To sleep, perchance to dream. To watch (a film), perchance to a 5-minute doze that left you wondering what did you miss. You then later find out that the particular scene or shot you slept to was the big talk of the cinephiles. Embarrassing.
We spend a third of our lives sleeping. Typically, nighttime is the most common time to recharge the body and the brain. However, there is a particular neurological disorder in which people diagnosed with it have overwhelming daytime drowsiness called narcolepsy. I don’t want to self-diagnose but my family and I might have some sort of lighter version of it. I fall asleep easily. My mom has slept countless times during a red light, and I used to catch my brother falling asleep on his desk with his textbook and unfinished school work. Even at my sister’s wedding ceremony, I was knocked out cold because of the building’s freezing air conditioner. This issue became a problem when I decided to attend film school, which made me explore unconventional and classic films. I almost fall asleep every time my lecturer screened a film in class, no matter how much caffeine I took beforehand. The same goes for film festivals. How could I, a self-proclaimed filmmaker, fall asleep during almost every film I’ve watched? As a festival writer in Minikino Film Week 7 (MFW7), an international short film festival in Bali, this issue made me feel ashamed of myself. Especially whenever my friends jokingly point out my sleepiness.
Certain individuals actually downright degrade people for sleeping through a particular film. Recently, a bitter article said that people who slept through Dune (2021) lack the brain capacity to appreciate the artistry of the film. If that’s the case, I’m probably brain-dead. I’ve watched many amazing short films in MFW7 while half-asleep. However, it doesn’t ruin the viewing experience for me, or at least it doesn’t disrupt my impression of the film. I still experience the film as an uninterrupted whole. I can still hear the dialogue, the faint visuals through my sleepy eyes, and the emotion that the film brings.
The first time I fell asleep during MFW7 was at the opening on September 3, in Geo Open Space. I fell asleep watching the first film in the opening program, Chintya (2019). I excuse myself by saying that I was quite exhausted from having to interview festival-goers out in the sun. Also, the fact that the breezy open space where the screening was held created a very cozy atmosphere. It was the first time since the pandemic started that I watched a film on the big screen with a bunch of strangers out in the open air. I’ve watched Chintya (2019) online before the festival, as one of the assignments of being a festival writer in Minikino. I could say that watching—or sleeping through—the film at the opening made me appreciate the film more rather than watching it through my laptop screen. For once I finally feel the collective emotion of laughing together, hearing occasional banter between the viewers, while feeling the fear of getting caught or being silently judged by someone for sleeping through the film.
Abbas Kiarostami, an Iranian auteur, once expressed his distaste for films that demand the audience’s attention. Kiarostami preferred films that allow him to take a nice nap, rather than taking the viewers hostage and provoking them. I experienced this kind of viewing in the Image Forum 2021 program. Most of the films screened were experimental films. In which they are unique and try to explore the boundaries of conventional cinema. Some of the films that were shown were slow and would definitely make me fall asleep, but I continue onward nonetheless. As a result, I slept for the majority of the last film, Notes Before the Wind (2019). This film feels so ethereal yet so grounded in reality. The film captured city streets, trees, skyscrapers, and the inhabitants of Hong Kong. I felt very peaceful watching this film. The soothing ambiance, the observational shots of people, combined with the intertwining editing of natural and social elements of the city create a dreamlike experience. That dreamlike experience became literal when I was knocked out cold. I can vividly remember the film and the emotions I went through watching it. I remember the viewing experience as something similar to being half-asleep; the state between being awake and asleep. It feels as if I was brought to a big city in another country. Contemplating the relation between me and my surroundings.
One of my friends who watched the program with me caught me sleeping during the last film. It then became an inside joke that whenever we watch something together, my friend would suspect me of sleeping. I laughed it off, of course. However, this issue became an interesting topic for me. I then opened up a discussion on it in Warung Azkiyah, a local food stall that became Minikino’s unofficial discussion forum among the festival-goers.
While all of my peers didn’t condemn sleeping while watching a film, it’s still a pity to miss out on great moments in the film. Something interesting was then said by Nosa Normanda, Indonesia Raja 2021: Jakarta Metropolitan’s programmer and the founder of Mondiblanc Film Workshop. He has his method of staying awake while watching films. His method is to imagine that he’s present at the setting of the film. As if he’s remembering a memory or a dream that’s similar to the film. Alternatively, a more amusing way is to imagine the film’s world as an alternate universe, and we’re a spectator watching it through a portal that is the screen.
I then tried this method on my next viewing of MFW7 programs. I tried to imagine myself spending an Eid Al-Fitr lunch at my grandparents while watching A Lonely Afternoon (2020), A heartwarming coming-of-age film that won the Programmer’s Choice category at MFW7. The chaotic bustle of the aunts trying to keep the house tidy, the lazy uncles watching a football game, and the kids that played all day felt very familiar. I projected these wonderful memories of my grandparents’ house in Bandung towards my experience of viewing A Lonely Afternoon (2020). As a result, I didn’t sleep at all. Rather, I gained one of the best viewing experience at this festival. This also speaks to the film itself. How a culture that seems distant to me resonates very close. I then tried this method on other films I watched. However, I didn’t manage to stay awake during every film. Nonetheless, I discovered a new way of watching a film.
I believe that there is no right way to watch a film. One of the ways to enhance your viewing experience is to use weakness (such as sleepiness) as a unique way of watching a film. Seeing films as dreams and associating a film with a vivid memory is my way of articulating my sleepiness. I believe that the audience has the choice to watch a film in their own way, at their own pace. Whether being wide awake, half-asleep, completely asleep, in one sitting or divided into multiple sittings, is completely justified. The takeaway from this whole experience is to not feel ashamed of something that you can’t take control of, yet make the most out of it by creating a wholly unique experience for you.