On Wednesday, May 16 at the Trylon Microcinema, there will be one question on everyone’s mind: what film will Twin Cities Daily Planet arts editor Jay Gabler unveil for his selection at the 12th “Defenders” screening? While at the moment, I know the title and obviously, so does Jay and the projectionist at the Trylon, aside from the three of us, nobody will know until the lights go down in the theater. Hopefully, everybody will be excited and surprised.
The premise of the Defenders series is that at each screening, attendees know who will be selecting the film but don’t know what the film will be until it starts to roll. After each screening, the person who chose the film “defends” his or her choice—typically a film they regard as underappreciated or unfairly maligned. Attendees are encouraged to keep the selection secret even after the screening: if you weren’t there, you’ll never know what exactly happened at the little theater on Minnehaha.
I chose Jay to be a “Defender” since each of the Defenders screening series usually has a trio of people who fall under a certain profession or a theme. With our first series we had three film-minded people in the Twin Cities community, then it was women journalists, local musicians, and to close out the year, it is three writers. MinnPost’s Andy Sturdevant went first, followed by Vita.mn fashion writer Jahna Peloquin, leading up to the final “defender” in the writers series, Jay Gabler.
When I asked Jay to become a Defender, he immediately had his film selected, and he hasn’t changed his mind. Yes, he is the arts editor at the Daily Planet; I send my articles/reviews/interviews/spotlights to him and have been for close to the five years I have been writing for the Daily Planet. I thought the idea of having three different writers was important to showcase talented writers in the Twin Cities with large readerships, and among the three—Andy, Jahna, and Jay—cover a wide variety of subjects and local-interest stories that I read on a weekly basis. I have gotten to know them all through writing for the Daily Planet and attending different events/happenings around the Twin Cities, and consider them all friends.
As I look back on the past year of all the Defenders screenings, it still amazes me what films people have selected; some of them I had never seen, some I had, and some I had never even heard of. There have been some moments where audience members did not know how to react once the film was over, and on a few occasions, the films have sparked wonderfully warped dialogues lasting longer than anyone would have predicted. The conversations have been poignant, absurd, intelligent, and even hilariously profane.
I still remember that after the first Defenders show with the Walker Art Center assistant film/video programmer, Dean Otto last June, someone from the audience asked, “So, how does this work?” I was a bit stunned, since I did not know myself. But we started talking about the film and suddenly the discussion afterwards came alive with the audience engaged and wanting to know more about it. (For the record, I was sweating a little thinking, how am I going to keep this discussion going longer than one or two questions?)
While Dean’s selection was one I had never seen, it was unbelievable that there was a film out there that someone appreciated enough to choose to discuss and showcase it to an audience that had no idea or even a hint, of what it was going to be about. Frankly, I think it is a film I would have never seen or been on my radar ever had Dean not chosen it and from that moment on, doing the Defenders series has been everything and more than I could have ever imagined. It has given me a new perspective on viewing films, wanting to know more about each film and how the selected Defender chose his or her selection.
Some of the choices have not been my favorite films I have ever seen, and I’m positively sure that for the two films I selected people were probably not too thrilled about having to sit through them, but the reason the Defenders series works is that it gives everyone the chance to discuss, engage, interact, and voice their opinion on what they have just seen and giving a completely spin or insight on a film maybe others have never considered seeing. When leaving a movie theater, many us want to start right into conversations about what we have seen, but others like to soak in the film as a whole and let it sink in for a few hours/days before talking about it. Well, this gives a chance to bring up anecdotes and questions right away and fire them off to the Defender on stage and ask him or her, “What were you thinking?” or say, “I always wanted to see this but never got around to it.” There have been hundreds of other questions asked, and I’m not sure every one has gotten a proper answer, but audiences seem to enjoy the experience of ripping or praising someone for a bold, unconventional choice.
Another reason the Defenders series has worked is that half the proceeds of each screening are donated to a local organization or charity, which has been important from the get-go with the program but was not incorporated until a few months in. Some of the organizations that have been recognized are: the Boys & Girls Club of the Twin Cities, Isanti County Historical Society, and Open Arms of Minnesota. Jay’s proceeds will benefit the Twin Cities Media Alliance, which happens to be the organization that brings the Twin Cities Daily Planet not only to us local folks but connects us with communities all over the world.
So if you have any curiosity about what Jay has chosen for his selection, you should take a chance. Even if you are not sure what you will be seeing, you might get to know the Daily Planet arts editor a little more than you would just reading his articles or reviews. It is a completely different film experience than anything I have been involved in, and you will be helping an organization that brings you some of the best reporting in the Twin Cities—an organization that continues to publish my articles week after week. I am forever humbled and thrilled knowing that there is an outlet in the Twin Cities willing to give any amateur or novice writer a chance.