My First Film Festival

Posted at — Nov 2, 2021

Passing cover photo I took this photo at the panel with director Rebecca Hall and the cast of ‘Passing’—Tessa Thompson, Ruth Nega, and André Holland.

For as long as I can remember, watching films has been my favorite hobby. I engaged in it academically and socially in my schooling years. And when I moved to New York post-college, I emailed my college film professor to learn how I could get involved in the film scene here.

He recommended that I looked at the Lincoln Center, and I signed up for their New York Film Festival 2021. It started on September 24 and lasted till October 10, 2021. As it was my first time attending a film festival, I didn’t know what to expect. It turned out to be both more modest and yet grander than I had imagined.

Signing Up

The sign up process for a screening was easy: I bought the tickets online. The tickets were forty dollars, which is double the normal ticket price. But I got to see and hear from the directors and cast in person at the panels that happen after each movie. The festival is a star-studded event, and this year it was attended by A-listers like the Coen brothers, Dennis Villanuevue, Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Despite the variety, I still missed out on several popular screenings. I especially regret missing Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter and the panel featuring her and the cast; and Dennis Villanueve’s Dune and his Q&A. My friend managed to refresh the site until tickets became available and caught The Lost Daughter this way.

I plan to go again next year, and this time, I’ll be sure to sign up on the first day that tickets are available. I’ve also signed up for a Lincoln Center membership and that would allow me to book tickets in advance. If you had asked me last year, I would never have paid $370 for a festival pass, but the reality is, I paid more than that in individual tickets for myself and a plus-one. I would pay the $370 next time to guarantee spots in popular screenings and to save on cost.

Besides screenings, there were also free talks and roundtables featuring the filmmakers. The first-come-first-served tickets were distributed at the box office an hour before the talks. I was unable to grab any as I was working during the time.

I am also told that there are afterparties and invite-only cocktail events, but I assume these are reserved for people in the industry.

The in-person experience

I ended up watching five films: Joel Coen’s Tragedy of Macbeth, Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, Joan Campion’s The Power of the Dog, Rebecca Hall’s Passing, and Celine Sciamma’s Petite Maman. You can see my thoughts on each of the five movies here.

Each of them was held in one of the Lincoln Center’s five theaters. Seats were assigned for the main Alice Tully Hall, but were not for the others. So it was in the viewers’ incentive to come early to get good seats at the back.

The theater experience felt a lot more intimate, local, and humble than what I expected. Somehow I had assumed that it would have the scale of a large business conference, and the splendor of the Oscars.

The reality was that all the theaters were next door to each other on 65th street. And they were a short walk away from my previous neighborhood, so it felt like I was visiting the local theaters. The red carpet events were perfunctory—they occurred at most once for each film, so famous people would stream in in a very small group each time. The red carpet itself was also short and it looked more like a photo booth at a corporate party than a dedicated walkway for the stars. The theaters themselves were ascetic — like classrooms dedicated to the craft rather than the grand interiors of a Broadway theater.

The simplicity of the event framed the renowned directors and actors as your everyday artmakers and professors. In a setting full of critics and academics, A-listers could speak more deeply about their academic influences and theses. They dove deep into specific lines in the script—what they meant and how they experimented with different intonations. I got to hear these titans talk about their craft in a similar way that my former classmates majoring in art described their own work. Maybe my dream of being a filmmaker is not too far-fetched.

While the venue itself was humble, the atmosphere amongst the audience was electric. The enthusiastic standing ovations. The violent nods at poignant takes from the directors. The multiple vigorous discussions the audience members had as they walked back home down Broadway. It was reassuring to meet others just as — if not more — passionate about film as me. The event also rekindled old friendships after chance meetings at the festival.

The New York festival turned out to be the perfect introduction to the New York film scene. It had been a goal of mine to meet fellow cinephiles I could nerd out about movies with. I thought the film scene here was just for industry insiders and academics, so I was prepared to do a lot of searching. I was elated to learn that there already was a vibrant community of amateur cinephiles and that they were open to me! The people I’ve met there are welcoming and have introduced me to other ways to stay involved in the community. I am already planning to catch more screenings and panels throughout the rest of the year.