18 Movies in 6 Days: How to Survive a Film Festival

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What would it be like to spend all of your waking hours in the movie theater? To go from nine in the morning until past midnight, watching film after film?

It might strike you as boring, or lazy. But it's work (especially with a day job). Over the last six days, I've seen 18 films, and there are others I've talked to who have seen even more. Cinema almost seems like a way of life now, the place where all of the day and night are spent. It's lovely, in a way, a rare opportunity for days of solitary and pensive time.

But for the first time in a few days, I spent a solid day out of the theater yesterday, and experienced something akin to withdrawal. I noticed I wasn't as interactive as usual, the mind constantly preoccupied with films I'd seen (like Skeletons) or couldn't wait to see (Get Low). I caught myself more than a few times wondering, "I wonder if what that person just said would make a good line for a film?." It felt as if I was waking from a long dream, or really a series of dreams, where I imagined robots in love (Spike Jonze's short I'm Here), a first dates on Mars (Mars), and witnessed a surreal White Stripes concert in the Yukon Territory (The White Stripes Under Great Northern Lights). Space and time had been messed with in some delightful way, and I'm dreading a little the inevitable end of it all.

There's still much to write about these films and others, but as the festival wraps up I thought it might be good to list some tips that might come in handy for other festivalgoers in the future:

Don't be afraid to leave a film. Pick a seat in the aisle, and if the picture isn't worthwhile after a half hour or so, be ready to leave and try to make it to something else. There are some films that I gave 45 minutes to an hour to, and others I sat all the way through, but in retrospect nothing that I didn't like in the first 30 minutes ever got any better by the end.

If your festival is anything like SXSW, be prepared to spend some time in line. That means wearing comfortable shoes, always having a granola bar on your person, access to water, and the willingness to chat up your neighbors waiting with you. Many folks are here to network, and pretty much all of them love film, so the conversations are easy and mutually understood to be something to pass the time.

Allow yourself an extra hour of time after the stated end time of each film. Pictures will inevitably (and, sadly here at SXSW Film, almost without exception) start late, sometimes half an hour late. Add in that you need to stay for the full end credits sequence and will want to be around for the post-film Q&A, and that movie that was supposed to get out at four could easily take until five.

Presented by

Terrence Henry

Terrence Henry is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas. More

Terrence Henry is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas. In January 2009, he and his wife embarked on a food tour of Argentina, Spain, Italy, England, Canada, and the United States. Some 13 months later he settled in Austin, where he is now learning the art of Texas barbecue and writing about food and film.

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