HOWTO: Surviving IFFBoston (Updated for 2016)

The Independent Film Festival of Boston is one of the reasons I love living in Boston. In my opinion, if you are a film fan and you live in Boston, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t go all-in on the festival. This year, despite seeing a personal-record 20 films in 8 days, I found myself much less wiped out than previous years. This is mostly due to to the all-volunteer staff and crew of the festival tweaking things year-after-year, improving things for everyone. Many festivals are run strictly for the industry but IFFBoston also tries to cater just as much to the filmgoer.

Aside from all of the things the staff does to make things run smoothly, there are many tips and tricks I’ve developed myself. I realize that sharing these after the 2010 festival isn’t very helpful, but I wanted to get these written down for next year. This is mostly to augment my own memory, but hopefully you can find something useful here.

  • If you’re going to be seeing a bunch of films, buy a pass. This year, the “Film” pass was $180 (Update 2016The concepts of “passes” and “memberships” have been merged. Supporter Passes are $350 this year, and now include a membership for year-round benefits. You can buy badges here). Even if you are seeing fewer than 18 films, you have to remember all of the fringe benefits of the pass:
    1. Passholders get to enter the theater first, approximately 15 minutes before showtime. So you usually can sit wherever you’d like.
    2. Sometimes you’ll hear buzz about a particular film while talking to other festival goers, and the pass gives you the flexibility to rejigger your schedule once the festival is going.
    3. Along the same lines, even as well run as IFFBoston is, schedules can slip and Q&A sessions are sometimes too riveting to leave. Being able to decide to leave when you want to as opposed to what your tickets dictate is very nice.
    4. Passes help support the festival.
  • Simply accept that not only will you not be able to see all the films in the festival, but you likely won’t even be able to see all of the ones you are interested in. This year, there were more than 60 films available, but the most any one person can see was 20, as there were sometimes 6 screens running simultaneously.
  • There are two ways to go about scheduling. You can either
    1. Look at the list of films, going through them all and prioritizing films based on your interest. I did this in 2009, and while it worked, it was a little frustrating, as I would get hooked on the idea of seeing a film just to find out it conflicted with another film, or was logistically unrealistic (not enough time to get from the Somerville to the Brattle, for instance).
    2. What I did in 2010, and which was much less frustrating, was to use the grid view of “Festival Genius”. Going day-by-day, look at the first time-slot and pick a set of movies which you are both interested in and which work logistically for that day. You’ll still certainly have some sticky scheduling, but I found it far less frustrating. (Update 2014: RIP Festival Genius)
  • When developing your schedule, try to remember to leave slack for Q&A sessions, schedule slippage, and traveling between theatres or venues.
  • Also remember to leave a bit of slack for you to get a bite to eat!  Most years I’ve found some natural gaps between movies which gave me enough time to grab a quick bite, but review your schedule and make sure you have at least 30 minutes for some fast food (or an hour for real food, which is what I try to do).  Another strategy I’ve fallen into is to plan longer dinners (i.e. my yearly meal at Redbones) during days like Friday or Monday, where you can get the food in before the movies even start.  Save up quicker blasts (Anna’s, Spike’s, etc) for the weekend marathons.
  • After discussing things with several other fest-degens, we all seem to agree that the magic number is 5.  That is 5 films in one day, 6 is just too many.  By the 6th film you will probably be tired, somewhat dreading going into it, and largely incoherent afterwards.  This year the schedule bound Saturday to 5 films and I felt great afterwards.  That said, if I can squeeze 6 into a day next year I probably would.
  • You’ll need to decide whether or not going to the parties is important to you. For me, I want to see as many movies as possible during the festival. Since many of the parties occur while movies are being shown, I almost never go to the parties.
  • Pack, pack, pack. I am a bit obsessive in this department (doctors may say in ALL departments), but I find that a well-stocked backpack makes a crowded day of movies much more bearable. Here are some of the things I stock in my backpack:
    • Reading Material: You’ll likely need less of it than you may think, but a good magazine or small book can be clutch if you have an hour or so between movies.
    • Granola/Clif Bars: As much as I love theater refreshments, sometimes you don’t have time to wait on line between films.
    • Water: Again, my love of refreshments aside, I try to bring one or two bottles of water on the long days.
    • Face wipes: I love being able to freshen up when time doesn’t allow a quick trip to the bathroom.
    • Emergency Power: I tend to grind on my iPhone a lot during downtime between shows, so it never hurts to have a way to give it a boost if the battery starts getting low.
    • Medications: If you take any meds, don’t forget to bring them with you.
    • Layers: Late april weather is insane, so be sure to pack a sweatshirt or leave room in there to stash it later.
    • Small Umbrella: Most lines are outside.  Don’t get wet.
    • Air-activated Handwarmers: I started bringing these this year, but didn’t need them.  A few miserably cold Fenway trips this year convinced me to order a big box of these things.  Might be good ‘last resort’ on a strange cold snap or unexpected wait on line.
  • It’s not the end of the world, but this year I tried to remember to check my wallet before leaving each day and reloading it if necessary. If you’re trying to squeeze in some concessions or a meal into a tight schedule it can be frustrating to need to find an ATM.  If you want to buy merch (supports the festival!) or even a DVD or other swag from a filmmaker, plan accordingly.
  • Thank all the volunteers profusely. They are devoting tons of time to make the whole thing go off, so make sure they know they are appreciated.  And don’t gripe at them if a schedule slips, or if you are waiting on line longer than you want to.  None of them are getting paid, and i don’t believe any of them are crowd control professionals.  Also, often many of the delays are somewhat out of their hands. Imagine a local filmmaker with 100+ friends and family in the crowd, and all of them wanting to glad-hand him after the Q&A session.

That isn’t a complete list, and it is pretty random, but it should do for now…

4 thoughts on “HOWTO: Surviving IFFBoston (Updated for 2016)

  1. Note that some (maybe all?) films that had Q&As had additional times in their schedule. I think about 30 minutes. The real problem is big films in Somerville 1 starting late pushing other things around.

  2. your pass sounds a little more ideal than the ones we have for SIFF. here, if you’re a SIFF supporter, you just get discounts, and you have to pay over 1000$ or so to get to go in early. :(

    i love doing film festivals and all, but they exhaust me. the last two years, i’ve done about 20 films each year and that can lead to some exhausting days.

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