With the number of film festivals growing exponentially, attending or volunteering at one seems like a no-brainer if you’re even marginally passionate about film. Festivals are becoming more accessible than ever, but if you need more reasons before truly committing to attending one, read on.
The first and most obvious reason is that film festivals are designed to expand your cinematic horizons. While they may at one point have been something of an artsy endeavor or exclusive event in the past, these days there are almost as many film festivals as there are theaters, with thousands catering to every taste, and many open to the general public. Whether the ‘big name’ independent festivals like Sundance and South by Southwest, the edgy Berlin, the awards-doused Toronto or the more glamorous Cannes, festivals encompass a wide range of approaches to cinema and with enough investigating, it’s not difficult to find one that can accommodate your preferences. A quick search on ‘Without A Box’ – a website commonly used by filmmakers to submit their films to multiple festivals at once – demonstrates the astounding variety of festivals out there. Some are intriguing and creative, such as the multi-city Bicycle Film Fest, whose only rule for submission stipulates that films must include a bicycle at some point in their narrative. 15/15 fest challenges filmmakers to conceptualize, shoot, and edit a film in 15 hours before submitting. The International Mustache Film Festival held in Maine is exactly what it sounds like. And so on. With so many options you are bound to find what you’re looking for or discover unusual screenings in your area that you’d never come across otherwise. That is another incentive: the sheer pleasure of coming across bold filmmaking and unearthing unexpected gems can make the ticket hunting and wait-listing infinitely worth it.
2. Networking and Learning
In the rush to acquire tickets for films that have stirred audience buzz, many attendees bypass the panels that are often part of festival programs and can offer revealing insights into the entertainment industry. These events are crucial to various film festivals and often explore unchartered or prominent issues, such as Sundance 2014’s panel on expanding inclusivity for female filmmakers or its panel exploring collaborative projects such as Joseph Gordon Levitt’s “Hit Record”. Festivals sometimes have markets attached to them – whether explicitly, such as the Marche du Film that takes place alongside Cannes, or implicitly, such as the many distribution deals that take place during the course of Sundance and pave initial patterns for film releases in the coming year. Festivals can be fundamental for both emerging and established filmmakers looking to attain distribution for their films, and many independent films bank on breaking through at festivals in order to court wider audiences. The result is that such diverse attendees – from industry professionals to average movie-goers – often intersect and overlap at festivals in a manner rarely found elsewhere. In this way, festivals act as something of a democratizing force for attendees. In Sundance, for instance, audience members and celebrities alike are bundled up in brightly colored ski jackets to brace themselves against the bitter cold, prominent distribution executives and agents strike up conversations with volunteers and locals whilst waiting in extensive lines, and film recommendations are traded back and forth like candy amongst strangers united by their love for cinema. You might find yourself standing behind a Coen brother while you wait for your popcorn at Telleuride or arguing with a powerful exec producer about which films are worth standing an extra hour in line for. The floor is wide-open, and a sense of possibility and learning about the film industry floods these dynamic gatherings.
3. The Atmosphere
The factors described above coalesce into an event defined by a bubble of constant film watching, generating an atmosphere alive and buzzing with both business and pleasure, as sales are made, talent discovered, and films revered. For those who seek something beyond the traditional movie-going experience, festivals offer unique opportunities to discover innovative films and bask in the power that cinema has to bring people together into a hub of creativity.