11 Years

January 26, 2007
A thought by James Berardinelli

As of today, ReelViews is officially eleven years old - not quite a teenager but getting close to puberty. Then again, maybe 'Net years are like dog years. That would make ReelViews 77.

Much has changed since the tenth anniversary celebration, when this was still "The Largest Non-Commercial Movie Site on the 'Net." Now, it has commercials and is producing revenue. Hopefully, the steps I have taken in the last year will ensure that ReelViews will be viable into the future and will remain free - albeit with the presence of the ads to pay for its continued existence. There is a side bonus to this for readers. Since new content begets additional revenue, that means there will be an increase in the number of reviews posted in 2007 over those in 2006. Putting a number to the increase is difficult, but I would say it will be about +10%.

Looking back through the years, I must admit that ReelViews has changed my life in several concrete ways. One can't see and write about 200 movies a year without being changed. I devote about 1200 hours a year to movies and this site, and that time could be spent doing other things. However, the biggest benefit conferred upon me by the site is that it brought me together with my wife. So, in the spirit of reflection, that's the story I want to tell - at least in part - today.

On Saturday, March 3, 2001, I opened an e-mail that began as follows: "Hi. I believe it’s not unusual for you to receive emails from complete strangers so that spares me from a lengthy introduction/explanation. Just a couple of questions..." Six paragraphs later, it concluded with: "Phew, sorry my mail is getting lengthy. I just love your work and the whole thing is very intriguing! Don’t ever stop writing." Her name was Sheryl.

Was there something about that e-mail that grabbed my attention? Aside from its length, probably not. I try to respond to as many e-mails as time allows, so I wrote back, answering each of her questions as best I could. She replied, and this began a comfortable e-mail correspondence. It didn't take long before we were writing about things other than movies. Daily e-mails became twice a day then three times. I would log on in the morning and reply to an e-mail, then check when I got home and before I went to bed. If I was an IM person, I'm sure I would have spent long nights chatting with her. (I have never been a big fan of any IM service since I find this method of communication to be intrusive – I'm too focused to be a good multi-tasker.)

We mixed in phone calls to go along with the e-mails. The initial "plan" was to speak once a week, but after spending about four hours on the phone with her late into one Thursday night/Friday morning, we decided to talk nightly and reduce the call length to 30 minutes. The long distance bills were a strain on her budget, so I mostly did the calling. It became a fait accompli that we would eventually meet but the distance - she lived in Chicago and I in New Jersey - was an obstacle. Not insurmountable, to be sure, but one nevertheless.

From the beginning, she knew what I looked like, having found the less-than-flattering photo of me in the FAQ section of the website. I didn't press her for a picture although I was curious. She finally sent one in July, four months after we had begun e-mailing each other and a month after we had started talking on the phone. I bought a digital camera and began snapping various pictures and she used her webcam for similar purposes. Soon, our e-mails were bloated with attachments.

The more we wrote and spoke, the more I felt I had found a kindred spirit. I always marvel at the set of circumstances that brought us together. Sheryl was born and raised in Manila before she moved to Chicago on her own at the age of 20. Ten years earlier, pre-Internet, there was no hope we would have ever met. But technology evolved at the perfect pace to allow us to contact each other. (Or, to be precise, to allow her to contact me.) Had she never written that e-mail, things would have been much different.

September 6, 2001, The Toronto Film Festival. Our "first date," so to speak. It lasted four days. Those who scour the archives for my 2001 festival updates will note that I didn't write anything on September 8 or 9 (and the September 6 entry was pre-written before I arrived in Toronto). That's the reason. After Sheryl's departure from Toronto on September 9, I got back in the flow of things on the 10th, then everything came apart on September 11. Good memories and bad ones, forever entwined for that festival.

Long distance relationships are hard, and not for everyone. They require far more work than local love affairs. The simple pleasure of being in the other person's presence is absent, as is the element of touch - a kiss on the lips or a clasp of the hands. You can talk on the phone and gaze at grainy webcam images of one another, but it's not the same. For nearly two years, we lived in separate places, meeting every third weekend, with either me flying to Chicago or her flying to Philadelphia. We usually had two or three days together before the inevitable parting. I developed a love/hate relationship with airports - we came together there and parted there. Happiness one day, sadness a few days later. Holidays gave us a few extra days together but the additional time made the parting more bitter. I proposed to her a few days before Christmas in 2002, fifteen months after our Toronto date. She gave up her Chicago life to move to New Jersey in June 2003. We were married a year later, in August 2004.

I am thankful to ReelViews for many things, but nothing has meant more to me - or continues to mean more to me - than the gift of the woman who sent an anonymous e-mail on that chilly March morning in 2001 and now shares my life and home.