Film festivals can be overwhelming — there is either too much to see, or all the films you want to see are playing at the same time and/or across town. But don’t be discouraged! As a festival veteran, here are a few guidelines for how to attend and determine what to watch this year.
Find the “rare” jewels.
Many of the films unspooling at the festival have distributors and are likely to play Philadelphia in the coming weeks and months. (Or will turn up on DVD eventually.) For every talked-about film like “Shame,” which features a full-frontal turn by Michael Fassbender as a sex addict, there are sleepers waiting to be discovered. “Turn Me On, Dammit” also deals with out-of-control sexuality — of the teenage variety in this case — and also feature a naked penis.
If you do build your schedule around “tentpole” films, be flexible and allow plenty of time before and after the published time as things sometimes start/end later than scheduled — especially if there are Q&As after the film. That said, sometimes a film seen by chance/accident because of a scheduling situation can be a pleasant surprise.
On that same note, take an adventurous risk. Some folks pick films because they like a certain actor or director. Love goofball Seann William Scott, but not a fan of hockey? Well, “Goon” could prompt laughter or cringing. Maybe take an opportunity to just go see something from a country you want to visit, or on an unfamiliar topic. “Benda Balili” is a documentary about homeless disabled musicians in the Congo who make instruments out of trash. There are probably not too many chances to visit and learn about this culture outside of this film.
Or, stick to your comfort zone. You are what you watch. Foodies should not miss “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” a marvelous documentary about a sushi master. Interested in the social-justice documentaries? There are several at the fest. “Scenes of a Crime,” about a man coerced into confessing to a crime he didn’t commit is as fascinating as “Give Up Tomorrow,” about a Filipino man imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. For anyone who followed the “Paradise Lost” series, about the West Memphis 3, the Philadelphia Film Festival is showing all three documentaries in one afternoon.
Pick a theater and stay there. Like the “Paradise Lost” trilogy, “Drieleben” is a series of three interconnected German films that are showing back to back to back. Or watch “Coriolanus,” Ralph Fiennes’ adaptation of Shakespeare’s play after seeing “Anonymous” about the real author of Shakespeare’s plays. Out actor Udo Kier will age 20 years in reverse for anyone seeing “Europa” after “Melancholia.”
Check out a first-time film. Discovering new talent is always exciting and one of the benefits of attending a film fest. There are many options to find the next cinematic sensation at the fest including, “Collaborator,” “Green” and “Policeman.”
Research and read reviews. Buzz — both good and bad — circulates about the films before and during the fest, and can influence expectations. Listen politely to the folks in line/at theaters, but it’s usually best to heed advice from those folks (friends, critics) who share your taste in film. What a stranger likes might be a little strange to you.
A few last, important things for a successful festival: Don’t talk during the film. Don’t text/use your cell phone — it’s distracting! And never reveal the ending of a movie (even if it’s a true story). Plus, don’t forget to thank the volunteers.
See you at the festival.