Whether it’s Cannes, Venice or Berlin, here’s how to stay one step ahead of the crowds – ideally in a pair of comfortable shoes
Do your homework
Film festivals favour the well-prepared. Last-minute whims are all very well, but in many cases tickets are available online days or even weeks before the festival has kicked off. Hot titles will sell out quickly. It pays to do as much as you can in advance. Familiarise yourself with the festival infrastructure. Queueing is an inevitable part of the experience, and a little research should tell you just how long to leave to be on the safe side (nothing is more galling than queueing for an hour and still not getting in).
Be aware that as a paying punter, rather than an accredited delegate, you may find your access to certain sections of the festival is limited. In Cannes, for example, not only does the festival’s main hub, the Palais des Festivals, require a photo badge to gain access, so do many of the big hotels.
But you can still rub shoulders with the industry if you find the right watering hole – in Cannes, the glitzier option is the terrace of the Grand Hotel. If the bragging blowhards and the silly prices wear you down, the Petit Majestic, a no-frills bar in the street behind the Grand, is a buzzy, more affordable option.
Talk to people
Strike up conversations wherever you find yourself. Not only will it help pass the time in those interminable queues, you can get valuable tips on which films to watch (and which to avoid) and occasionally get lucky with spare tickets to screenings or parties. Likewise, reach out to fellow festival attendees on social media – many are all too happy to offer opinions and guidance on Twitter.
Manage expectations and be flexible
I know, I know, you have studied the programme and set your heart on catching the latest opus by Paul Thomas Anderson. But so has everyone else. Bearing in mind that movies by the big-name directors will often turn up on general release within a couple of months, is it really worth battling the competition for the most over-subscribed screenings? It’s often advisable to take a chance on the smaller names: the first-time film-makers or the short-film programmes. It’s a risk, certainly, but one that can pay off handsomely. Not only could you be discovering the next PTA at the beginning of their career, you may not get another chance to see pictures like these outside of the festival circuit. And nothing beats the thrill of being among the first people to watch what turns out to be one of the films of the festival.
Plan your wardrobe
Comfort is key, particularly in the shoe department. You will probably spend a lot of time plodding between venues. But also be aware of any festival guidelines. Some of the red carpet premieres in Cannes, for example, are black-tie affairs. The festival staff are notoriously strict when it comes to enforcing the policy, although the official line has been relaxed after the 2015 “heelgate” protests from female guests who were allegedly turned away for wearing flats.
Find somewhere to sleep that isn’t a cinema
Accommodation can be tricky at the most popular events, with Cannes and Venice proving particularly overcrowded. In the former, the cheap deals are booked up six months in advance; in Venice, visitors often find themselves a boat ride away from the festival’s hub on the Lido, then have to factor in travel time and waterbus ticket prices. Never – and I can’t stress this enough – leave it to the last minute. My first Cannes was a seat-of-the-pants affair and I found myself staying in a sleepy mountain village. It was achingly pretty but a 45-minute bus ride from the festival. To have any chance to get into the morning screenings, I had to catch a 6am bus each day, which rather took the shine off my glamorous festival experience.
Remember to eat and drink
This may sound like a no-brainer but it’s worryingly easy to forget to stay hydrated and to skip meals when you are caught up in a festival. Fruit, water and protein bars should be part of your survival kit. On a related note, never turn down a party ticket – it is possible to subsist for a week on canapes alone. Apparently.