Tips for Attending Your First Film Festival

The Miami Film Festival is here! But wait, you’ve never attended a film festival or festival screening before. Whether you’re diving in or just dipping your toe in the water, here’s everything you need to know to make your first festival experience shine.

Actress Monica Bellucci speaks at the Miami International Film Festival in Miami, Florida, US, on 8 March 2016. EFE/Gaston De Cárdenas
Actress Monica Bellucci speaks at the Miami International Film Festival in Miami, Florida, US, on 8 March 2016. EFE/Gaston De Cárdenas

Screening rules/etiquette

First things first.

Movies start on time. Admission starts significantly before the screening and MFF releases tickets for the rush line 15 minutes before the scheduled screening. If you have a ticket and aren’t in your seat when they release tickets, you may get shut out (and there are no refunds). All of which is to say, if humanly possible, get there and line up at least a half hour before the film is scheduled to begin. (The rush line is a line that forms if the film has sold out, similar to flying standby.)

It is exteremly rude to check your phone during a festival screening. Even just to see who texted you. Shut it off. If you need to leave it on because of a potential emergency contact, and you need to check to see who texted/called while the film is running: exit, check in the lobby, and then return to your seat. Wear a watch so if you need to check the time during a screening you won’t distract others with your phone.

Research, research, research

Investing a bit of time researching the film festival pays substantial rewards!

Go through the program catalogue (PDF).

  • What are the competitions? What is their focus?
  • What are the other streams/series in the festival?
  • Decide if you want to focus on one of these groups or if you’re more interested in general exploration. But know about the various streams and what their purpose is.

Who will be attending? Which screenings feature people involved with the film and include a Q&A afterward? These are often the most rewarding sessions. (Especially if you participate in the Q&A)!

Aside from screenings (and parties), what kind of talks and panel discussions are part of the festival? Attending a panel that looks interesting will give you unique insights into filmmaking and the world of cinema. So go ahead–attend one of MFF’s Google Talks or Master Class Seminars!

For individual films that capture your attention

Find out about previous work a director in the festival has done. If you can screen previous work before seeing a director’s latest film, so much the better.

Look up web sites, FB pages, social media accounts for films you want to see.

While you’re there . . .

Say hi. You will wait in some lines, and stand around in some lobbies. Say hi to the people in line with you or standing around. (If you’re shy, start off with just “Hi.”) If you are there with friends, don’t isolate yourselves. Make an effort to speak to others. All kinds of interesting people attend festivals and festival screenings. Impromptu conversations (sometimes with people you didn’t realize are film critics, or cinematographers, or . . . ) enrich the festival experience.

Prepare a little description of who you are and why you are there. (It may sound dumb but just do it.) People will ask if you strike up a conversation. Also, based on going over the schedule, be able to share what you’ll be seeing, what you’re excited or curious about, and why. You’d be surprised the difference just having this prepared can make in terms of the people you meet and the conversations you might have.

Share experiences on social media. Tag the films, the directors, the festival. It will make the experience richer and more exciting.


  • Get a notebook: moleskin is my fav, but any mini will do.
    Why notebook? First, so you can take quick notes during a movie you are screening. (Remember, no phones!) You can also use the notebook to quickly jot down info about the people you meet, a little note to help you jog your memory, and any interesting things they tell you.
  • Comfortable shoes. You’ll do some walking and standing in lines.
  • Layers: Remember, it’s Miami, which means going from hot to meat locker and back again.
  • Cough drops. Especially if you put in full days.

IMG_3343Dr. Andrew Strycharski directs the Film Studies Program at Florida International University