As I write this, the director of the International Film Series, Pablo Kjolseth, is in Park City, taking in the Sundance Film Festival. He’s getting up early and staying up late, watching movies until his eyes bleed, so that he can bring the best back home to the IFS.
He’s suffering for you.
But what if you’re the kind of hearty, adventurous cinephile that says, “why, I think I could handle going to a high-powered film festival!”
Film Festivals can be fun, or a LOT of fun, depending upon how you play your cards. Here are some tips I’ve picked up from close to a decade attending the Telluride Film Festival, and odd stints at the Austin Film Festival, Sundance, and SXSW.
Know Your Festival
Every festival is run differently. At the Telluride Film Festival, the film lineup is kept a secret until the day the festival starts, so you can’t plan beforehand. The lineup at Sundance is known months in advance, and if you’re buying tickets, you have to map out your schedule a long way out.
Read up on the festival. Do you need a pass? Can you buy tickets at the venue? Where are the venues? How do you get to them from your hotel? The better you know these answers, the easier it will be for you to navigate the festival, and the more fun you’ll have.
Secure Lodging Well in Advance
The big festivals are popular. Don’t be one of the sad people who wake up a month before the festival and think, “oh, yeah, I should book a hotel room!” SXSW hotel rooms, for example, get scarce 4-5 months beforehand. The group I go with to Telluride locks in a house rental 7-8 months before we go. And we try to have a verbal agreement with the owner when we leave that year that yes, we love the place, and please let us rent it again the next year.
Which leads me to…
Go with Other People!
For me, half of the fun of going to a film festival is the actual film-going, and the other half consists of the spur-of-the-moment, often late-night conversations I have with my rental housemates.
It goes something like this: you go back to the hotel room/condo/rental house after your last film of the day, pour yourself a glass of wine or a beer, and reflect upon what you’ve seen that day. Then, one of your housemates comes back. What, they hated Citizen Kane II? Why? Then, housemate #2 returns. She saw films you did not. What did she see today that she liked? Well, that sounds pretty cool, so you revise the films you’re going to see the next day, based on the feedback you’re getting. Housemate #3 returns, dead set on convincing you that…
The next thing you know it’s 3am, and the living room is hosting four separate conversations, equally animated and passionate.
This is going to make getting up the next morning a bit of a challenge. That's why God made hazelnut double cappuccinos. But really, talking about films with your housemates and other festival-goers is what takes the festival experience to the next level.
Rent a House (or a big condo) with Others
The more people you can get to share the lodging expense, the cheaper it will be for you. In addition to the social benefits, having a kitchen will reduce your food costs considerably. Eating out every meal at a festival adds up. Quickly.
Be Open to New Experiences
One of the ways that the Telluride Film Festival has ruined me is their open, flexible scheduling. They don’t require you to buy your tickets in advance, and in fact, don’t tell you the lineup until you get there. I usually make a daily plan of films I want to see, but I heavily modify it after talking with my housemates and people I meet in line. That new Joan of Arc musical? People aren’t jazzed about it. Okay, scratch that. But that incredibly depressing-sounding documentary on Nebraskan sugar beet farmers? It’s an amazing, life-affirming tour de force! Okay, put that on the list.
Last year at Sundance I read the description for Beasts of the Southern Wild and said to myself, “meh”. But it became clear after a day or two that people were going bonkers over it.
Taking a risk on a film can introduce you to a new genre, a new star or director, that will pay a lifetime of enjoyment dividends.
Or, you may suffer for two hours. But then, it’s on to the next cinematic adventure!
Until your health is so wrecked from lack of sleep, morning coffee, and late-night booze, that you are forced to return to civilization.
Bonus! Here is Pablo Kjolseth at the 2006 Telluride Film Festival, whipping up pizza: