How To Survive A Film Festival, Unharmed

Many film festival badges from my past

If you have ever seen a big film festival with your own eyes, it’s impossible you didn’t notice how insistently it shines. Everything around a film festival is sparkly and bright (filmmakers know their lights), everywhere you look there’s silver high heels and paparazzi flashes, golden doorknobs, watery eyeballs.

Truth is, behind the silver screen things are indeed quite fancy, but also pretty hollow, and wasted. What from the outside looks like a dazzling celebration of CINEMA (the most expensive form of entertainment out there) is essentially a glorified fair for the Film Industry. Every big film festival is in fact a beehive clusterfuck of film-business people looking to hook-up with more film-business people so to hopefully find a distribution on Asian territories, find a new script to develop, find someone willing to arrange half of a million coins to finish the postproduction of the movie they’re stuck with, and get laid.

The Industry is composed of two sorts of individual which intermingle at every such event: the money people – the structure that allows this business to exist and thrive, and talent – the creative lymph that gives it life and purpose.

Obviously, I belong to the latter.

I did my first fest twenty years ago and I must say it gets easier, but very fucking slowly. The “promoting your talent” part of it has always been an enormous challenge for me. But with fests the thing is, if you want to ever actually make anything in this business, you can’t avoid them – so you better learn how to make them work for you, rather than the other way around.

Here are a few hot tips from my own personal experience on how to survive a film festival as a young filmmaker, and come back mostly unharmed.

1. Have (drinkable) water on you at all times.

2. Dress in black. Visually non-intrusive outfits can get you through the day without risking to look overdressed at morning screenings or underdressed after dark. Also, it will be easier to conceal that you are wearing exactly what you had on yesterday, as you crashed somewhere you don’t even remember, and you slept in these clothes you are still wearing now but hey, you’re lucky there was a spare toothbrush anyway.

3. Have nutritious snacks in your bag at all times because usually it’s impossible to predict when you gonna have a proper meal, if at all, and sometimes sneaking to the toilet to gobble down two organic cranberry flapjacks between too many glasses of complimentary white wine on an empty stomach can downright save your career.

4. If you like to get a bit tipsy or a little high before a screening to enhance your viewing experience, make sure the film you are going to see is GOOD. There’s nothing worse than having an enhanced experience while viewing a bunch of vile nonsense on a screen, and thinking this for some reason got selected by the programmers while you (who could make so much of a better job if you only were given a chance to) remain unseen. And then you want to trash the whole damn place and can’t focus on the film any more.

5. Also, make sure to hide that half-reefer you did not have the time to smoke up deep inside your bag, otherwise you’ll spend the entire screening worrying that everyone around you can smell the pot as hard as you do.

6. Forget about sleep. Don’t even count on it, try to stack up on it as much as you can before the festival starts (unless you’re too excited) and plan a couple of days off afterwards to hopefully spend comatose somewhere in your crib. Immolating your health for the sake of your film career is something completely normal and expected from you as a young creative. If you are not ready to surrender half of your liver and one kidney in the name of your movie it means you are not driven enough. Still, you can try to be smart about it and not mash your innards to a complete pulp before you even get to begin shooting that movie you are ready to die for.

7. Have sex only with people who can potentially help your movie. Of course every film fest is one vast landscape of people drunk-fucking potential colleagues in each other’s hotel rooms at dawn, because what else can you do when you’re far away from home, you had seven vodka-tonics you didn’t even have to pay for, you did some blow in a fancy toilet with a friend’s sales agent (or was it his editor?), and no-one seems to dig your new script? A carnal moment with someone who shows a bit of interest in your pitch and a real possibility for free editing facilities can be a very understandable step to take.

8. But most of all, be excited about what everyone else is excited about and respect other filmmakers’ efforts. If you go see the film everyone is talking about and you find it’s a disgraceful jumble of bad acting and no story shot with a mobile phone, don’t say it out loud or Filmmaker Karma is going to bite you with poisoned teeth. Maybe you didn’t get it, maybe you’re too sleep-deprived and hungover to notice the main character’s arc, maybe you have an allergy to cryptic storytelling, maybe the Crimson Haze you smoked before the screening was at odds with the subtle, inexistent camera movements – however negatively you perceived this work, no-one wants to hear it. And keep in mind the gigantic effort it has taken the director and all other people involved in the project to make it come as far as a premiere at a film fest. It’s immense, and you are in no position to talk this down. Make your own movie first, go as far as that and I promise that when you will finally screen your eight years of work in a room full of festival-goers, there will definitely be some hungover fucker among them who will think you and your movie are a sorry fraud.

And when this day will come, remember to tell yourself “Screw them!” and go have a glass of champagne. You will start feeling less insecure any day now.


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