By Mary Summerbell
This year, once again, Beloit International Film Festival was my beat-the-winter-blues budget cruise. BIFF has become my annual cinematic trip to rejuvenating places. For the price of movie tickets, and gas, I can travel outside the borders of my own life for a while, returning refreshed. Popcorn is free. People are friendly. It’s all I need for a great little getaway.
I always leave this event feeling glad I went, even when some films are disappointing. But this year was an exceptional experience for me. Multiple films competed for top personal pick. They’re all too good to not talk about, so I’m solving this wonderful dilemma by sharing my very favorite now and others in future newsletters.
I saw twenty movies – nine Feature Films, a Double Feature, a Triple Feature, and a Short Slot. That’s a lot, but with two hundred movies to choose from, I think I narrowed it down nicely. My method is to get two copies of the program and cut and tape one, juggling the schedule for optimum options. I find it very helpful to visit the BIFF website to see the previews there. These little peeks really affect my picks, as I think they give the best taste of the flavor of each film.
First glance through the program I was grabbed by a movie that really aroused my curiosity – a sixteen-minute short called “Stalled”. The writer, who also plays all five characters, spent three years collecting over 800 graffiti quotes from women’s restrooms across North America. The script comes entirely from these. ‘”Not one single word” was added or edited. Hmmm. My kind of crazy.
Four characters, each from a different era, each with a different personal issue, were created from graffiti themes of eating disorders, unwanted pregnancy, drug addiction and bullying. As if this isn’t interesting enough, we meet these four women through a fifth character, the elderly cleaning lady. As she enters each stall to clean it, she becomes one of the women who has written on the walls, identifying with her individual struggles.
But the most intriguing element of all, for me, was that, in the end, the old cleaning woman feels compelled to leave her own message on the bathroom stall. What, I wondered, would she have to say after all she has seen and done in her seventy-some years?
But, as strongly as I was drawn to it, almost as soon as I considered it, I eliminated it from my Wanna-See List. It didn’t make sense to me to sit through five movies I wasn’t interested in to see one that truly appealed to me. Essentially, I’d be paying eight bucks to see a sixteen minute movie. And the Scottish blood in me riled at that idea.
But, then, as I sifted and shifted toward my final selections, there it was – in the last time slot of the day, not up against anything else I wanted to see. Still, I resisted. In addition to thrift issues, it would be late. Cold and dark. I’d be tired. It was on campus, which is confusing for me to find my way. All reasonable reasons not to go. And yet, like a persistent child, it stared up at me from the page, tugging at my weakening resolve.
I went. And, yes, I was cold and tired and alone in the dark. And I did mistakenly take the long way back to my car afterwards, which was a bit scarey. But I’m so happy that I didn’t talk myself out of seeing this movie. It was so worth it all – even the eight bucks.
Spoiler alert. I’m telling the ending, here. So if you don’t want to know, don’t read this. Before the old woman leaves the last stall, what she writes on the wall in big, bold, black, capital letters is – “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL.” She comes out, writes on the door – “YOU ARE LOVE,” then puts her cleaning supplies back on her cart and pushes it out of sight.
I cried. All the way home. Of all the movies I saw, this one touched me so deeply. Not just because of the message it presented, but because it plays with the idea that there is no boundary between sacred and mundane, between profound and profane – a concept echoed in the lyrics of one of my favorite songs – “The Sounds of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls.” And bathroom stalls.
Rejuvenation. Inspiration. Illumination. We sometimes find them in the strangest ways, the most unexpected places. They can come wrapped in a sixteen-minute movie that we can’t resist going to see.
I invite you to find the unexpected at Beloit International Film Festival. If you haven’t already discovered this local treasure, consider it next year. Come February, we’re all ready for some relief from months of cold and snow. Go to BIFF. Let it be the cinematic passport that transports you to places far away from Wisconsin’s winter days, and closer than you might think to your own life.