Film Festival Faux Pas – 10 Rules to minimize mistakes and have a great time at your next film festival

As a volunteer for the San Diego Film Festival for the past decade, and an attendee at others, it always surprises me to find that most patrons don’t know the first thing about how to take full advantage of a film festival. From screenings to parties, celebrities to panels – the average attendee doesn’t know exactly what to do or how to prepare for the cinematic onslaught of activity. So here’s a quick rundown of the rules for the film festival game:

  1. This is an event. What I mean, simply, is that a film festival is a huge organizational undertaking with multiple activities taking place over a period of time. Most festivals pack in as many screenings, panels, performances and parties over a limited time period. Understand that first, and foremost, a film festival is geared to be an event, than the next set of recommendations will seem pretty easy to plan.
  2. Research what’s happening. Most festivals make a massive effort to attract top directors, producers and actors to attend. The majority of films being screened will never hit the multiplex, giving independent filmmakers an opportunity to screen their film in front of an appreciative effort. Grab a program, visit the festival website to see what’s scheduled. Then search on Google for a trailer. Highlight what are your “must-sees” so you can plan the rest of your festival experience.
  3. Grab a program and plan your day. Screenings and Panels rule the day, and Parties pack the nights. Put together a game plan early so that there is no mistaking where you want to be throughout the festival.
  4. When purchasing your pass or ticket, understand the Passholder Pecking Order! People who pay more for their passes are given preferential treatment at all festival events – this includes priority seating at all screenings. There is no guarantee that you will actually get seating for the film of your choice, so be sure to have a Plan B or even a Plan C if your first choice proves to be too popular.
  5. Arrive at the theater early, as seating is on a first come-first serve basis. Prepare to be turned away once, twice, maybe even three times. Besides, by arriving early you can almost be certain to find the perfect place to spot a celebrity.
  6. If you like the film – let the people around you know by clapping. Again, filmmakers are typically in attendance, so they will appreciate the gesture. Which leads me to my next point…
  7. Stick around after the film has finished. With filmmakers and talent in attendance, there is a Q&A session right after the film has concluded. This is one of my favorite things about film festivals, as you will hear behind-the-scenes stories of what it took to make the film. Filled with a lot of honesty and humor, you will learn a ton about the creative process and how no two filmmakers look at the process the same way.
  8. Take a breather at some point in your day. There is so much to do, take some time to get some R&R. You most certainly will not want to miss…
  9. The parties. The parties are the second place where you are most likely to run into a celebrity. Plus – who doesn’t like a party?
  10. Attend a panel – you’d be surprised by what you can learn in these table talks. More importantly, you can get a little closer to the filmmaker whose film you enjoyed the day before.

Finally – have fun. Don’t get bent out of shape if you can’t see your first choice of film. There are so many hidden gems at a film festival, you’ll be surprised at the wondrous talent that attends. And, at the end of the day this is a celebration of a phenomenal artistic medium.


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