After attending BIFF 2002, I got to thinking about how film festivals could be better. What things would make for a perfect film festival? Here are a few thoughts…
Film festivals are (or should be) about watching movies — and to a lesser extent they are about seeing and talking to film makers. They are not about parties. I’m not against parties (who is?), but making the parties more important than they should be by making them expensive (any film festival party that costs more than a film festival movie ticket is an expensive party) is losing sight of the whole point.
A sufficiently dedicated attendee should be able to see every single film shown at the festival. With most festivals it’s barely possible to see half the films on show due to parallel screenings. If someone plonks down several hundred dollars for a “gold pass” or whatever, then they should be able to kill themselves in the effort to see every film on offer. If allowing this means that many films have to be shown three or four times, then so be it. If it means a few less films are shown, then so be it. Apart from six hours sleep and some short meal and toilet breaks, the die-hard movie-lover (who is surely the core audience of a film festival?) should be able to see every film. Every film. And the programme could even map out the way/s that this can be done.
All screening venues should be less than three minutes walk from each other, especially if the festival is taking place in a large city where driving back and forth to venues (and paying for parking each time) is not practical. I realise that getting the ideal venues is tough, but if that means a few less films are shown (or the festival takes longer), then so be it.
Speaking of venues, don’t use venues (such as library screening rooms) that do not allow at least standard movie food (cold drinks and snacks) to be eaten. It’s annoying for those audience members that respect these rules to watch others eating regardless. Are you really going to kick someone out of a three-hour documentary because they took a swig from a water bottle?
Descriptions of the films in the brochure and programme should be flattering, but accurate. If a film is a difficult or challenging “art house” flick, that’s fine, but don’t imply in the synopsis that it’s an action thriller! I can watch almost anything on the big screen, but listening to the audience shift in their seats and grumble with disappointment (or laugh) because the film is not at all what they expected is unpleasant (especially if the film makers are present).
SMS messages reminding you about film screening times are cool, as are web updates. As long as they are free. Get a sponsor to pay for it in return for branding it all.
It should be possible to buy a single pass that will get you into every single film, ideally without having to get tickets first (but the latter may not be practical). It doesn’t matter how many films there are or how long the festival is, there should be a single pass available that gets you the lot. No exceptions, no “special screenings”, no “showcase screenings”, no “opening night film” exceptions. Call it a “gold pass” or a “platinum pass” or a “sooper-dooper” pass, it doesn’t matter. You won’t fool people into thinking that the festival is more affordable by splitting a gold pass in two and calling them a “week one pass” and a “week two pass”… That’s not my idea of a gold pass at all.
This one is self explanatory. If only the elite can afford a gold pass, then it’s an elitist film festival, and does not deserve public funding. Film festivals are for the people and do not need to make a profit, only break even. So price the tickets accordingly or shut the festival down.
Or to put it another way, the audience members are the only VIPs. This issue is a pet peeve of mine. Sure, maybe the visiting filmmakers are VIPs. Heck, maybe even guests of honour are VIPs too (just). But they all rank below the audience. Ticket holders get right of way, the best seating, the politest service, etc. Festival workers (both paid and volunteers) are not VIPs, they are at the bottom of the importance scale, and should act accordingly. Really. The only thing worse than seeing a filmmaker being treated shabbily at a festival is seeing audience members being treated like cattle (and I’ve seen both of these things happen). Nothing is more preposterous than watching a sixteen-year-old volunteer festival worker treat a ticket holder with disdain because they dare to complain about something. If the idea of ranking below the audience bothers you, then don’t volunteer to work at a film festival. You’re there to serve the audience, without which there would be no festival or even any films.
This seems obvious, but it’s actually quite rare. Get the sound right, get the focus right, get the introductory comments right. If (when) things go wrong, apologise and offer alternatives or refunds or freebies. Let people see that you give a damn about the films and their proper exhibition.
We should never lose sight of the fact that most films are meant to be entertaining. Ideally they enlighten us as well, but when we go to the movies, even at a film festival, we’re supposed to be having fun!