Experience Essential Cinema: The Cinematheque’s 24 Hour Movie Marathon

Image c/o The Cinematheque.

Image c/o The Cinematheque.

Biennially, the Cinematheque hosts their flagship 24 Hour Movie Marathon Event, challenging devout cinephiles with a gruelling stream of non-stop film gems over the course of an entire day. Participants in this retreat are deemed “Movie Marathon Survivors” if they can make it through, but fear not, the event offers complimentary craft beer, coffee, and treats from their sponsors to make sure those eyes stay peeled.

One of the most intriguing facets of this unconventional event is its confidentiality–Shaun Inouye, the Cinematheque’s Programming Associate, tells me that people sign up for 24 hours of consecutive cinema without knowing the overarching theme or a single title of the films on its roster. Their trust is placed completely in the Cinematheque team’s hands. With that trust, however, comes the hefty responsibility of delivering the marathon audience with a meticulously curated lineup of works. “It’s kind of like curating a mixtape, honestly,” Shaun explains – the 12-14 films are chosen with the intention of being watched back to back. “It’s gotta have the right ebb and flow, and has to hit the right tone at the right time. It’s gonna need its peaks and valleys.” This attention to the body of work as a whole is especially crucial during the marathon’s graveyard slot from midnight to about 5 AM, where participants tend to doze off. Curating the lineup with works that keep people engaged and hold their attention is always at the forefront of the event’s design.

The Cinematheque’s slogan of “experience essential cinema” is integral to the marathon, as well as most of the center’s other programming. When faced with the term “essential cinema,” we might think of the “must-sees,” the handful of films that compose a canon relating to specific cultural moments. While Shaun agrees that these are important and are part of the basis of many of their retrospective projects, he emphasizes the Cinematheque’s focus on the opportunity for fresh eyes to shape canonicity. In a broad sense, the programming team aims toward eclecticism in its incorporation of films from different areas, genres, and modes. They do not shy away from this directive, even when faced with the inherent difficulty of fitting inside the prescribed boundaries of their chosen (but secret) marathon themes. While it may be easy to fall back on a pre-established cinematic canon, the marathon line-up is curated with a baked-in dictum of diverse representation and inclusivity, attentive to the exclusions that preconceived ideas of canonicity might entail. Shaun explains that the challenge within this expanded scope is “trying to build a rhythm with all of these films put together.”

The harmonization of the lineup extends to the marathon’s intention to reinforce the sense of community in cinema-going and movie-watching. When asked about the ubiquity of streaming platforms and their seemingly dismal effect on the physical component of movie attendance, Shaun explains that the Cinematheque has actually seen a rise in participation at their events. He attributes the spike to the ready availability and increasing accessibility of films, and how they contribute to a sense of loss now that going to a theatre is not always necessary. “I think it’s kind of craved for now,” he says, “the idea of the communal aspect of going to see a movie.” The premise of dedicating a period of time to engage with a particular work is easily taken for granted–we can watch almost whatever we want in the comfort of our own homes, but that also means we have the control to hit pause at any time or to use multiple screens, resulting in a fragmented experience. Shaun tells me that his most impactful film experiences have always taken place in a cinema, and that “the movie marathon is precisely that experience to the nth degree.”

The marathon positions itself as quite the challenge to the Vancouver cinephile, but the Cinematheque’s careful attention to thematic integrity and its strong sense of communal movie-watching is definitely enough to keep you awake for the full 24 hours. Even Shaun admits that the large intake of films can be punishing, but ultimately exists as a test of resilience, and as a measure of just how diehard one can really be when it comes to cinema.

The Cinematheque’s 24 Hour Movie Marathon runs Saturday, March 30 - Sunday, March 31, from 10am - 10am. Secure your spot online at thecinematheque.ca.