• Image about The Cannes Film Festival
Tribeca Film Festival, New York

Film Festivals You Can Attend

Fans lined up days in advance, sleeping on sidewalks from New York to London, eager to be the first to watch the final installment in George Lucas’ six-part Star Wars epic. The only catch was that even the earliest and hardiest concrete campers missed the real debut. That honor went to guests at the Cannes Film Festival in France, where Lucas screened his masterpiece in public for the very first time.

Cannes is the most famous film festival in the world, with many high-profile premieres, but it is hardly the only one. There are hundreds of others, big and small, general and specialized, many of which also feature important premieres — and just about every one of them is easier to attend than Cannes. The French Riviera is expensive and exclusive even before thousands of industry VIPs and Hollywood stars roll into town, making everything from film passes to hotel rooms nearly impossible for fans to obtain. It can also be intimidating: Cannes has a strict dress code, and while it may be apocryphal, it’s said they have turned away black-tie guests whose shoes did not match their tuxedos.

  • Image about The Cannes Film Festival
TIFF Bell Lightbox, Toronto International Film Festival
Fortunately, for every exclusive film festival — from Cannes to Sundance — there are many alternatives that are much less daunting and much more user friendly, yet still have the main appeals of the biggies: celebrity star power, important new films and plenty of artistic discussion. Serious film buffs may attend a festival hoping to discover the next surprise indie breakout, like 2007’s Paranormal Activity, which won widespread acclaim and spawned an entire “found footage” genre yet didn’t have a distribution deal until positive reactions from festival audiences. There’s also the adventurous aspect of attending a festival and seeing a movie you know absolutely nothing about — a rarity at your home multiplex. It was an instance such as this that allowed me to randomly enjoy the wine-country romance Sideways before it won rave reviews (or any reviews, for that matter) and to see director Alexander Payne speak at length about his vision for the movie and the filmmaking process behind it.

For mainstream fans, festivals might simply be an opportunity to get a jump on the general public for big-budget releases. In October, guests at the very welcoming and inexpensive New Orleans Film Festival watched The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest two weeks before the rest of the country. Some offer both experiences, such as Telluride, which in recent years has premiered high-profile features such as George Clooney’s Up in the Air, while also introducing soon-to-be-hit sleeper films like Slumdog Millionaire and Juno. Almost all festivals show shorts, foreign films and documentaries in addition to narrative features.

For some festivalgoers, though, the films are secondary to the brushes with celebrity. Festivals offer an opportunity to rub shoulders with starlets, leading men and filmmakers; to sit in on small panel discussions; to attend posh opening parties or simply to line the red carpet. Whatever your pleasure, you can find it easily at these accessible alternatives to the world’s most elite film festivals.