Tuesday, April 19, 2011

5 Tips for Surviving Film Festivals / Movie Marathons

As Hot Docs is quickly approaching, I will share a few film festival survival tips that I have learned over the years from attending various festivals. Even if there are no film festivals in your area, these tips can easily be adapted for any at home DVD / Netflix movie marathon (see at home options below):

1) Diversify Your Film Choices – It is always tempting to select nothing but high profile films. The ones with the “big names” attached often come with their own built-in hype. Yet not every high profile film is a guaranteed winner. Sometimes it is the films that you had no preconceived expectations about that surprise you the most. That is why I always try, whenever possible, to select films from each festival category available (e.g. Special Presentations, World Showcase, Canadian Spectrum, etc).

At Home Marathon: Select one film from at least six different genres (e.g. Action, Foreign, Drama, Documentary, Horror, Sci-fi, etc.)

2) Make Sure You Have Room to Run! – In a perfect world it would be nice to leave the theatre and take a leisurely walk to the next film. Unfortunately, part of the festival experience consists of running from theatre to theatre with mere minutes to spare in between films. When possible, it is important to include travel time when planning your schedule. Delays and Q&A’s can often throw off the film's running time so it is always nice to have a little buffer to ensure you do not miss the beginning of your next film.

At Home Marathon: Be sure to take breaks in between each film. Also, mix up the viewing order based on length of film. Do not throw in two three hour films back to back. Slip in an 80 minute film to break things up a bit.

3) Do Not Abuse the Buddy System – I have no problem with people saving seats for friends. I have done it many times myself. Yet try not to save more than two or three seats tops for friends who are running a bit late. There is nothing more annoying than getting to the theatre and seeing someone try and save an ENTIRE ROW for people!

At Home Marathon: If the movie marathon is being held at your house you get first dibs on which seat you want, after that it is every person for themselves. If there is not enough seats, institute a policy where everyone switches seats after each film. That way the same person is not sitting on the floor for six to seven films straight.

4) Eat Often! – This is much easier than it sounds. One of the things that film festivals do is throw your usual eating habits out the window. Sometimes half a day goes by before you get anything of substance in your system. Eat whenever you can, even if you are not particularly hungry, this will give you the extra energy boost you need to sit through all those movies, and run from theatre to theatre.

At Home Marathon: Make sure there are plenty of munchies available. Have everyone chip in a few bucks for a couple of late night pizzas as well.

5) Know Your Limits – There is no shame in “tapping out” on a given day. While movie lovers want to see as many films as possible, sometimes the body has different plans. While “power naps” in the theatre can be helpful, there will be times when you just have to call it a day and start again tomorrow.

At Home Marathon: Ensure that you have ample room for people to stay over. Several will start falling asleep just before the 3 am viewing of the latest Stallone movie. This brings up another important point! Try to keep the action flick until later in the night. 3 in the morning is no time to start a slow moving Jane Austin period piece.


  1. Well said on every point!

    My only added bit of advice would be to actually schedule in a bit of down time, keeping a night or an afternoon blocked off for some writing if its your thing, some socializing, or even some much needed rest.

  2. HA! Great advice. I normally avoid film festivals just because they're so intense, but I might brave the fray this time and keep this handy list of advice in the back of my head. And I've got to agree with you about the action movie bit--there's little better than a 3 am explosionfest.

  3. Haha, this is great, enjoyed it. Something similar has been brewing in my mind about movie marathons for a while : - )

  4. Good advice all around! My girlfriend and I had a Die Hard marathon a few months back. By the end of the third movie we were completely burnt out on John McClane. It might have been a little too much ass-kicking for one day. :)

  5. I've never been to a film festival, but I really want to - so thanks for the advice, I'll try to think of it.
    To begin with, I'll start using it at home, for a movie marathon.

  6. Thanks for the tips CS. I'm about to embark on a 16-film marathon for my 2011 Cannes Film Festival Marathon.

    Yet, since there's going to be family coming throughout that month. It's going to be very busy so I'm going watch some of those films earlier than I intended but have the reviews released during the duration of the festival.

  7. dEmon9:29 pm

    I might just add that alcohol is often an important ingredient for a movie marathon. Not too much (you don't want to fall asleep), but enough to get you through the movies that end up falling in the less than entertaining category. I also recommend a who-will-last-the-night contest. Prize doesn't have to be anything special, but bragging rights are so important!

    Film festival-wise... CS pretty much has it covered. Always throw a granola bar or something in your bag to get you through when you're dying from hunger. Never be afraid to get up and walk out on films that suck from the start - or use those films to catch up on much needed sleep. And talk to the people around you in the line-up. You never know when they'll come in handy (and vice versa). If you're lucky, they'll save you a premo space in line at your next film or hold your spot while you run to get food.

  8. Love this post.

    As you know I have no festivals near me but I am always trying to (and failing) set up marathons, weekenders and so forth. BUt I seem to fails every time.

    Great advice.

    Thanks CS


  9. @Hatter – That is good advice. It is something that I often neglect to do. This is why I always find myself scrambling at the end of festivals to write down my thoughts.

    @M.Hufstader – I think everyone should experience a film festival at least once. Even if you only see one movie, it is still nice to be around other hardcore cinema lovers.

    @5plitreel – I say you should let whatever is brewing in your mind out. If that means holding a marathon and writing about it afterwards, all the better.

    @Twscritic – I have never been able to do a straight marathon for one film franchise. Although a Die Hard marathon sounds pretty sweet as long as I do not have to watch Die Hard 2 again (not a fan of that film).

    @Lime(tte) – At home movie marathons are surprisingly good training for film festivals. I recommend attempting it on a Saturday and picking about 3 to 6 films to start.

    @Thevoid99 – 16 films is truly a feat, especially considering how diverse the Cannes selections can be at times. Look forward to reading your reviews of the films.

    @dEmon – The “who-will-last-the-night contest” is a mandatory element. I cannot believe I left that out!

    Oddly enough, I have never walked out on an awful film at a festival. I have come close on a few occasions but ultimately stood my ground. Usually I either take a “power nap” or, if my next film does not start for another two hours, just sit there and endure the pain.

    @Custard – As long as you make it through one or two films than consider it a partial success. Very few can nail the entire movie marathon every single time. I remember times when my friends and I picked six films to watch and I only made it through five. Some of my friends only made it through one.

  10. I am planning to visit Toronto for TIFF this coming September. I'm wondering, do all screenings sell out and how important is it to arrive early?

    I know my limits and how much I enjoy thinking about the films I watch, so I rarely do more than 3 films per day, even if I have absolutely zero things planned other than watching movies.

  11. @Edgar – TIFF does a good job of trying to accommodating everyone. You may only get 20 of your 25 choices, but you can always use those five remaining tickets for other films.
    As for when to arrive, it all depends on what you plan to do in Toronto (i.e. just see movies, do some sightseeing, etc). If you plan to buy one of the TIFF ticket packages than you should be able to arrive whenever you feel like as your tickets will already be set in stone. Plus, you can always order individual, or extra tickets, daily online (depending on availability) so it really just depends on what you want your schedule to be.

    If you make it down for TIFF, you should come out the blogger pub night. One is usually held during TIFF.


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