The American Film Institute film festival, AFI Fest, runs November 5-12 in Hollywood and I think you should go.  Ok, maybe not to that one, but here’s why I think it’s important to check out a film festival at least once in your life, whether you’re a cinephile or just a casual weekend movie-goer.

Obviously, we can’t all fly off to Venice or Cannes once a year, or even Los Angeles or New York for that matter.  But I guarantee there’s an interesting festival happening somewhere near you, or at least in the closest big city to you.  You can always buy a pass and attend screenings and events that way, but volunteering is the best way to enjoy them in my opinion.  Not only do you usually get a cool, collector’s t-shirt (I’m a sucker for the freebies), but if you work enough hours, you can score tickets to some of the films/parties and meet amazing people.  And I don’t necessarily mean actors, writers, and producers, etc.–although, celeb-sightings are always fun!  There are all kinds of creative-types volunteering, who are either just as passionate about film as you are, or they want to give back to their community and help out at their local festival.  Last year I volunteered with the Austin Film Festival for the second time, and I met a girl who flew in from San Francisco just for the festival–I pointed out the best barbecue joints to her and she told me all about her blog and how she reviews cinemas.  I thought it was the coolest concept, and one that would only work in large cities that still had a big enough collection of old and new theaters–places like San Fran, New York and Chicago, especially.  It was exciting to share that common love of “going to the movies”….a lot of people enjoy movies, but to some of us it’s church.  If it’s an industry you want to work in, there are obvious benefits to mingling with people at all stages of their careers and making connections.  But you’ll enjoy it just as much if you’re going purely for your love of the medium.  I attended a screening of The Singing Detective at a small theater during the Chicago International Film Festival in 2003 and afterwards there was a Q & A with Robert Downey, Jr.  This was long before Iron Man and even Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and to be honest the interview was a little hard to follow at times so I’m not sure if this was even pre-rehab, but he has always been one of my favorite actors and it was exciting to see him at a point when he was making a comeback of sorts.  I can’t even imagine how hard it would be to see him in person now at this stage in his career and I’ll always have that experience to look back on fondly.

It’s not just film festivals that have all the fun.  One of my friends goes to the ATX Television Festival each year, and I’m pretty sure no one pays her to do this, she just loves it that much.  As she should, since it hosts all kinds of fantastic panels, screenings, and events focused on popular current and past television series.

Festival season is coming to an end, but here are a few links so you can see what’s still going on and start planning for next year.

AFI Fest (Nov 5-12)  I volunteered at this fest in 2007 and it was fantastic then, but I’m sure it’s only improved since.

Austin Film Fest (Oct 28-Nov 5)  This fest just started yesterday, so there’s still time to get involved or attend a screening!

ATX TV Fest (June 9-12, 2016)  Plenty of time to plan for this one.  Co-founders Caitlin McFarland and Emily Gipson continue to grow this festival annually, without it becoming unmanageable.  (Not an easy feat in the ever-expanding Austin!)

Chicago Int’l Film Fest (Oct 15-29)  Coming to an end, but you can get an idea of what’s in store for next season.

Boston Film Festival  Ended in September, but worth keeping an eye on for 2016.

New York Film Festival  This ended earlier this month, but check back to see what’s happening in 2016.

Atlanta Film Fest (April 1-10, 2016)  Georgia continues to grow in the television & film industry, so I’m sure this fest will draw lots of talent in all areas.

Miami Int’l Film Fest (March 4-13, 2016)  Orlando has a film festival as well, but Miami probably draws a bigger audience.

No matter how big or small your city is, I encourage you to do some research and see what’s out there and how you can get involved!

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