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Noir City 17: The People

Noir City. I get excited just thinking about it. I never tire of the festival and probably never will. Noir City 17 is now over, allowing me a few moments to reflect on the experience. If you’ve never attended a Noir City event, I hope my humble report will encourage you to venture onto those shadow-filled, rain-soaked nighttime streets.


Although this was my fourth consecutive Noir City in San Francisco, it was the first time I’d stayed for the entire 10 days, viewing every movie the festival screened. Of the 24 films, only three were new to me, but it didn’t matter. It was the first time I’d seen any of them on the big screen and the big screen changes everything.

So does the audience. The Noir City San Francisco audiences are savvy beyond belief. They’ve seen just about everything (probably multiple times) and can spot clichés and tired tropes a mile away. But sometimes they can surprise you.

With each Noir City festival, I’m always reminded not only how much movies have changed, but also how they’ve stayed the same. Fashions, cars, language, styles… they all change. Yet people are people, crimes are crimes, consequences are consequences. Many of the themes of these movies from nearly 60 years ago still resonate with us today, perhaps in different and sometimes frightening ways. Eddie Muller began the festival by relating a conversation he’d had many years ago with Evelyn Keyes. Muller asked her, “What scares you?” Keyes's answer? That people were losing the ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. “People stare at screens all day long,” she said, and this was years before anyone had ever heard of a smartphone. Keyes was concerned that people would lose the ability to experience movies with others. To a large degree, that’s happened in the American movie-watching culture, but not at Noir City.

Before the festival opened, I met a charming couple as we were standing in line at the Castro Theatre for the opening night festivities. Ken and Emily began talking about film noir as if we’d picked up on a conversation we’d begun the day before. The next day, I met another wonderful couple: Frank and Catherine. It’s uncanny how immediate these connections happen.

I met far more people at Noir City 17 than I had in previous years. Some of that was due to having an article titled “Noir City - These Are My People” in this year’s program, but most of the people I met had nothing to do with the article. (Although it was pretty cool when people asked me, “How did you get interested in film noir?” I could say, “It’s all there in the middle of your program. That’s me.”)

You can’t help but meet people at every turn: the person sitting next to you in the theatre, the booksellers, the guys selling posters and lobby cards, the folks at the Noir City and TCM tables, the Noir City volunteers, the people in line with you at the concession stand, you name it. You all have something in common and the connections come easily.

I also got to meet some other great people who are doing great work that you can access right now. It was a real pleasure to meet and hang out with Laura-Celest and Lacey Cannon Gonzales, who present Fatal Femmes, a podcast “about the women who shape the genres of mystery, thriller, and suspense.” This was their first Noir City San Francisco and I hope it will be the first of many.

Sometimes you discover someone’s work you’ve already enjoyed before you meet the work’s creator. This happened when I met Aimee Pavy, the delightful creator of Twelve Chimes It’s Midnight, a podcast “inspired by classic old time radio shows of yesteryear.” I had previously enjoyed an episode titled “A Perfectly Obvious Explanation,” written by Eddie Muller, so when I met Aimee, I was able to say, “I’ve heard your show - I loved it!” Like Laura and Lacey, Aimee is passionate about her work and film noir. These are the people you could talk to for hours…

It’s always a pleasure to see the great folks behind Noir City, members of the Film Noir Foundation who make this festival so amazing, people like Anne Hockens, Daryl Sparks, Alan K. Rode, and of course, Eddie Muller. Yet my favorite connection was with a gentleman I was only able to spend a few moments with on previous visits, graphic designer Bill Selby.

Bill is such an amazing guy and it was such a pleasure to be able to sit down and talk with him over dinner one night as well as several times throughout the festival. He posted this picture on social media with the words “Separated at birth,” and I really felt as if we were.

photo by Dennis Hearne

I realize this first report from Noir City 17 has mentioned absolutely nothing about the movies themselves, but the relationships made at the festival. Yes, you go for the films and you can watch and rewatch (most of) them, but the friendships you make form stronger bonds than the stories you see onscreen. As I said in my program article, these are my people. I hope they might be yours too.

For those attending Noir City Seattle, it is my sincere hope that you have a great time, meet some wonderful people, and savor every moment.

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