Watching The Red Carpet
August 22, 2022 6:45 AM   Subscribe

For the purposes of filling out my bucket list a little - what are some of the top international film festivals that an ordinary film fan can conceivably attend?

(Warning: this is an idea that came to me completely out of nowhere at like 6:45 am this morning so it's a little vague right now.)

I'm a film blogger, I like to travel - and this morning, I suddenly asked myself "why am I not going to film festivals?....Or, for that matter, why am I not following news about film festivals?..." To be fair, my blog is about older stuff so I hadn't thought to look into this before now - but why not start?

I've started looking into how to attend Sundance, and I've bookmarked when tickets go on sale for the New York Film Festival next month...but what are some others? Like, can a regular film fan get tickets for screenings at Cannes or the Berlin Film Festival or the Venice Film Festival? Or are they confined to "insiders" (either because of access or because of plain old cost)?

This will be an ongoing thing - I have neither the time nor funds to go to Sundance, Cannes, AND Berlin all in one year, but over the course of the next 20 or so I could hit that all up.

I'm also looking for venues that screen films that conceivably could get distributed, too - so festivals that are things like "a celebration of short films about wheat germ", I'm not interested.
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: TIFF tickets go on sale September 5. Lots of stars and flash these days, but even though you can't pull the old "I wandered down Bloor Street and bought tickets at the door for something great" ca. 1988, there's still plenty of room for regular filmgoers.
posted by maudlin at 6:51 AM on August 22, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: The Telluride Film Festival is world-class, and unlike other fests, doesn't announce its program in advance. It runs in early September, so prime season for all the top Oscar contenders. You can definitely purchase tickets as an ordinary person.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:52 AM on August 22, 2022

Best answer: Regular people can for sure get Berlinale tickets, but you have to be a little smart about planning /queueing.
posted by athirstforsalt at 6:52 AM on August 22, 2022

Great question, and I’ll be eager to see the answers - I’m part of a small filmmaking collective that’s been putting out one short film a month for the last almost 2 years. Barriers to access is an on-going topic.

In part, I think some of it depends on your genre of choice. The horror groups have multiple small fests throughout the year around the US, as do groups that focus exclusively on films from other counties.

I know in the past Sundance and Telluride had volunteer opportunities, some 100% remote, that paid you with a pass to the fest. That might be an avenue in for others.
posted by Silvery Fish at 6:54 AM on August 22, 2022

Film festivals are all open events, that's the premise of all of them. I'm not aware of any that aren't open to the public. There may be issues around when and where and how tickets are sold, or how many tickets are sold, but having the public at them is the point.

I'm saying this as a filmmaker, film festival programmer and jury member and film professor. Look into the particular festivals you are interested in and research how to get tickets.
posted by MythMaker at 6:55 AM on August 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Look into the particular festivals you are interested in and research how to get tickets.

That's just it - I don't know what festivals are out there, hence this question!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:57 AM on August 22, 2022

Another avenue to consider aside from buying tickets -- especially if you are interested in returning to the same festival year after -- is volunteering. I know TIFF uses a metric assload of volunteers each year, and the people I know who volunteer for them get to do some interesting things and meet some interesting people. Plus they get tickets to screenings for when they aren't working a shift. It may take a few years of volunteering at the same festival, though, to get to do the more entertaining tasks.

They are not going to pay for your travel so you can volunteer, but it at least might take some of the financial pressure off of attending.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:13 AM on August 22, 2022

Response by poster: Just one more comment to re-direct - right now my question is more focused on "what festivals exist that I could buy a ticket to as a regular yutz" and less so on "how can I afford to get tickets to those festivals".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:25 AM on August 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

For that, Wikipedia has you covered.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:33 AM on August 22, 2022

This may be cost-prohibitive, but SXSW in Austin has a separate badge for their TV & Film festival, looks to be $895 for next year.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 7:57 AM on August 22, 2022

Best answer: Normally, I wouldn’t know these things, but my friend’s brother run the Chattanooga Film Festival. It got listed among the 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World by MovieMaker Magazine, which has given it several awards in the past. (I don’t see it on the Wikipedia list.)
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 8:05 AM on August 22, 2022

Best answer: The annual TCM Classic Film Festival was this past April after a Covid hiatus. I’ve never been but I know someone who goes every year and they absolutely love it.
posted by bookmammal at 8:14 AM on August 22, 2022

Response by poster: Ooh, I didn't even know there were classic film festivals!

....And for the record, I did see the Wikipedia list, but that didn't really differentiate between "this is a big deal" and "this is a festival celebrating wheat germ" I was talking about.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:16 AM on August 22, 2022
posted by MythMaker at 10:15 AM on August 22, 2022

Best answer: If you're into animation and can afford to travel to France (which it seems from the mention of Cannes/Berlin that you can?), the Annecy festival is everything the Oscars for best animated film wishes it could be, extended into a week-long event. The two public tiers of tickets this year were 30 and 90 euros, though the more expensive tier tends to be discounted if you buy earlier in the year (this year, for example, it was 65 euros if you bought in before March 7).

I don't know that much about other festivals, but I wouldn't be surprised if others had a similar reserve-early-for-discount price structure, so that might be something to look into to save on costs?
posted by the tartare yolk at 11:18 AM on August 22, 2022

Response by poster: So I'm already looking into that Classic Film festival for April, and have reached out to my friends in Colorado to see what they're doing around the time of Telluride...

