500 Ficks in Five Months

The fast life of a film-fest screener

Photo by Jack GouldMarjoe Aguiling has a little problem: he's addicted to watching movies. As a film student out of Chapman, he used to be able to control his habit. Then he got hired to screen the hundreds upon hundreds of films submitted to the Newport Beach Film Festival, and now he's going to overdose.

"You'd think after watching and watching, I'd hate movies," he says. "But instead, it feeds the hunger. It's like, 'more, more!' in a sick way. My body is telling me to go to sleep: 'No more coffee for you!'"

Instead, the only stimulant Aguiling indulges in is cinema; as the festival's programming director, he and a crack team of VCR jockeys plowed through about 500 features and shorts during the past five months or so, rounding up the stragglers during an eyeball-chafing marathon. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.

"In a weird way, I'm going to miss it," he says of a gig that officially ends when the festival begins on Thursday, March 29. "Well, I'm not going to miss staying up late watching films, going to sleep, and then the first thing you do when you get up in the morning is pop in a feature film. Then you go to work and watch two or three films. On breaks, you watch movies—short films. Then you come home and go to bed with a goodnight film—you gotta have a goodnight film."

It all started back in November. Press credential in hand, Aguiling flew to England for the London Film Festival to scout the best new filmic talent showcased on the continent. For 16 days, he scrambled between 250 different showings, trying to evaluate as much as he possibly could. "It was a rat race," he says. Next, he hit Sundance, trying to secure the filmmakers who not only turned out quality work but also seemed interested in bringing their films to Newport Beach, flying in to John Wayne Airport and doing Q&A sessions with audiences —anything to make a screening "more than a screening," he says. But those are just the films the festival handpicks. When he got home, he got to meet the hopefuls—the whole pile full.

"Oh, it's a full-time job, man," he says. "It's like, 'Marjoe, all the submissions are in, so go watch movies.' I get to see movies everyone would normally never see. But 500? Oh, it gets tough."

See, you've got your boring, overbudgeted, indie films. You've got the bombs that even major studios don't have the gall to release in theaters that get dumped on the festival circuit. You've got the films that don't go anywhere, or those with telegraphed punches that are so blatant you don't have to watch past the first few minutes to figure out how things are going to end. But if you're Marjoe Aguiling, you do have to watch past the first few minutes—right to the very end. For every single full-length feature movie. No matter how bad. Because that is your job.

"Desensitized? That sounds so bad," he says. "I try and stay away from feeling that way—I'd hate myself. I'm in a weird position because it's all at my fingertips. All these filmmakers work hard and then submit their films, and it's up to me—my decision. I try not to let it get to me."

And there are great films buried in that pile, he says, films that are delicious to watch even after 499 other duds. He's not impressed by budgets or production values anymore. After his tour of duty in the cinematic trenches, he looks for heart, soul, insight and passion, and he finds it everywhere: in films from Poland, Hawaii (in native Hawaiian, you'll note), Scandinavia and some 20 different countries, from directors of all visions and agendas. All those goodnight films add up to a revamped Newport Beach Film Festival that's angling to one day take a place among the cinematic elite—and Aguiling is still excited about the whole thing, even if he knows how all the movies are going to end and even if his movie addiction does have some side effects.

"I haven't seen a theatrical release in some time," he says. "My girlfriend will talk about something, and I'll be like, 'What's that?' And then I'll talk about some hot new Hungarian film or something from Norway."

But can he ever just sit down and watch a movie ever again without mentally reaching for a pencil and a checklist? Sure, he says. "I've just shifted focus."

The Newport Beach Film Festival begins at Edwards Big Newport, 300 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949)644-0760. Thursday, March 29. Call for time; the festival continues at Edwards Island Cinemas, 999 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 640-1780. Through April 5. Information on screenings and seminars, (949) 253-2880; www.newportbeachfilmfest.com or www.tickets.com.
 
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