What You Should Know Before Going to a Film Festival

By  · Published on October 12th, 2016

Dear FSR

Seeing one movie? No problem! A dozen in a weekend? Well…

At some point in your life, you’ve likely been faced with a question that has no solid answer. Some people may take such a puzzle to a trusted confidant, a friendly pastor, or the esteemed annals of Yahoo! Answers. But will they have the expertise needed to solve your most pressing film predicaments?

Think of Dear FSR as an impartial arbiter for all your film concerns. Boyfriend texting while you’re trying to show him your most precious Ozu? What’s the best way to confront the guy who snuck that pungent curry into your cramped theater? This is an advice column for film fans, by a film fan.

Dear FSR,

I’ll be attending my first film festival in the next week! I’m a little nervous though. The festival is in another state and I’m going by myself, so I’m not really sure how to do….well, any of it. I love movies but the logistics and social parts are a little trickier. It’s intimidating!

What are the rules? Do I need to sit certain places? Avoid things? Talk to people? Not? What are some tips and tricks everyone should know before going to a film festival? Thanks!


Film Fest First-Timer

Dear First-Timer,

Let’s start off with a warning: film festivals – like tattoos, gambling, and World of Warcraft – are addicting. Two years ago I hadn’t ever been to a film festival.

Now, I literally went to one this morning.

It helps if you’ve got a job like mine and live in a major metropolitan area, but the culture of film festivals is what brings in return customers. I – like most of you – was used to seeing a movie, maybe chatting with my friends about it (outside, in the Uber, at the local burger joint), and then going home. The movie is the climax of the evening, around which the preparation and denouement revolve. At film festivals that doesn’t really apply. You can flow from movie to movie to party to movie. Dozens of options and venues give you the opportunity to play fast and loose with your cinematic schedule. Miss a screening? There’s likely another in the next three days.

Film festivals are also time machines to when movies ran culture. I’m talking pre-World War II era, when 70% of America went to the theater weekly and film was central to social life. Your friends went, your family went, you took your kids. Film festivals are like that because everyone there loves movies and is there with a common purpose. They’re not called “media festivals” and it’s not the cultural olio that comic conventions have become, harvesting everything from video game cosplay to toy announcements. They show movies to people that love ‘em.

So as far as discussion and socialization goes, don’t worry – everyone there is as big a nerd as you (or bigger). Expect some Tarantino kids (the ones spewing quotes like that’s how they learned the English language), the arthouse stuck-ups who’ll try to impress with obscurity, and the oldie faithfuls who just keep wondering (often aloud) just why we don’t make movies like we used to.

Somewhere in that bunch, you’ll find kindred spirits. Be it among the gorehounds, the comedy junkies, or (assuming they exist) the normal movielovers, you’ll be able to find the people whose tastes you fit in with by using an extremely organic system – which movies you see.

But hey, let’s get to some rapid-fire tips. Brass tacks. Logistics. Amusing anecdotes. Tips and tricks for festival attendance:

Keep ID on you at all times

The first film festival I ever covered, deadCENTER in Oklahoma City, I found out that someone had been impersonating me at a Wednesday night opening party (that I had not attended).

On Thursday, a woman in an elevator stopped me, looked at my badge, and asked, “Are you really FSR? I met him last night and he wasn’t you.” As you might imagine, having a three-drink buzz on an elevator isn’t a situation conducive to proving your identity to a stranger. The weekend had been given an element of mystery that remains unsolved. Luckily I had my badge on at the time and could back it up with my driver’s license, so I was neither ejected from the party nor driven mad by a gaslighting campaign.

Be flexible

You will miss screenings. You will get a little too drunk. Have backups in place and don’t be afraid to go sit somewhere quiet and figure things out. There’s no rule that says you have to be constantly operating at maximum entertainment efficiency.

I once missed a screening, jumped into the theater next door, and saw a documentary about two rival gangs of Satanists. Then afterwards, I saw the two gang leaders (and documentary subjects) fight each other in a taco restaurant parking lot.

I don’t even remember what movie I was trying to see instead.

Wear comfy pants

Vegging on your couch in front of Netflix for four hours and sitting in a theater for four hours are very different experiences. Your ass WILL get sore, it’s only a question of when. Sweats are nice, but worn-in jeans are better as long as you make sure you move your wallet to a front pocket.

Get more sleep than you think you need

Sleep is important. Do not trust your body. Sitting in a dark room with your eyes blasted by flickering, changing lights that replicate life confuses the hell out of your brain. Rest so you don’t pass out in your seat and become the snoring person that ruins a crowd’s experience.



Don’t stay for the Q&A

Nothing good is ever asked and it’s never fun seeing a filmmaker, actor, or producer awkwardly try to deliver a polite response when you can see a thinly veiled “who let this person out of the asylum?” behind their smile.

Obey these rules (and show up a little early) and you should be set! You’re going to love it and trust me, you’ll be back. There’s a seductive magic involved that I certainly don’t understand, but I love it just the same.

Maybe we’ll see each other there,


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Jacob Oller writes everywhere (Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Playboy, FSR, Paste, etc.) about everything that matters (film, TV, video games, memes, life).