A Beginner’s Guide to Being a Film Festival Expert

Dimly lit theatre full of people

Film festivals are a great way to broaden one’s cinematic horizons. Found all over the world, a festival offers the opportunity to immerse oneself in film. However, deciding which one to attend can seem like a daunting task.

Fortunately, there are a few key festivals that are hubs of inspiration and global connection. Here are the Top 5 Festivals to attend from around the world—and a few tips on surviving them.

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Festival de Cannes (Cannes, France):

Theatre presentation at French film festival, Festival de Cannes

Why Attend? This festival is possibly the most prestigious film festival in the world. Cannes showcases and premieres films from the world’s top directors and emerging filmmakers and serves as a model for festivals internationally. From the newest installment in the Shrek saga to the widely acclaimed Carol, there is always something to see.

While Cannes has long been a place that has embraced new creative movements in cinema, the festival’s rules and traditions prevent it from evolving. Canne’s reluctance to adapt to the modern cinema market has earned it criticism from those claiming it is not a “People’s Festival.” However, it remains a memorable and distinguished event.


  • Take care of your feet: Cabs can be scarce, so plan on a lot of walking. Be sure that your footwear is comfortable and durable.
  • Monoprix is your new best friend: This store is essentially the French Target. Stock up on everything and anything you need here, from water bottles to cheap hygiene products and sunblock.
  • Make the most out of the experience: Try to attend at least one black tie event and a midnight premiere. The glamour is part of what makes Cannes so unique!

Venice Film Festival (Venice, Italy):

Outside of Venice Film Festival

Why Attend? For many, Venice ranks alongside Cannes as the pinnacle of the film festivals. Beginning in 1932, it is the oldest of its kind in the world. And like its French counterpart, the August/September event continues to be full of splashy premieres, stars, parties and paparazzi.

It has long been at the forefront for defining how a film festival should look and feel. That is not to say the substance isn’t there either. Venice is the destination of some of the most important world premieres in any given year—Brokeback Mountain, The Wrestler and A Single Man—to name a few.


  • Plan your route: Venice is a tricky city to figure out. Make sure you plan out the route to your hôtel and venues. It will make your life a lot easier during your time there.
  • Watch what you eat: Only eat breakfast or lunch at places that have their prices posted somewhere. Some places will take advantage of foreigners, hiking up the prices of their food.
  • Stay in Venice proper: The festival is held on the Lido, which is not nearly as interesting as Venice. Staying in Venice allows you to explore the city on days when you are not scheduled to see a film.

Toronto International Film Festival (Toronto, Canada):

Model walking down Toronto film festival runway

Why Attend? Known for its outstanding variety of quality content, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) showcases multiple major Oscar contenders every year. Films such as American Beauty, Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, and Crash all owe a majority of their buzz during awards season to their strong showings at Toronto.

Due to the festival’s crucial date in September, the Toronto International Film Festival agenda establishes the top films leading up to the Oscars. But TIFF has more than just its Oscar worthy appeal; the festival is often commended for the incredible amount of content it packs into 10 days. TIFF attracts talent from established and emerging filmmakers alike, creating an array of programs from a set of children’s movies, to a slate of hard-hitting documentaries.

If TIFF were the only fest a film buff attended each year, he or she would walk away from it with a good sense of cinema’s best right now.


  • Take advantage of rush lines: If you don’t mind the hour or so wait, rush lines can be a great way to get tickets to an otherwise sold out film. You would be surprised by the number of people who don’t show up to the event, particularly corporate representatives, and how many people look to sell their tickets last minute.
  • Head to King Street West: Every year, the city blocks off King Street West for pedestrians, vendors and other attractions. Take in art installations, a larger than life chess board, local food trucks, live music, a decked out public piano, and so much more.
  • Play by the rules: Everyone is there to enjoy the films. So show the others how it’s done. Turn off your phones during screenings, don’t wear a hat that obscures the view of the people behind you, etc.

Sundance Film Festival (Park City, U.S.A):

Sundance Film Festival Theatre Marquee

Why Attend? Heralded as the United States’ most important film festival, Sundance Film Festival has become a cradle of the American indie movement. This festival is one of the most important places to discover new talent and has developed a reputation as the voice of Independent filmmakers. It is also a place for smaller films to be sold. Take Nate Parker’s The Birth of A Nation, for example. The film scored a 17.5 million dollar deal with Fox Searchlight, the largest deal in Sundance’s history.

The business side of Sundance continues to evolve with streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix snatching up many of the festival’s successes. Although the economic aspect of Sundance develops, the festival’s role as a showcase for the most anticipated titles in American film remains unchanged.


  • Cheap accommodations are possible: If you are going with a group, rent a condo a few miles away from Main Street and make sure it’s near a shuttle. You can also check out Chateau Apres as an affordable alternative.
  • Bundle up: It’s January in Utah, it’s going to be cold! Skip the glamour and pick up your trusty snow boots and parka. Everyone will be doing the same, even at the parties and events.
  • Take advantage of the shuttle: Park City has a great Shuttle system. Learn the routes, and use them to get around. Do not rent a car.

Telluride Film Festival (Colorado, U.S.A) :

Telluride Film Festival parade at dawn

Why Attend? Held over Labor Day weekend, this unique film festival offers both new and classic films in a great venue. The festival is lesser known than its counterpart in Utah and attracts only the most dedicated movie buffs. However, those who attend are in for a treat. Top-notch projection and sound give attendees the chance to experience a sort of cinematic summer camp. Conversations with directors, producers, actors, and more offer insight on films and filmmaking, while the low-key social scene and in-depth printed program notes provoke conversations among attendees.

Telluride is also known for releasing its lineup at the last minute, often to the delight of its viewers. This allows Telluride to steal away some of the anticipation for certain films from Toronto, causing a minor rivalry between the two festivals.


  • Pick the right Pass: There are several different passes. Make sure to pick the one that fits your needs the best. If it is your first time at a festival, go with a more affordable pass. If you are a seasoned festival goer, you might want to shell out some more cash for the perks of a more experience-rich pass.
  • Know the buzz: Learning a film’s reputation can help you distinguish between a must-see film and one you can skip. Talk to people around you and discover how to plan your schedule.
  • Stay hydrated: Telluride is in the mountains. You’ll be running around all day and will most likely have issues sleeping your first few nights. Staying hydrated is key to keeping you on your feet (and awake during the movies).

We hope this list helps you find the film festival that’s right for you and your budget. As you can see, film festivals are a wonderful experience. Not only do they offer a first look at the some of the most highly anticipated films of the year, but they offer a unique opportunity to discover something new, and connect with other people with similar interests.


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