Every year there is a wonderful sense of anticipation in the fall as school starts up again and I begin a new term of teaching. But the greatest anticipation is for the Atlantic Film Festival which is a wonderful opportunity to see great films and spend time with friends talking about films we’ve seen and to network with the people who tell stories on the screen in our region. But to get the most out of the film festival you need to be prepared to take care of yourself, to have a plan for what you want to see, and to keep track of what you’ve seen. So much happens over any festival and if you have a film fan pass or a delegate badge there is a whole lot to do and by the time it ends you will have forgotten many things. Here are some of the ways that I get ready for the Atlantic Film Festival (but the tips will help for any festival) and the systems that I use to track what is happening.
This year the Atlantic Film Festival runs for a week with films every day. Assuming that you don’t go to the press / delegate screenings there are roughly about 2 - 3 slots every day with feature films and shorts playing. Your first task is to figure out which of those films in each slot you want to see. Sometimes you’ll have about 4 or 5 different choices. Depending on how many films you are going to see, take some chances on films you haven’t heard anything about. The programmers have watched a lot of films and you’ll be seeing the best of what they’ve seen. Everyone doesn’t share the same taste, but it’s great to take a chance and see something new. If you’ve heard a lot about something it probably will be easier to see it later, so seek out the more obscure titles. There are some films that take years to be released on DVD, but you can see them on a big screen and not have to wait. Do a bit of research on the films, directors, writers and actors in those films. When making up your schedule (and you’ll need to get the guide or go to the web site) try to have some things that you are sure about balanced off with surprises.
When you assemble the stuff you need for the festival, you need a place to keep it, so a good bag is important. The bag will be with you and will hold all of your stuff. Some clothes and food and the paper version of the guide as well as pens, notebooks, and maybe even your own printed schedule for the festival. If you’re from out of town it may also be good to have a list of places to get stuff (food, drink, and other supplies) in your bag too. If you have a smart phone you can bring an extra battery or charger along and maybe even a laptop (for quick blog posts or updates at coffee shops). My bag of choice is a Manhattan Portage Manhattan bag that is simple and big enough to hold a bunch of stuff like a water bottle, energy bars, a light jacket, notebooks, pens, a USB battery charger, cables and an iPad. If I’m riding my bike I may use my Knog briefcase-style bag that hooks on to the back of my bike.
While you can take notes on a smart phone, you don’t want to be the person who has a phone on during a film. Don’t be that person. So then you’ll need to have some way of taking notes and a notebook is ideal for that. It’s hard to see, but I’ll scribble down quotes sometimes during a film. It’s not the easiest thing to read, but it’s good for reminding me when the film is done. As the lights come up at the end and people start going out you usually have a bit of time to write some stuff down. Sometimes I’ve bought a small, softcover Moleskine Cahier notebook to write in. Most of the time I use a standard Moleskine Pocket Notebook that will fit in my pocket and write down the names of the film after the number of the film. I start at 1 and then go up from there. I keep track of the feature films and the short films. This is where the guide comes in handy as you can get the title right and also add some notes about the actors or director by finding the names in the guide if you forget about them.
Twitter is great for staying in touch with people, finding out about films, and sharing what you’ve seen or asking advice on what to see. But some of us feel a need to keep track of more things and there are other tools to use for that. My favourite private tool for keeping track of all of the films that I watch is Nathan Yau’s powerful tool that combines Twitter with the collection of personal data. It’s called Your Flowing Data and I use it to keep track of all of the films I watch. You add YFD to your Twitter contacts and then send direct messages with the data that you want to track. While I track films as well as lots of other data, for films it’s simple with the “watched” part being revelant and then I add hash tags to keep track of where I’ve seen the film (#theatre, #netflix, #dvd, or #aff2012 for the 2012 Atlantic Film Festival). As I write this I can tell you that in 2012 so far I’ve watched 194 films, which means that at some point during the festival this year there is a good chance that I will break the 200 film mark. If you want to share more of what you’re watching a new site that I quite like is the New Zealand-based film community called Letterboxd. It lets you share a profile, what you’ve watched, as well as being able to review, rate and create lists of films. So I’ll probably create a list of films I’ve seen at the 2012 Atlantic Film Festival to be able to share that with other people. You can also do some similar things with IMDb, but I really like the look and community that grown up around Letterboxd. You can also use Festival Genius online and on your smart phone to check the schedule, create your own schedule and rate films. On the site you can also see what is popular and rate the films that you’ve watched. Sometimes this is a good way to get an idea of things that you want to see and keep track of things as well.
Think about what you are going to eat and when. Get some protein and energy bars to bring with you in case the food plans fall through. Pack a lunch and some snacks. Popcorn is great, but after 2 or 3 days you will probably have sore lips, so spread out the treats over the length of the festival. It can also get expensive to buy snacks and meals every day, so packing at least one meal for each day will make a big difference.
Bring a water bottle and keep it filled. While there may not be a lot of water fountains around, it’s good to stay hydrated. Juice is good too and occaisional soft drinks from the theatre can be nice, but the cost can add up quickly. In a pinch there is the combo that was introduced for the film festival a few years ago with a bottle of water along with popcorn.
Wear comfortable clothes. If you’re taking advantage of the festival with a pass you’ll be spending a lot of time in the dark, so the look doesn’t really matter. With parties or galas you will want to dress up a bit, so finding the right balance is a personal challenge that you’ll need to face. For guys the classic combo is a blazer and t-shirt with jeans, but the imporant things to watch are up on the screen, so opt for comfort over style if you’re not sure. Keep in mind that while it may be warm outside that it will probably be cooler in the theatre, so finding the right balance will make the whole experience a lot more enjoyable.
Sitting in a theatre for hours at a time is a lot of fun on one level, but on another level it can make you stiff and sore. Moving around and stretching between films is imporant. Being deep within Park Lane means that you won’t see much sunshine or breathe fresh air, so take advantage of breaks to get outside and walk around. Even just walking around the block outside can clear your mind and give you a bit of energy for the other upcoming films.
Being socially awkward makes it difficult to meet and talk to people, but the great thing about a film festival and the people in the theatres is that we’re all there for the same reason — we love films — so you have a head-start on conversation as it’s different from the standard multiplex crowd. Share your thoughts and talk with people. The theatres are filled with filmmakers and actors, producers, and directors so let them know if you liked their work. Thank programmers for their choices and chat with staff and volunteers and let them know that you appreciate the work they do to share films with us. We get to enjoy their hard work and see the films they’ve picked and brought to us.
Enjoy the festival and have fun!