Film festivals can be a daunting experience. Local or international, there are a lot of films, and little time to see everything. In celebration of Cannes, here’s our festival survival guide so that you can get the most out of your first film festival experience.
First things first, learn the program. This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people will simply wander into a festival not knowing what they actually want to watch. This was a piece of advice that I was given on my first festival experience and I made the most of it. I went online, downloaded the program for the BFI London Film Festival (LFF), and spent two hours combing through and highlighting the films and events I wanted to see. But in order to make that super schedule work, I had to answer the ultimate festival question: ticket or pass?
My first year, I had a little extra money and was able to do both. If you can afford it, it's definitely the way to go. This allowed me to purchase tickets for some of the bigger and public shows while utilizing the pass to maximize the number of films I did see. This worked perfectly with my schedule but I didn't realize the impact of it until the LFF's screening of Michaël R. Roskam’s The Drop. Many of my fellow festival goers with passes were waiting in line for hours to see the film but didn’t get into the screening. I had foreseen this, and instead bought a ticket on a separate night to enjoy James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy lay the smack down in NYC. I'd like to say that this instance is a result of my excellent scheduling skills and forward thinking, but at the end of the day, I just got lucky.
A lot of popular screenings are usually sold out even if you try to buy tickets ahead of time. So my next piece of advice? Forget about trying to see popular films.
Controversial, I know, but like I said if there’s a buzz around a project even attempting to buy tickets might not get you in the door. Sure it’s nice to see that one film that has the Oscar run twelve months later, but if you spend most of your time waiting in line or trying to work the system to get a ticket, you’ll likely wind up missing out on another film or two that may never see the light of day and be just as good.
I had to learn this one the hard way. Again at LFF, I had a pass that allowed me to go to press / industry screenings and missed the opportunity to see the one film that was on my absolute must see list, Youth, by Paolo Sorrentino. Thinking that the film was under the radar - foolish me - and that my pass would get me in the door, I didn’t buy a ticket. I arrived at the front of the line, and waited for an hour to get into the theater. Unfortunately, people with better passes we’re allowed in first, and to my horror, the theater filled up. I was crushed. I immediately went online to see if any of the public showings still had tickets left - no luck.
With nothing else to do until my next adventure of waiting in line, I decided to go see the Chinese film, A Tale of Three Cities, a world war II love story about Jackie Chan’s parents, directed by Mabel Cheung.
I loved the film! At two hours and ten minutes it was definitely a lengthy affair but with the main cast's incredible chemistry amidst the harrowing setting of a Japanese occupied China, the film was definitely worth it. Which brings me to the final point of having a successful film festival experience: watch films that you wouldn’t normally see.
A Tale of Three Cities is just one example of the hundreds of films that are dotted throughout a festival program. Films that might not get a larger release but provide a unique experience that only that film can offer. This is the beauty of film festivals as they provide exposure for both the audiences and the filmmakers. Audiences gain the opportunity to experience new films that wouldn’t get a theatrical release while filmmakers are given a platform for their films. As part of the film festival community, we need to make sure that we’re putting our best foot forward to discover and support new talent and emerging. Audiences play the number one role in the evolution (or de-evolution, some might say) of the film industry. The more that we can give exposure to films that wouldn't attract mainstream audiences, the better.
See? Film festivals aren't so daunting after all. Follow this guide and you'll be able to act like a true veteran at your next film festival. So get out there, see some great movies, and be a voice for independent film.