My top 10 tips for getting the most out of your festival
Over a number of years, I have had the pleasure of attending BFI London Film Festival and BFI Flare LGBTQ Film Festival alongside Q&A events at cinemas across London. Film Festivals offer a wonderful opportunity to experience a range of films and genres before their general release, sharing ideas, thoughts and experience with others who love a diversity of film. Alongside this, film festivals offer unique opportunities to meet the creative teams behind films, from directors to actors and producers. Enabling attendees to explore the vision behind the film and hear from those deeply involved its evolution from page to screen.
If you are planning to attend your first film festival this year, here are my top 10 tips for getting the best experience out of your visit.
1. Planning Makes Perfect
Before attending a film festival some planning is essential to get the most from your visit. Knowing when film festivals are scheduled and planning your budget to match these events will give you the opportunity to maximise your attendance.
BFI Flare – March
BFI London Film Festival – October
London Short Film Festival- January
FrightFest – August
For BFI events, it will help if you are a member, allowing you to access booking for festivals before the public. There are a number of membership options, with benefits including discounts at the BFI Shop and BFI Bar/Kitchen. BFI Membership also gives you the proud knowledge that your money is supporting British film, creativity, emerging talent and heritage. https://www.bfi.org.uk/bfi-membership
Take time to explore the programme, planning what you want to see and the times available. Remember nobody can see everything, so prioritise your choices against your budget. If you plan to see multiple films in one day, structure your choices. For example, three emotionally heavy films on one day may be too much for you to truly enjoy the experience.
If you would rather invest time in advance screenings and Q&A’s at local venues, ensure you sign up for updates on events at your local cinema, and check weekly for newly added opportunities.
2. Book Early
Whether you are attending a local Q&A or the BFI London Film Festival, early booking is essential for you to get the best tickets for the performances you want to see. Before booking make sure you can get to the venue at the time advertised, always remember un-needed ticket purchases stop others from experiencing the event and waste your money.
3. Make Up Your Own Mind
If you really want to see a film, and it has received mixed reviews from another international film festival, do not let that put you off. We all have a unique perspective on film, and what works well in one country, may not work as well in another. Check it out for yourself and make your own mind up on its value.
4. Go it Alone
Many people avoid going to a film festival due to not having others to go with. Never let that stop you! Film festivals are full of people enjoying the experience alone, and being alone often leads to meeting new people. If you feel comfortable, say hello to people sitting next to you before the film, you never know who you might meet.
While watching the latest films is the highlight of any film festival, there are loads of other activities you can engage in, offering opportunities to share ideas, views and experience with others. Whether it is a club night at BFI Flare or an in-depth talk at the London Film Festival do not forget to explore the programme in all its diversity.
6. Independent Films
It is easy during a film festival to lose focus of the independent small budget films playing, concentrating all your effort on the films that may win national and international awards. Independent films can offer you a diverse and truly enlightening festival experience. Often covering subjects that challenge, engage and promote discussion more than the larger studio productions. Mix up your schedule and pick some independent films to enjoy.
7. Short Films
Short films programmes can provide a wonderful opportunity to experience new and upcoming filmmakers, while providing stories and artistic delivery that push the boundaries of film. Some of the best discussions come from smaller packages.
It is easy to get caught up taking photos or filming a Q&A with actor or director you want to meet. Remember to also listen and enjoy the experience of hearing their thoughts and views on the film you are watching. Too much photo taking and filming can result in you leaving the event with no memory of the discussion that has taken place.
If you are planning to ask a question, think about the question and how it relates to the film or discussion, especially if you want to gain insight into the thoughts and experiences of the actor, director or crew.
Always remember that everyone is there to have a positive experience, late arrival at screenings and rushing to get out before a Q&A starts may be interpreted as rude or unappreciative of the film. Even if you have not enjoyed the film, it does not mean others feel the same, and film festivals are about sharing views and opinions, even if you disagree on the films merit. When attending big events with actors and directors, remember that they are human too, and may not want unnecessary or suffocating attention during their visit.
Talk about the films you are seeing and share your views and interpretation of the film with others. We all have unique perspectives on film and even if your views go against the public grain they are valid and worthy of expression and discussion. However, be ready to justify your thoughts, and be kind in the delivery of your thoughts. If you did not like a film, think about why and structure your argument rather than purely saying ‘It was bad’.