An inside look on movie screenings and film criticism

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

Movie screenings have been a part of my life for over 30 years. I take them so much for granted that sometimes I forget that, to most people, an advance screening of a film is sorta exotic.

So I thought I’d write a bit about the recent afternoon screening of “The Hunger Games” (which is terrific; more later).

The screening was during the day and therefore, technically, a press screening. But with a movie like this, based on a popular series and with serious fan boy appeal, you figure the agency is going to ask a few more seat-warmers than what is left of the Atlanta movie-critic community.

So I made sure to get there early. A lifetime of movie-going split between A) screenings where the audience is me and maybe three other people and B) screenings at festivals like Toronto and Cannes, where there’s not an empty seat in the house for a hot film, have made me simultaneously spoiled and claustrophobic.

Translation: if it’s going to be crowded, I need to be on an aisle. In fact, my first year at the justly lauded Toronto International Film Festival was mostly a matter of getting out of one screening and immediately planting myself in the line for the next. That could mean hanging out for 40-50 minutes, Transcribe your notes or bring a book.

I was certain “The Hunger Games” would be a mob scene, so I made arrangements to meet my guest, 11-year-old Ted, who lives next door, early. Like, 45 minutes early.

And even then, there was already a line outside Phipps, where the screening was. And sure enough…

To my practiced eye, they looked like the usual flash mob of nerds who live for in-the-know film events like this.

But nope. This nerd herd, the PR rep explained, were movie reviewers. Or people who talk about movies on their media outlets, be it blog or TV or radio or Webcast or….

As Pogo (A cartoon-strip possum popular in the last part of the 20th century) once put it: We have met the enemy and he is us.

That is, you don’t get much nerdier, in general, than the people passing along their particular (and often peculiar) take on a recent picture.

That includes me, except that I’m older and female and know who Pogo is.

Now, there are certain smart, beloved media personalities you can count on seeing at a Big Movie like “The Hunger Games.” Vicki Locke, for example. And there was her longtime partner, Steve McCoy who I used to work with at WXIA.

The bottom line is, the screening was about ¾ full and Ted and I had plenty of time to hang out before the film actually started.

A few things I observed:

A self-important PR guy trying to explain to the mountainous security guard who demanded he hand over his cell phone that he was in the biz and therefore above such stuff. “Don’t you recognize me?” he protested (to no avail). “I’ve used you at my OWN screenings.”

Or how about the couple who sat behind me? Here’s part of their conversation.

Her: “I won’t ever give you SH**** for what you eat.”

Him: “Good!”

Ah, young love.

The “types” attracted to this sort of movie: yeah, the fan boy nerds, but also, more than a few times, a roly-poly white girl paired with a stick-thin Asian girl.

Just as the lights went down, I noticed, oddly, that Ted was just about the only kid in the audience. He smiled at me innocently. And he loved the movie. As did I. More on that in my next column, but for right now, here’s my money quote for those who know who Stanley Kubrick was: If he could’ve made a movie out of Suzanne Collins’ best-seller, this is the movie he would’ve made.


Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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