How I Decide What To Watch At Film Festivals


Right now I’m planning for my trip to volunteer at SXSW Film Festival for the second year in a row. I definitely learned a lot the first time around:

  • Be flexible. Always, always have backup screenings you can go to if your first choice doesn’t work out.
  • Carry your film guide and phone charger with you at all times. Bonus points if you can remember a jacket, chapstick, water bottle and snacks.
  • Realistically space out your films to include transit AND waiting in line time.
  • Make time for panels and parties.
  • Don’t be a fest zombie. Say “hi” to folks in line or inside the theater.

Attending a festival as a civilian is a great experience. You don’t have to worry about what you’ll saying during Q&A’s or complete strangers judging your life’s work. Whew! So what’s a film kid to do?

It’s very easy to get film festival fever. Symptoms include not sleeping for days, eating a dangerous amount of granola bars and a headache that won’t quit. I got caught up in the craze my first time volunteering at Sundance. It was not pretty at all. I was physically exhausted. The films were running together. My posts for Indies were full of typos.

A year later, I think I have a much better system. First, you have to admit that YOU CAN’T SEE EVERYTHING. Especially if you’re volunteering or working as paid staff.

Practically every industry blogger/critic will post their must-see list. That’s where I start first. Combine with highlights from the festivals themselves and you can whittle down at least half the lineup into something more manageable.

I also had to be honest with myself. I’m not in film school anymore. I have complete say in the type of movies I watch. Finally! Today my lens is geared toward films made by and featuring people of color/women and projects from first-time directors. I really love music documentaries too. Bam! I’ve narrowed down the massive film program even more.

Here are the specific web resources I’ve been using to build my SXSW film schedule:

Women in Cinema’s SXSW 2013 Female Directors and Screenwriters

Chicana from Chicago’s WTF is Latino at SXSW 2013?

Shadow and Act’s SXSW 2013 Previews:

Crafting the perfect schedule is an art form. I have to remember why I’m actually attending the festival in the first place– to volunteer! Once I jot down my shifts in a handy pocket notebook, then the real work begins.

As of now, there are 20 films I would like to see. I’ve written down all of the screening times (and LOCATIONS) for each film in case I have to regroup suddenly. Life happens at the events, just like anywhere else. I also rank my film choices in must-see order. This isn’t my first rodeo so I know often films with mainstream stars/directors will hit the local movie theaters by the fall. These are my opportunities to be blown away by the little guys.

If I don’t make it to everything, well that’s life. I’m just happy for the opportunity discover new stories and voices.

Have you ever attended a film festival as a civilian or staff? How do you decide what films to see?


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2 thoughts on “How I Decide What To Watch At Film Festivals

  1. Chicana says:

    So glad to know my WTF list is a good resource for what to see! Thanks for the shout out!


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