Hitchhiker’s Guide to Film Festivals: Tips on How to Attend the Best Events in the Film Industry

It took many years to figure out that if you want to be a part of something you just need to have enough courage to seek it out. The same goes for attending film festivals – you don’t need to be a distributor or film student to attend most of the major events. You just need to put in a bit of effort and call on a bit of luck. Let’s take a look at the main considerations you need to review before choosing which festival to attend. Read on to find out more tips on how to attend the best events in the film industry.

What type of festival is it? 

The main thing to look out for before booking your accommodation and flights is what kind of festival is it – is it accreditation heavy or is it a ticket festival? The prestigious ones tend to have the red tape in place and the newer, smaller festivals tend to be more commercially focused and are open in full to the public. It’s important to know this before you travel because you may have missed the accreditation deadline or tickets have already gone on sale and you’ll end up not being able to see anything once you get there. 

What is an accreditation? 

An accreditation is an official invite from the festival as a result of your application. It enables you to attend the festival and access most of the spaces. The key point to note about having an accreditation is that it does not guarantee you access to films – you must always have both your accreditation badge and your ticket to attend. Accreditation festivals can be tricky but you’ll have a great time if you plan your time well and keep an eye on tickets being released as they happen. 

How do I get tickets? 

Pre-COVID, tickets used to be released physically but a lot of festivals have switched to online releases which have its pros and cons. I’m general, most festivals will have an online portal where you can login to an account to reserve tickets prior to arriving. Make sure you use your tickets up whether you attend the movie or not and watch out for what the penalties are specific to the festival. They’re generally very strict on this so that everyone can get a chance at seeing a movie.

1. Festival de Cannes 

Festival Name: The Festival De Cannes

What is it? The Festival De Cannes is one of the first major festivals on the circuit to kick off the year and is generally held around May. It was delayed to July in 2021 due to COVID but is set to return to its usual timeframe from 2022. This festival I would wholeheartedly recommend to film festival beginners as its the best one to really feel part of the festival and you have so many opportunities to see films and red carpet events. There is a tangible spirit and sense of uniqueness to the festival that I have yet to experience anywhere else. It’s held primarily in the Palais De Festivals in the heart of the town of Cannes in the South of France, but there are some films shown within the town itself or a couple miles outside of town. 

What films can you find at it? If you’re looking for Oscar bait, this is the place to find it, with every major film star and director giving their left arm to have the chance to premiere a film here. The festival is also steeped in history, each of the hotels along the Croisette are world famous and if the walls could talk they would spill stories of Roger Ebert sipping espresso’s, trying to capture a telling quote from Isabella Rossellini in a hotel room in the Ritz Carlton.

What’s the ticket situation like? You must apply for an accreditation before you arrive and there’s different categories depending on what one suits your situation, eg. Film Students, Cinephiles, Press and Promotional. There are different coloured badges and you’ll quickly find out what passes grant you access to what areas. Most of the badges at Cannes though give you the run of the place and as long as you play your cards right you can watch films morning till night, walk through the Marche du Film, sip a free Nespresso in the Palais, watch the stars on the red carpet, walk the red carpet (or scurry quickly up the red steps), and even watch a film a la plage under the stars. Watch out for the films you register for though, Cannes runs a three strikes and you’re out rule so you must always attend a film or return the ticket or your name will be blacklisted.

2. Venice Film Festival

Festival Name: Venice Film Festival

What is it? The Venice Film Festival is another prestigious, historical event set on the Lido, a long narrow island in Venice. It’s a magical set up, with stars and starlets arriving gracefully by water taxi. A stone’s throw from the Grand Canal, the Lido is a cinemagoer’s paradise, and you can even go for a swim on the local’s beach in between films if you please.

What films can you find at it? Like Cannes, you’ll find a whole host of fantastic movies premiering here. You can get the odd blockbuster or heavily promoted studio film, but its mainly a high caliber schedule.

What’s the ticket situation like? An accreditation is needed to access the area on the Lido, and you need to apply for films individually on your own personal portal. Again, in Venice your name will be blacklisted if you do not cancel your ticket at least 2 hours in advance, leave it unused or don’t give it to someone else. They’re quite strict on this but the system is not as sophisticated as others, with many tickets generally going unused.

3. TriBeCa 

Festival Name: TriBeCa Film Festival

What is it? It might be a surprise to find out that the TriBeCa Film Festival is a relatively new event, started after 9/11 by Robert De Niro to breathe some life back into lower Manhattan with a new cultural event.

What films can you find at it? It has a relatively popular reputation but you won’t find many Oscar-worthy hits premiering here. US-based folk will generally attend this for promotional and proximity purposes, but you won’t get the international film presence in the way you do with the European festivals.

What’s the ticket situation like? It’s a commercial festival so you can buy one ticket or a hundred tickets to any films you want. They are known for their early bird deals where you buy a bundle in advance and get 8 or 16 tickets to spend on whichever films you choose. Like many other commercial festivals however, there’s a sense of there being no real focal point and in a way it feels lost within the city because it’s well spaced out throughout TriBeCa, Soho and the Lower East Side. Despite this, the great thing about TriBeCa is that if you don’t have a film on you can go explore the New York Metropolis on your doorstep so you’ll never be at a loss at what to do

This is a sign. Go attend a film festival

If you love films and the excitement that goes with seeing a fresh release for the first time and being one of those lucky ones in the room then this is the hobby for you. Get applying. Get attending. Go watch.

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