Five Hundred Episodes of Filmspotting

Filmspotting celebrated its five hundredth episode recently. They did so in befitting fashion: extensive preparation, preliminary rehearsals, and a live recording in one of Chicago’s finest venues. It was everything I’ve come to hope for from Filmspotting. I wish I’d been able to attend; this recording of the event will have to do.

I got on board with Filmspotting back in 2005. The show was called Cinecast then, and had only been around for a few months when I went to iTunes in search of a podcast about movies and found one hosted by Adam Kempenaar and Sam Hallgren. Who were these guys? Why didn’t they like Batman Begins as much as I did? And how had they managed to make exactly the sort of movie podcast I was hoping to find? I’ve now been listening to Cinecast/Filmspotting for more than nine years, and in that time I’ve found the answers to these and other questions.

Cinecast’s format hasn’t changed much over the years. It has grown and expanded, but its inspirations remain the same: the thoughtful critiques of writers like Roger Ebert, who was less interested in recommending good movies than he was in approaching any film as the start of a conversation about life. Put another way: He didn’t write about what he thought– he wrote about his experience. That approach, both to film and to writing, has inspired so many over the years, but I’ll admit that I didn’t grow up reading his work or watching “At the Movies”. I think, though, that I now understand his influence a little better, if only because Adam Kempenaar has had a similar influence on me.

As part of Filmspotting, Adam Kempenaar, Sam Van Hallgren, Matty Ballgame, and now Josh Larsen have done all this on a weekly basis for nearly a decade now. They’ve done it confidently, consistently, and without a hint of cynicism. I once read an interview with Adam in which he mentioned that he was inspired to try podcasting after reading a Wired magazine article on the subject in early 2005, and coincidentally I was inspired to start Broadcast Gamer at the same time, after reading the same article. But very early on, Cinecast became my ongoing source of podcast inspiration. Every week, new podcasts were appearing that focused on freeform conversations, yet Adam pressed on with Cinecast’s compact, structured presentation. He knew what sort of show he wanted to make, and he never gave up on it.

Mind you, many of the other film podcasts that have sprung up over the years are excellent, and benefit from their focus on freeform conversations; but for me, none of them have struck the delicate balance of passion and presentation, honesty and humility, that Filmspotting has achieved. No podcaster has, as effectively as Adam Kempenaar, replicated the finest qualities of film itself in podcast form: to portray one’s experience with a part of life, not as a catalyst for reaction and response, but as a topic of conversation, itself an opportunity to learn about other people. Because Filmspotting does this, and does it so well, the show is less dependent on discussion of the newest, hottest films and can thrive on discussion of films from several different genres, countries, and decades.

It’s a marvelous show. Keeping up this level of quality for a single year would have been quite an achievement. Tonight, I celebrate nearly ten years and a full five hundred episodes of Filmspotting.

If you’re new to the show and would like a place to start, I’ve provided links below to a few of my favorite episodes. The great thing about Filmspotting’s format is that it’s almost as timeless as the films discussed on the show!

  • Episode 300: Matty Ballgame’s impassioned plea for consideration of Gus Van Zant’s “Elephant”
  • Episode 138: A beautiful discussion of Isao Takahata’s “Grave of the Fireflies”
  • Episode 477: In the wake of the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, this episode was the best tribute I found
  • Episode 112: Sam Van Hallgren’s take on “Superman Returns” completely changed the way I thought about the film; it’s now the only Superman movie that I like

And so many more, all of them free to enjoy.

Thank you, Filmspotting crew, for five hundred wonderful episodes; and here’s hoping for five hundred more.