With my limited budget and insatiable appetite for culture, I'm an unabashed fan of Richmond's free film series.
For the most part, both show foreign and arthouse films that never made it to Richmond, providing a chance to see award-winning and festival quality works on the big screen as they were meant to be seen. The only downside? No buttered popcorn because they're on school property.
The difference is in the audiences and the process. The VCU Cinematheque series at the Grace Street theater is full of film students with a smattering of film-loving adults taking advantage of a well-curated program with an introductory analysis before the film and usually a Q & A afterwards.
University of Richmond's international film series attracts a predominantly gray and white-haired crowd of mostly couples -alums, for all I know, or maybe just near West Enders - providing handouts about the film and a limited bit of information conveyed beforehand orally.
At tonight's screening of "Watchtower" at UR's Ukrop Auditorium in the Robins School of Business (can't you just smell the money?), we were forewarned that the cinematography would be exquisite, the acting as naturalistic as a documentary and that in all likelihood, the child in the film probably belonged to the actress playing the mother.
"I'm not going to give it away, but you'll see," our host said cryptically. "Also, you will write the last scene yourself."
In a scene where a bus driver tells her he used to write poetry in his youth, he goes on to say sagely, "High school, that's the time to write poems...before life gets in the way." Take heed, young poets.
During a scene where the female lead began going into labor, squatting and screaming, the older man in front of me leaned over to his wife and stage-whispered, "Do you think she's going to have a baby?" One man got up and walked out at that point. Obviously, he didn't want to see any babies being birthed realistically.
But I think it was the scene where the woman puts the crying newborn to her breast and it begins to eat that had convinced him that they were related. Perhaps he'd never heard of a wet-nurse.
Much of the film's appeal was how unlike American films it was. No love story or even suggestion of one. A mother who not only shows no interest in her baby but consciously rejects caring for it. Characters who don't smile. No musical soundtrack.
The movie was basically a character study of two people who end up together (in the watchtower of the title where the man is a fire spotter in a ruggedly beautiful area of Turkey) and learn each other's dark secrets, at least until the last scene when all we see is him leaning against the doorway looking pensive and we have no idea if she and the baby have left or if they're downstairs.
On another campus with a very different audience, we'd have chewed over that ending for a good, long while, discussing every possibility, every cinematic clue.
Like a good read, I'll be thinking about this one for a while.