The Festival Experience: Sundance/Tribeca/TIFF

by Shep. Burman · October 22, 2012 · Articles · No Comments

The Festival Experience
Hello, fellow LAMBs. This is Shala from Life Between Film. I volunteered some months back to provide film festival tips and guides since I have become a regular festival goer the last couple of years. So I’m starting now as the 2013 festival season is gearing up. Now, I have never claimed to be a festival expert nor do I have industry credentials and connections like some may have, but I have garnered some valuable experience on how to navigate festivals successfully and get the most out of them. I do want to state that this may only represent MY experiences which may not be the experiences of others. Additionally, my knowledge only extends to the major North American festivals – Sundance, Tribeca, and Toronto – so my posts will only concentrate on these (if there are any LAMBs with experience attending some of the major European festivals – Cannes, Berlin, Venice – and would like to co-contribute to this feature, please contact me or Joel). I do hope though that my contributions will be appreciated and prove helpful to someone.
Are you thinking about attending Sundance, Tribeca or TIFF in 2013, but you’re not sure which one?  Here are my opinions on which are the best based on the experiences you would like to have and what is most important to you in a festival:

Best festival updates/twitter feed: Sundance. I follow all the official twitter feeds throughout the year for these three film festivals, and for me, the two official ones for Sundance are the best (@sundancefest, @sundancefestnow). For me, Sundance film festival gives you the best and most complete, all-access pass throughout the year to festival films and their progress from festival to theaters, background of Sundance Lab filmmakers and alums, the behind-the-scenes processes of bringing the festival to life, editorial and news on Sundance filmmakers, updates on what Sundance movies are playing in a theater near you, and lots more. During the festival, I think this feed a great resource, giving more updates on special events, ongoing filmmaker panels at the Filmmaker’s lodge and film screenings, give-aways, and up-to-the-minute news on your favorite actors and films. Following during the festival lets you know where you should be to have the best experience. What is also cool about Sundance is that they choose a few “guest tweeters” every festival, people in the industry (writers, directors, actors) who take control of the twitter feed for a day to give you a glimpse into what events that attend, who they meet and run into, and their film passions.
Best last minute optionToronto. For the person that decides to fest late, I think Toronto is the best bet. From my experience, TIFF is probably one of the best kept secrets from the masses where film festivals are concerned. For whatever reason, between these three major festivals, this one is the least crowed. Plus, with individual tickets not going on sell until about 4-5 days before the festival without any ticket registration, those who decide at the last minute to attend can still get tickets for those popular movies that are screening.
Easier to get around: Tribeca. Tribeca wins hands down; it’s NYC after all. The majority of the festival is in Tribeca (that’s the TRiangle BElow CAnal street for all of you who are not aware) so if it’s not in walking distance, then it’s easy (and relatively cheap at $2.25 per ride) to hope all the extensive subway system. Sure, Toronto has a subway but it’s relatively more limited and a little more expensive ($3 per ride). For Sundance, you have to rely on the festival buses (in the cold and snow) which are great, but for me, does not beat the frequency of the subway.
Best celebrity spottingToronto. Okay, I was so ready to say Sundance until I attended Toronto this year. At Sundance, you literally trip over them walking through downtown as the bulk of the festival takes place in Park City, a small town that is pretty much taken over with Sundance activity during festival time. There is one main street which holds the Sundance Festival Store, Festival Headquarters (great place to hang out), Entertainment Weekly Studio, etc. If you walk up and down that street, the laws of the universe (and probability) say that you will spot someone famous. That coupled with all the post-screening panels that are heavily attended by the cast, you will always a good chance of seeing many of them. I’ll give Sundance the very close second place prize. However, in my experience, I’ve had even BETTER luck at TIFF. I didn’t necessarily see more people in the industry but I had more ACCESS to them. Again, I think this has alot to do with the fact that IMHO TIFF is less crowded than the others and/or has less people clamoring to get to the actors/filmmakers there. I had more face time and interaction with more people at TIFF, be it at the red carpet events, film screenings and even just on the streets of Toronto.
