The Last Tracking Shot: Tales from the Butt-Numb-A-Thon

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by Jay

Ten years ago was the last time that I attended a Butt-Numb-A-Thon (BNAT) film festival. Actually, I’m not sure if the name “film festival” does justice to what happens at the event that any film geek worth his or her salt will crave to be a part of. Because attending entails so much more than watching the movies, I won’t bore you with the details of every film watched at each BNAT that I’ve attended. Those recaps and reactions are best served fresh by bleary-eyed and endorphin-surged attendees, mainly because those reactions are as honest and sincere as any print review for a film can be. Instead, what I will attempt to reveal is the journey surrounding such an event.

The first BNAT that I ever attended was in December of 2000, with Mike and his wife. We had heard of the event from Harry Knowles’ website, Ain’t It Cool? (AICN) and were intrigued by the idea of seeing a mix of obscure films with popular/cult films, and the possibility of a new release snuck into the rotation. At that time, the main draw wasn’t the yet-to-be-released blockbusters, it was the occult nature of rediscovering, or better yet discovering something that is outside of the mainstream. I don’t mean for that to sound so hipster of me, but it’s the truth. There are certain films and ancillary media that most will just stare at with a blank expression, unsure of what to make of what they’re witnessing. Perhaps it’s a European short Expressionist film, or maybe it’s a Swedish stag loop. Within a crowd of one hundred people gathered in an auditorium and uninformed of what they’re going to watch, about fifteen will appreciate watching the aforementioned media. Well, fifteen might be a generous estimate, but those are the people who can identify a fellow fan. And those fifteen people will multiply to around two hundred at a BNAT event.

The process to get into BNAT at that time was to email the webmasters at AICN at Noon on the day, with details of the size of our party who wish to attend, and the first hundred or so emails would be considered and offered the opportunity to purchase tickets. The inbox opened at noon and, as it was reported to me after the fact, by 12:02 PM on the day of the application process, there were over one thousand applications waiting in the inbox. I don’t know if it was luck or divine intervention that placed my email application in the right position and order to be considered for entry, but I thank whatever or whomever was responsible for allowing us entry into BNAT. We counted down the days, and the night before we stayed up and talked about possible titles to be seen, unknowing of what to expect, other than what was previously reported. This was the second BNAT event and we got up as early as possible in order to hit the road and be in line as early as possible. We got into Austin at about 8:30 or so in the morning, headed downtown and found a nice little Mexican-fusion joint for some breakfast tacos.

Waiting in line was the best and worst part of the process; it was the best because of the energy of “the line” and chatting with other attendees, each of us in our little groups that somehow managed to include one another in our conversations. Each conversation was charged with excitement and joy about being in line. The worst part of the line to get in was the anticipation, plain and simple. It really wasn’t that bad. But to give context, think about when you were a kid and days before, you saw that the biggest box under the Christmas tree had your name on it, and you had to wait until Christmas morning, after midnight mass, after visiting with family, and then waiting until your name was called for the present to be opened. That’s what being in line was like.

Mike and I talked about our adventures getting into our next BNAT, BNAT 3, in the podcast episode, “Shamon!: A Soda Watershed Moment” so I won’t go over that again, but I will talk about what it meant to me to get in that year. BNAT 3 took place in December 2001 and I was still reeling from the events of 9/11, as I’m sure many were. And at the risk of sounding maudlin or cliche when talking about 9/11, I will just say that attending with my best friend and his wife was just what I needed to help release some of the existential anxiety that I had been feeling at the time. For those who remember that time, the air of uncertainty of safety and prosperity, whether or not to brace for something worse, and gathering with like-minded movie geeks, nerds, dorks, whatever label we slap onto ourselves, coming together as we did was more than just a metaphorical gesture. There was an energy in the theater that night and morning that I yearn to recapture each year around this time.

The next two BNATs were separately attended by Mike and I in 2003 and 2004, respectively. Those two were significant to both of us for different reasons, and I won’t go into those reasons because those moments are ours to keep. I will say that when we each got into the separate BNATs it wasn’t quite the same because the group wasn’t complete. However, we did find a way to enjoy ourselves within the context of our lives at that time.

And for those who had a chance to get into a BNAT event, you’ll know what I mean with my attempt to describe what it means to attend. Those details that I left out will automatically be filled in. There is so much to experience when in Austin for a BNAT, and words alone cannot do it justice, in my opinion. Experiencing an event such as BNAT is a visceral experience of sight, sound, smell, and deprivation. If there are any readers of this blog who might’ve gotten in this year, just know that you are in a precious space, a sacred space to be shared with only the finest of movie geeks, regardless of the quality of the films, count your blessings. You just got to discover a new gem that others may never be privy to, or you might have seen a blockbuster in the making that will take the world by storm. In any event, you’ve just had a life-changing moment occur in your life, and every year that you are deprived of it you will feel that void and you will do your best to fill that void. The best way to do that is to get together with your closest friends and watch movies. In the theater or at home, just share the gift of experiencing movies. When you pair the power of friendships and movies, well, in my opinion, nothing can top that feeling.

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