Will peruse links to other lists, of course, but if anyone has any first-hand experience with anything lemme know too!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:37 PM on August 22, 2022

I've only been to one film festival - the London Film Festival - and I've no idea how it compares to others, but still.

There were a bunch of major big screenings at the bigger venues which presumably had lots of press and maybe red carpets and stars etc. What one might think of as "a film festival".

But all the screenings I booked for were in other, regular cinemas (still in central London), and it was pretty much like just going to a normal cinema screening - the main difference was that there was usually someone introducing it and, at some of them, afterwards, there was a director and/or actor or two around to answer audience questions. That bit seemed very informal - no chairs on stage or anything.

Just wanted to describe that to set some expectations because, assuming my experience is in any way representative of other festivals, it's not all red carpets and stars and fancy outfits and camera flashes! It was still good - full houses, enthusiastic audiences, seeing films few other people had seen, etc - but it was also surprisingly mundane.

And, anyone can book tickets for the LFF but they go on sale to British Film Institute members first (anyone can become a member for an annual subscription) and only then to the general public. I think it's a good idea to have planned what you want to book and be ready the moment booking opens.
posted by fabius at 5:59 AM on August 23, 2022

Thinking about it... I imagine a big festival in a small town is going to feel very different compared to a big festival in a huge city (London, Berlin, etc). You'd hardly know a film festival was happening in London unless you happened to pass the handful of major venues.
posted by fabius at 6:01 AM on August 23, 2022

The New York Film Festival is world-class and you will be able to catch some really cool movies! I'll echo that festivals are not always as glitzy or exciting as you might think - most of them function very much as networking and business opportunities for people in the industry and so they can have a sort of work conference-vibe. To me, the coolest thing about festivals is that you can see movies before anyone else does, up to a year or so sooner.
posted by cakelite at 9:41 AM on August 23, 2022

If you are interested in traveling to the S.F. Bay Area, you might want to research CineQuest in San Jose, or SFFILM.

Festival-adjacent options:

South Bay
The Stanford shows curated programs of classic double features in a classic movie palace (Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart, Doris Day, etc).

East Bay
Niles Silent Film Museum

UC Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive hosts academic retrospective festivals (Wayne Wang).

The Roxie in San Francisco shows festival-circuit films and hosts mini-festivals (French noir).
posted by JDC8 at 10:15 AM on August 23, 2022

Through random luck, I’m fortunate enough to have attended a few big film festivals, and as someone *not* in the film industry, my favourite experience has been the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic.

I attended in 2019 on a full festival pass and it was wonderful. It’s a nice mix of fancy red carpet celebrity stuff and just ordinary people who enjoy good movies. I also liked that it was a real mix of people there—from small children to elderly people. I found this inclusiveness lent the festival a really welcoming air. Don’t get me wrong, I feel extremely fortunate to have attended Cannes and experienced all its attendant glamour, BUT it was really nice to go to KVIFF and be around people who didn’t take themselves so seriously. No one was snobby, everyone was welcoming, and I just got the feeling everyone was excited about participating.

It’s one of the oldest film fests in the world, and it’s a big one for Central and Eastern European film. However, despite a focus on C&EE, it features movies from all over the world. I saw films from all over Europe, from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, North and South America. When I attended, they had a retrospective for Youssef Chahin, an influential 1950s Egyptian filmmaker I’d never heard of, and I got to watch a couple of his films that are normally really difficult to see—not available on streaming, hard to get DVDs of, rarely screened outside of Egypt. As English speakers, we were spoiled, because English is the lingua franca of the festival and thus English subtitles are available on everything (though everything is of course in Czech too).

It’s super affordable—a full 9 day festival pass costs about $80 CAD, but you can also buy 1 day, 3 day, or 5 day passes for less. (As an American, your dollar would go even further than ours.) We easily saw 3 films a day, but then we were kind of hard core about it. I am sure lots of people just go to one or two per day. Your fest pass gives you free access to the festival buses and festival bike rentals, and it’s really easy to walk in the town from theatre to theatre. They are also quite conscious about accessibility and people with disabilities and their escorts can attend screenings for free in accessible theatres.

If you are on a public festival pass like we were, you should download the app and pick out the films in the morning you’d like to see—you choose them on the app and pick up the tickets at the box office in the main pavilion. You can also pick up tickets at the box office but the screenings fill up fast, so I think it’s better to reserve them via the app. It’s a pretty good system and we didn’t have problems with it. Even if a screening is full, you can line up outside and if there’s room (e.g. people with reserved seats don’t show up) they’ll let you in right before the show starts.

Karlovy Vary itself is very picturesque and lovely, like a little fairytale town nestled in the forest. Some of the screenings are held in gorgeous old theatres or in the ballrooms of grand hotels. The interior of the municipal theatre, for example, was painted by the artist Gustav Klimt and his brother Ernst. There are all the amenities you need in town, and we found an apartment to rent pretty easily and at a reasonable rate. The town really caters to tourists anyway, and during the film festival there are a lot of activities.

Karlovy Vary is also not far from Prague, just a couple hours by train, so it would be very easy to combine this festival with a trip to Prague (as we did).

In case you can’t tell, I loved it and it was a very special experience. I am so glad I had the opportunity to do this the summer before COVID. Just writing this out is making me want to go back.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:14 PM on August 23, 2022

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