Last week I blathered on about How Cool Film Festivals Are. Don’t get me wrong--I’ve had a lot of fun at film festivals over the years. In the spirit of full disclosure, you should know that they have a seamy underbelly. And it's not a cool, film noir kind of underbelly.
Expensive, and getting more so every year
The prices of festival passes get more outrageous every year. When I started going to the Telluride Film Festival in the early 2000s, a regular pass was something on the order of $580. This year that same pass is $780—an increase of 35%.
Telluride used to sell a Late Show Pass, good for the last film of the day at two different theaters, every night of the festival, for 20 bucks. This was a generous deal for people without the regular pass.
This year that same pass is $60.
Q&As aren’t really
Major film festivals often offer Q&A sessions with a film’s stars and/or filmmakers after the screening. A decade ago this was often a true Q&A session, opened up to anyone in the audience.
This still happens, but it’s growing rarer, especially with big stars and directors. Now it’s more likely that a moderator will ask the Bigwig du jour questions, and the audience will sit passively through the tightly-scripted, boring, ass-kissing exercise. No tough, possibly embarrassing questions from real people! That might spoil the mood, or more likely, make the Bigwig sad. And a sad star might pass on the festival the next year.
A few years ago at Telluride, Errol Morris was on hand after his premiere of Tabloid. He opened it up for audience questions, and some dude in the balcony kept asking pointed, vaguely insulting questions. Morris grew increasingly irritated. I don’t remember his final reply, but it was pretty close to “go fuck yourself."
It’s nice when people go off-message. Sometimes they actually reveal something about themselves.
Even with a pass, you’re going to be standing in line. A lot.
You’ve saved your pennies all year for a real pass, instead of standing in the venue cash line like a prole. Congratulations!
Sadly, you’ll still be standing in line. Maybe it will be better than the ticket-buyer line, perhaps even with an awning! (For me, being a pale Celt, the awning is to keep the cancer-inducing sun at bay, rather than the harmless rain off.)
But you’ll still be standing in line for a good 30-45 minutes before each movie. Not like the true bourgeois, who ponied up thousands of dollars for their industry passes. These blessed individuals, much like Guests of the Festival (whose passes are the festival equivalent of a Black American Express card) can swan into a venue right at starting time, and be escorted in before anyone else. Or, if they arrive fashionably early, their tented (and possibly heated) line will be just outside the door.
It’s a very special experience to have a festival staffer explain to you, holder of a pass costing in excess of seven hundred dollars, that yes, you were indeed standing in line for 45 minutes, but a horde of Patron and Sponsor passholders dropped in at the last moment, and well—sorry, pal.
That $50 just bought you a digital projection, bucko!
Given that $25 is not an unreasonable ticket price for a major film festival these days, you’d like to take comfort in knowing that you’re going to see that movie on glorious 35mm.
But, maybe not. Maybe the festival will show a digital projection instead. They didn’t actually tell you on the program in what format the movie would be projected, did they?
I can understand the economics of it—film cans are heavy, costly to ship—and they get lost in the mail. Film is just an expensive medium all around. Festivals are always trying to save money—and they can save tons by projecting digitally.
Except that they probably won’t tell you they’re doing that. It would make them look bad—they tout themselves as Film Festivals, don’t they? They’re just hoping that you won’t make a stink about it. And next year, they’ll cut back on the number of actual films being shown even more. It won’t be long until digital projection is just the New Normal at festivals.