Easier ticket process/best ticket priceTribeca. For many, the process of getting tickets may not be a big deal, but it is for me. Across the gambit, on the spectrum of love to hate, I absolutely loathe Sundance’s process of registering to get a ticket purchase first (which means that you may be the first the register but that last to get actually purchase tickets… which usually happens to me and sucks). Many industry folk attend Sundance and probably get ticket packages (and first crack at tickets) so when it comes around to individual tickets (about $15), it’s common for them to be sold out come time for individual tickets you want, especially if you’re attending the front end of the festival. You can rush (stand in line before sold-out shows to see if they release tickets) but you may have to be in line 2 hours or more depending on the film as Sundance is heavily attended. You can get a ticket package but the prices are IMHO, very expensive ($325+). On the other hand, TIFF has affordable ticket packages that doesn’t go too much above the price of an individual ticket (I strongly suggest the 10-flex pack for first-timers, which can be used throughout the festival), but I don’t necessarily like how they separate out (and consequently price out) red carpet premieres (usually the first screening and the ones the stars and filmmakers will definitely attend) from other screenings (about $40 vs. $20), which mean you have to pay more to see the first screening, the screening that the cast/filmmakers will definitely attend. Other film festivals don’t do that. For me though, Tibeca is the best. Every screening is the same price no matter premiere or repeat screening (about $16). Plus, they have matinee prices so any screening before 6 pm (and after 11pm) is cheaper (about $8). And you can even print them at home and not have to make a special trip to will call to pick up tickets (something you have to do with TIFF and Sundance unless you want to incure shipping charges).
Best festival non-film eventsSundance. I haven’t attended alot of non-film events at film festival but if there was one festival I would do it for, it’s Sundance. Sundance is unique because not only does it set out to capitalize on its film scene but also Sundance puts alot into pubbing up its music scene, offering special live concerts at the Sundance Music Cafe and music events at the Sundance House.  After all, film and music often go hand in hand. Since my time attending the festival, there have been special live music from Josh Kelley, Ingrid Michaelson, Matt Nathanson, Ice T & Chuck D, etc. Additionally, with special access, you can see special performances like Jason Mraz at sponsored bars in downtown. Also, as I hear, Sundance parties are AWESOME with a capital A (what else is there to do at night during winter in Utah?). I plan on trying to talk my way into a couple this year; wish me luck.
Most indie credSundance. Come on, it’s Sundance. It has a certain clout. To me, it has, fair or not, the biggest indie cred across all festivals in North America. Why? It could be Sundance Labs that capitivate the indie spirit of helping and molding up and coming filmmakers. Or maybe that it is the big film festival to kick off the calendar year of festing. Or even that it boost giving voices to some of the best filmmakers – Steven Soderbergh, Darren Aronofsky, Quentin Tarantino. All I know is, once you have made it in to Sundance as a filmmaker, you have accomplished something special that is noted in the industry.
Best location: Tribeca. Here I go again with my New York bias. Don’t get me wrong, Sundance is gorgeous with all it’s snow and mountains and quaint picturesque landscape, but uhh, it’s really cold (I’m a girl from Louisiana; I can only take some much). Not to mention that it’s a small place that if you don’t have connections (and not into snow sports), it may be different to find fun things to do. Toronto is also a cool city with its own quirks and unique avenues (definitely check out Keningston Market if you go there), but nothing quite beats New York. It’s a city that has anything that you want to see, do, or even eat.
Most likely to make a friend in lineSundance. I stood in line for many a rush ticket, and I have to say that I have never has more conversations and met more people than at Sundance. I mean I’ve gotten numbers and contact info even when I don’t set out to do so. I attribute it to the fact that the people in line next to you are either small town locals (with the small town “make a friend” mentality; hey, i’m from a small town so I get it and know its real) or from somewhere else but have this passion to just discuss movies. You have to agree that if you traveled all the way to Utah and you’re not in the industry, you must really love films just that much to want to talk to the person next to you on what they are seeing, what you have seen, or recommendations between the two or you.
My overall favoriteSundance. Sundance has branded itself as an film EVENT. We forgive all the hassle because it’s Sundance. It’s in the air when you’re there. It’s why so many people attend. When you’re there, you can’t help but feel like you’re some where important.
If you ever want to read about the films I screened at festivals, people in the industry I have met, and festival-related events I have attended, head over to The Festival Experience section of my blog. I have documented some of my experiences this year. If you’re interested in attending one of these festivals in 2013 and have questions, let me know. This could also include if there are other categories for which you would like me to compare the festivals as above.  I’ll answer them to the best of my ability. Sundance is gearing up so expect some guides specifically for this festival soon. Also, if anyone is interested in attending Sundance and would like to share a ticket package, hit me up. Until next time.

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