cause walk-outs at last January’s Sundance Film Festival. In the Huffington Post, Lucas Kavner calls it “the most uncomfortable film experience of my life,” one that provoked a woman at his showing to yell, “Give me a fucking break” as she headed for the exit. But Kavner also says Compliance is “one of the most well-paced, brilliantly acted films of the year,” and one he can’t stop thinking about.
The indie film has an innocuous, middle-American setting — a fast-food restaurant — and follows real events that occurred in Kentucky in 2004. Where’s the controversy? In brief, Compliance suggests that, given the right circumstances, ordinary people can be induced to do extraordinarily bad things. Like the famous Milgram experiment, it makes viewers ask, “Would I have complied?” (See our film section for a preview.)
Such a film may not be a good business bet for a regular theater, but BFS screenings aim to provoke post-movie conversation — the livelier the better. “Any film that causes an uproar or controversy in certain cases deserves looking into and discussion,” Ford says. “Is it exploitation, or is it not?”
Last spring, after introductory meetings attracted a core of eight to 12 unofficial “members,” the BFS began organizing meet-ups at local theaters. In August, about 80 people attended a special screening of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal at Merrill’s Roxy Cinemas, Ford says. That was organized through tugg.com, a service that delivers films to theaters once groups reach a quota of online ticket reservations. But attempts to obtain similar screenings of Taxi Driver and Miller’s Crossing didn’t have enough takers. “We’re still trying to figure out the magic formula for that model,” Ford says of tugg.com.
Meanwhile, the BFS began partnering with Mariah Riggs, director of the MSL Performing Arts Center, who had already been holding regular free screenings of older films in disc format on Tuesday nights. With the monthly Thursday screenings, “Our goal is to try and bring films that are only available theatrically and haven’t come or won’t come to the area,” Ford says. So far, those have included Todd Solondz’s Dark Horse, Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse (screened as part of the Vermont International Film Festival) and The Fourth Dimension, codirected by Harmony Korine. “Mariah has kind of conditioned folks to show up for free films each Tuesday,” Ford says. “We’re able to build off of that audience.”
Do audiences really show up for feel-not-so-good films? Ford says about 150 people did for Dark Horse, a relationship movie that’s painfully, sometimes hilariously, unromantic — but a sure-fire discussion starter.
What’s next for the BFS? A website is coming, Ford says. (Right now, he communicates with “members” via Facebook.) And there are plenty more art-house films unlikely ever to be shown in Vermont’s commercial theaters.
“We want to support films that perhaps are nonconventional, films that are outside the system that brings the next big Hollywood blockbuster,” Ford says. Movies that might inspire people to walk out — or to think.
Burlington Film Society screening of Compliance followed by discussion. Thursday, December 20, 7 p.m. at the Film House, Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center in Burlington. Free, donations accepted. facebook.com/burlingtonfilmsociety