By Samantha Wilson
City on a Hill Press Reporter

Armed with pillows, hoodies, and backpacks full of processed snack foods and enough caffeine to successfully fuel a rocket, UC Santa Cruz students and Santa Cruzans alike filed into the Del Mar at midnight last Saturday for 12 hours of movie mystery.

The ultimate testament to movie buff endurance, the Secret Film Festival has joined events like the weekly midnight movie as a staple in Del Mar Theatre tradition.

The concept of the Secret Film Festival is simple. Participants are shown five to seven movies, which are played consecutively within the span of roughly 12 hours. As they enter the theater at midnight, moviegoers are unaware of what movies will be playing, and throughout the show, only given subtle hints as to the content of the upcoming show.

Some are easy. When Scott Griffin, organizer of the event and emcee for the long night, stood up and said “I will give you three words: Neil. Patrick. Harris,” The audience shouted back with glee, “Dr. Horrible! Dr. Horrible!”

Other hints, such as “big hair, the onion dance and robbery,” were a bit too complex for the puzzled and sleep-deprived crowd. But the common consensus is that guessing was half the fun.

Del Mar Theatre employee and self-described popcorn-popper Natalie Shell had never worked the Secret Film Festival before, but was excited for the night ahead of her.

“I am working the night shift from 2 a.m. to 10 a.m., so I’ll be able to see the first and last shows,” Shell said. “I’m working to make sure nobody pirates the films so that we can continue having a film festival every year. Oh, and that set list is not a secret to me,” she added.

In the main theater, excited moviegoers wriggled in their seats with anticipation, waiting for the affair to begin. After waiting in a line that wrapped around the corner, they dove for seating like scavengers in the desert. In good spirits, through speculation and swigs of soda, audience members prepped each other for the night ahead.

“I came to the film festival to challenge myself to stay awake for 12 hours, and see new movies with friends,” said first-year UCSC student Westley Littleton. “We watch movies at all hours of the night back at the dorms, so this atmosphere is just making something familiar that much better.”

Films shown at the yearly Del Mar event are ones that have not been shown anywhere in Santa Cruz before. This year’s lineup ranged from the inspirational kung fu epic “Chocolate,” to touching family dramedy “Sunshine Cleaning,” to slasher flick “All The Boys Love Mandy Lane,” to the new quintessential summer comedy, “Skills Like These.” Fan favorite “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” was played between movies to keep spirits high.

“We have an amazing mix of films,” Shell said. “There’s comedy, sci-fi, some action, horror. Really we have something for everyone to keep it interesting.”

In total, the night hosted seven films — five shown in the main theater, and two as alternate options in the upstairs region. In addition to those already mentioned, the lineup included foreign films “Los Cronocrimenes” (“Time Crimes”), a Spanish psychological thriller, “Big Man Japan,” a satirical Japanese monster movie that pokes fun at the exploitation of advertising and poorly-made action series, and “Let The Right One In,” a Swedish vampire flick.

“I was hoping for less subtitles this late in the night,” Littleton said. “I feel like my brain has shut off and I’m just absorbing information. But at the same time, I’m eight hours in and it is a great feeling.”

As the night wore on, and enthusiasm wavered with each passing hour, the audience stood strong and vowed to stay awake until the clock struck noon. The Del Mar staff helped sustain the masses by providing an extended snack bar, far from the usual movie-theater fare. At reasonable prices, one could purchase sandwiches, cereal and milk, coffee, soda, energy drinks, fresh fruit and pastries. In the morning hours boxes of Tic-Tacs were also sold in case of breath desperation.

The Secret Film Festival is an event unlike most movie theater experiences.

“I was initially dragged here,” third-year UCSC student Laura Cody said. “I had no clue what to expect, but I think it’s awesome. And I think I am definitely tired.”

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