film festival tourism

Choose Your Movies

If you’ve never attended a film festival, you’ll probably feel overwhelmed at the number of films you can see. How to choose? First, check the festival timetable on its website to see when the program will be posted. As soon as the slate of movies appears, be ready to devote a few hours to making your choices. Some festivals will have movie tickets available at the last minute, but many sell out quickly, especially for opening and closing nights and much-anticipated titles.

Those of us who like to see foreign films usually select them by reading reviews. But festival films are new. Often there are no reviews available. True, the festival itself ordinarily provides “reviews” of its films on its website. But keep in mind that though these blurbs vary in style, they are all designed to generate an audience for the screening; they are virtually all filled with praise. These write-ups do, however, provide plot summaries and other basic information

Sometimes, you can find more unbiased reviews on the internet by googling the movie’s title. Some of these reviews are from the trade press (Variety and The Hollywood Reporter); they will emphasize the marketability of the film so that industry pros can get an idea about whether it’s right for their particular business interests. Other early reviews may be posted by bloggers. Such reviews run a range from plot summaries and off-the-cuff evaluations to informed appreciations of esoteric titles that appeal only to a narrowly defined audience. So read the reviewer as well as the review.

A more reliable method to select films is to focus on those that have won prizes. But here again, weigh the information carefully. Many of the movies that win top prizes at Cannes and other festivals are singled out because they exhibit a high degree of formal innovation. Such criteria are brought even further to the fore in the FIPRESCI prizes awarded at various fests by the international federation of movie critics. If you’re ready to be challenged, go for these choices. If, however, you’re fundamentally inclined to prefer thought-provoking themes and provocative portraits of people and cultures over radical formal experiments, lean towards film that have won audience awards at other festivals—these are the ones that audience members like you—not critics—preferred.

Jia Zhang-ke with Venice's Golden Lion Award

Chinese auteur Jia Zhang-ke with Venice's Golden Lion Award

Probably the most reliable method of all is to choose films by their writer-directors. If you’ve liked the movies made by a given filmmaker in the past, chances are you’ll like a new one as well.

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