It is almost 130 miles long and weighs about 3,400 pounds. At noon on Monday, most of it is coiled in canisters on the floor of Room 2147 at UW-Madison's Vilas Hall. More of it is coming into the room. Some of it has already left.
"It" is the 2006 Wisconsin Film Festival. The projectors fell dark last night, but the festival isn't over until it's dismantled. Technical directors Jared Lewis and Erik Gunneson are taking it apart a movie at a time, unsplicing it onto standard 14-inch reels and crating three reels per canister for shipping to its next destinations.
Only last week, they had spliced all this film onto larger reels to render it compatible with contemporary projectors. "We had to organize it very carefully," Lewis explains. Each of the larger reels was labeled to correspond with each film's hexagonal shipping canisters.
He reckons there were 70 or 80 films in the room at one point. They're down to about half that number now. Each canister contains about an hour of film, at 20 minutes per reel. Scores of canisters cover about half the floor space in this windowless office. Some of them are rusted and dented in ways that suggest they've been used to ship movies since the Silent Era.
These two are labeled Little Fish. There are Look Both Ways and Thirst. Czech Dream. Laura. Favela Rising and dozens more. Packed up. Ready for shipment. Waiting for the next projector to cast light through them.
"A lot of these prints are going to other festivals," Lewis notes. Le Ballon d'Or, for example, is being forwarded - or bicycled, in the industry idiom Lewis employs - to the New York African Film Festival. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is next destined for the Philadelphia Film Festival.
"It's a very cathartic experience to see these go out," Lewis allows. "It's the culmination of so much effort. It's really great."
Lewis says he averaged about four hours of sleep a night throughout the festival, supplemented with an occasional 20-minute nap. He averaged two cups of coffee a day. "I'm not even a coffee drinker," he says, but Espresso Royale's Spanish lattes "have kept me going."
Not all of the 2006 festival is on 35- and 16-millimeter film. Some of its features and shorts were screened in Digibeta, DVD, Beta SP, mini-DVs or other formats. If the entire festival was on film, it would extend 178 miles and weigh 4,700 pounds.
This is Lewis' first year as a technical director for the festival. His background includes 12 years as a projectionist, including a stint at Sundance. More recently, he has served as a projectionist for the UW-Madison's Cinematheque series. These experiences provide him with a unique perspective on the Wisconsin Film Festival.
Acknowledging the isolated glitch during the festival, he notes, "I've worked at Sundance and they have their share of problems too, and people just flip out. People here are so easygoing and so great. It makes all the work very rewarding and very worthwhile."
More movies arrive at 1:30 p.m., retrieved from theaters where the screenings ended late Sunday night. Red Doors and New York Doll and Private.
The festival's interim director, Meg Hamel, and Cinematheque director Tom Yoshikami stop by to check on the festival dismantling process.
When the cans arrived for The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Hamel confides, such was her admiration for the movie that she was compelled to leave her thumbprint on the film leader. "It's great to have this great work of art come all the way from Romania to show here in Madison," she says.
"Meg said something funny," Lewis interjects. "She said, 'I haven't had a meal on a plate all weekend.'"
At the moment, she is standing here eating a lemon bar. Her face is composed, but the cadence of her speech suggests exhilaration.
Hamel acknowledges that euphoria set in when she "ran out of things to worry about." This point came during the screening of Adam's Apples on Sunday afternoon at the Orpheum Theatre. "It was just great," she says, "to be in that theater with a great crowd and to hear the audience laugh."