How to attend the Vancouver International Film Festival

VIFFMovies, popcorn, and premieres. Oh my. The Vancouver International Film Festival (September 26 – October 11) is fast approaching, and with numerous festival theatres downtown Vancouver, Sandman is very excited for this year’s festival.

Now it’s time to go to the movies. Let’s walk through some tips, in chronological order, beginning with the moment you enter the theatre and sit down.

theatre1) First things first: locate your favourite seat (after awhile, you will have one in every venue).

2) The smartest thing to do is visit the washroom about ten minutes before the start of the film. Experienced festival-goers also use this time as an opportunity to share feedback on movies they’ve seen.

3) Most events start on time. VIFF is particularly good about this as screenings are usually booked one after another in the same venue. Staffers use a terrific wireless audio system which really helps things go like clockwork. All festivals have volunteers, but the ones at VIFF are a breed apart. Most return year after year and work very hard, so take some time and acknowledge their presence.

4) “On time” doesn’t mean the lights go down. Almost all movies are preceded by an introduction. This is usually done by a festival programmer. Occasionally, the filmmaker(s) and/or cast members come up prior to the screening but their remarks are usually brief. Most directors say something along the lines of, “Let’s just watch the film and let it speak for itself.”

5) The festival rep will run through a series of announcements, including thanking the major sponsors. You’ll probably have this memorized after a few screenings and be able to recite them along with the staffer. At this point, if you haven’t already done so, it’s time to turn off your cellphones, pagers, beepers, anything that makes noise, buzzes, or has a light.

movie trailer6) Once the lights go down, you’ll see a series of trailers. The primary one lists the various festival sponsors. It’s usually well done with snazzy graphics and cool music. It has to be because you might see it 30 times. Kudos to the festival for always making sure of this. You’ll be tapping along before you know it. You may be reminded to vote for the audience award and to thank the festival volunteers. It’s customary to applaud at this point. That’s always a lot of fun, especially if you’re the one who starts it.

7) By the way, there is a possibility that either during the intro or during the trailers there will be a note about anti-piracy measures being taken. You may then hear a loud “ahhhhrrrrr” emerge from the crowd. It is customary to join the cacophony.

8) Once the lights go down, the standard rules apply as for any movie. Watch it. Don’t talk. One thing you’ll notice is that, in most cases, festival audiences are extremely respectful of these rules and you’ll be spoiled in no time at all. Even at the venues where food and beverages are served throughout the films (not all allow it), patrons know enough to chew and imbibe so as not to distract. The next time you go to your local multiplex, you’ll wish you were back at a festival screening. There is nothing to compare to a festival audience when it comes to respect for the filmmakers.

movie credits9) The film ends. Here is where things become dicey. To leave during the credits or not to leave? Well, keep in mind that there will, in many cases, be a Q&A. Still, many can’t resist the urge to get up and head out as soon as the names start to roll. Keep in mind that someone mentioned on screen might actually be in the next seat. Literally. Of course, if you’ve scheduled your next event too close in time to and/or far away in distance from the current one, then you may have no choice.

10) Many screenings have a Q&A after the lights go up. This generally applies to what the festival calls “Regular” screenings, not Galas. The audience will usually be informed of this during the intro. Also, the likelihood of a Q&A decreases with successive showings of films later in the week depending on whether or not the folks connected with the production are still in town. It’s one of the main reasons to attend film festivals, Nowhere else do you have the opportunity to question the filmmakers, cast, and crew about what you just saw.

11) Usually the same person who did the introduction will call up whoever is present to represent the film. In most cases, these are the director and cast members. In any case, the Q&As are more than anything what distinguishes a festival screening from one at your local theatre and help make the experience a memorable one.

12) A Q&A doesn’t work without the Q. Be ready and don’t be intimidated. That’s what they’re there for. In most cases, it is considered impolite to ask more than one. The session will go on as long as people have questions to ask, and/or until cut off by a festival staffer in order to clear the house for the next film.

13) Depending on how long the session goes and/or if another screening is coming in, there may be an opportunity to meet the filmmakers and actors. This happens more often than most people think and you don’t have to be a VIP.

14) At times, the filmmakers and cast members are moved out to the lobby or on the street and greet the public there. They often will take pictures, sign autographs, etc. You don’t have to be a member of the press to rub elbows with the stars.

Whether this is your first film festival or your 50th, it is always a new experience. Enjoy the show!

film reel