Ten Tips for Surviving a Film Festival

Traverse City Film Festival

Sure, participating in a film festival is a glorious celebration of the cinema, but seeing a ton of films within a few short days can also be challenging!

Whether this year’s 9th Annual Traverse City Film Festival is your first or your ninth, it’s good to remind ourselves of a few basic tips to help maintain our energy and sanity from the opening night film straight through to the closing night film.

1. See a variety of films. In your schedule, make room for films from each festival category, as well as both high-profile films and smaller hidden gems. Sometimes those smaller indie films are the ones that catch you completely off guard, the ones you’re still thinking about years later. I never would have guessed that 2006’s “The Lives of Others” would turn out to be one of my favorite films ever, but it always comes up when people ask about my favorite films (it won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film). And I saw it at the Traverse City Film Festival.

2. Mix up the film genres. Include a variety of genres, such as comedy, drama, foreign, and documentaries. That way, you’ll get a good mix of issue-oriented documentaries that make you want to go out and DO SOMETHING, and fun comedies you can just laugh at and be entertained. Check out the new TCFF app to help plan out your day and make things easier.

3. Leave space in your schedule to get from here to there. Sure, it’d be great if we could teleport ourselves from theater to theater, but since the “Star Trek” people haven’t quite figured that out yet, we still need to physically drive, bike, walk or take a shuttle to the next film. Leave buffer time in your schedule for traveling, standing in line, and extended Q&As.

4. Embrace the lines. After nine years, things run pretty smoothly at the film fest, but you’ll no doubt still stand in lines here and there. Use that time to re-group and connect with other filmgoers in line. Ask what films they’ve seen or are looking forward to. Are they from Traverse City or out of town? Is this their first film festival? There’s a whole subculture happening in the lines, so free yourself from line rage and make some new friends there.

5. Don’t abuse the buddy system. It’s ok to save a seat or two for friends who are running late, but try not to abuse it. There’s nothing more annoying for filmgoers than to be searching for a seat and see someone saving a whole row.

6. Don’t forget to eat. We’re fortunate that the film festival offers a good variety of healthy foods at the concessions – everything from tasty popcorn to sandwiches. Still, not a bad idea to toss a bottle of water and a protein bar or two into your bag at the beginning of the day, for those times when you haven’t followed Tip #3 and find yourself hurrying from film to film. We need that extra energy – both physical and brain energy – to absorb all those awesome films.

7. Know your limits. We want you getting to the end of the film festival without having to collapse for a week to recover. To thine own self be true – that is, know how many films each day are comfortable for you and try to stick within that, so you’re not completely burned out by the fest’s end. Then again, you might actually BE a superhero and able to see Every.Single.Film in this year’s fest. Then by all means, you go!

8. Wear comfortable shoes. You’re going to be walking and standing a lot. Don’t wear those Jimmy Choos with the 4-inch heels (even if they are the most amazing shoes ever). Comfort, people! No one cares if you’re wearing sneakers.

9. Assemble a “Film Festival Survival Kit.” Carry the biggest shoulder bag you’re comfortable with (a small to medium sized backpack works, too), and assemble a little kit that includes your phone’s car charger (and camera charger, if you have one), sunblock, band-aids, bottled water, sunglasses, hair-ties if you have long hair, the aforementioned protein bars, a festival guide, and a light windbreaker that you can ball up and stash in your bag for breezy days and cool theaters. Designate a spot to keep your tickets, so you don’t have to search through your bag at every venue.

10. Breathe. Carve out a few minutes each day to just take it all in. You’re in one of the most gorgeous places on the planet watching fantastic movies in beautiful venues. Life is good.