Festival Diet 101

Have you ever attended a film festival before? If not, I highly recommend it. And not just because I work for them. Film festivals are a great way to interact with a local film community, meet filmmakers and new people. You make new friends (yes, it’s even how I met my husband). You’re able to engage in conversations and interesting discussions about films that you love (or sometimes hate) and topics that are important to you. You’re supporting the arts. I mean, what’s not to love about it?

Film festivals are held throughout the year, but there are three basic “seasons” to festing: January to May, May to August and September to late November. Sundance kicks things off in January, Cannes bookmarks the year in May and Telluride/Toronto/Venice benchmark the crazy third act in September. And then there’s all the thousands of other great film festivals that fall somewhere in between them.

In this series of post, I’ll share some of my favorite restaurants while attending a film festival. But first, let’s go over some basics of the “Festival Diet”.

Any fest vet will tell you the festival diet is real. And by diet I mean, if you don’t plan the time to eat, you may not eat anything at all. All day. It can be dangerous. People – like me and almost everyone else I’ve ever known – get hangry when they don’t eat. No one likes a hangry festival attendee (or staffer), so here are some tips and expert advice.

  1. When attending a film festival, snacks are your best friend. Always have a snack in a bag or pocket. Trust me. I’ve never eaten so many granola bars in my life than when I have worked during a film festival. Another good option: a small pack of almonds or trail mix. String cheese is good, but only if you eat it right away. No one likes limp, warm string cheese. Ew. When you want to see back-to-back movies and that involves standing in a line for 30 minutes too, you will need a snack. And there is only so much popcorn you can eat. Which leads me to…
  2. The festival diet sometimes only consists of concession stand popcorn. Corn is in almost everything we eat already. There is only so much popcorn you can eat before you feel like a walking goop of butter and corn. I speak from experience.
  3. Sometimes you need to miss a movie in order to eat dinner. (From a programmer, that’s hard to admit because I want your butt in a seat!) Even if that dinner is you only sitting down for 30 minutes, you must do it. If you’re lucky enough to sit down with friends for a true 90 minute meal, then bravo! You have it all. It is one of the most satisfying feelings ever. And sometimes it is actually better than whatever film you might have gone to. (Your hangry friends will tell you later.)
  4. If you’re working or volunteering at a fest, sometimes you need to remind your colleagues to eat. Or your intern/co-worker needs to remind you to eat, oh so gently. (Claire, you were always the best intern/coordinator because you GOT this.)
  5. Hydrate. And not with all that free Stella Artois in the festival lounge. Festing takes a toll on your body. The late nights, the sponsored alcohol, the dark auditoriums. (It really is amazing that any of us survive this work/lifestyle.) Bring a reusable water bottle and refill often. I’ve always thought the best in-kind sponsorship was Sundance’s partnership with Brita. We have at least a dozen green Brita/Sundance-branded water bottles in our house thanks to them and use them all year round. #NeverEndingImpressions. You’re welcome Sponsorship Dept.
  6. If you’re not a local, ask the staff or volunteers for restaurant recommendations near the venue. The locals take pride in their city and those working the festival often want to show off the best of what their city can offer. Then GO EAT.

Stay tuned for highlights from great restaurants, bars and other must-stop sites from my film festival travels.

What tips do you have for staying full while testing? Let me know in the comments below!

Shorts & Snacks: Next Floor (2008)

Short filmmaking is incredibly important. This form allows filmmakers to hone their skills and work out their ideas. You’ve seen short films before. Music videos and commercials are a kind of short form filmmaking. It’s all about telling a story and telling it well in only a few minutes. As audience’s attention spans grow shorter and shorter, learning how to tell a story and capture someone’s interest in a matter of minutes is vital. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences define a short film to be 40 minutes or less. Personally, I’m a fan of anything under 23 minutes (and I think there’s a sweet spot for shorts in the 5 to 16 minutes range). As a film festival programmer of shorts for over ten years, I’ve seen thousands of short films covering all different genres. When done well, shorts remind you why you love movies and that is hard to achieve. Sometimes, you’re part of a discovery experience. You truly appreciate talent when you see it.

So what does short films have to do with food? Well, think of them as a snack. A creative refueling for the artistic soul. They could be healthy or bad for you, but either way they are a great break in a long day – or from watching a lot of features.
Shorts and snacks make a perfect pair. It only seems fitting to start this series with Denis Villeneuve’s 2008 short, Next Floor. This was one of my favorite films that played the circuit in 2008/2009. Seeing it on the big screen in all it’s 35mm glory was a treat. (Let’s pause here because, yes – this was when shorts were still on 35mm at a festival! How quickly that has changed in the last few years.) This short is equal parts clever, beautiful and outrageous. It’s been over eight years since I first saw this short and I will never forget the visceral feeling of awe I experienced seeing it on a big screen in a dark theater.

A short like Next Floor is how a filmmaker grabs the world’s attention and proves you can take on the bigger, feature-length stage. And grab attention he did. Since Next Floor played at film festivals around the world, Villeneuve has gone on to direct the features Prisoners (2013), Sicario (2015) and this fall’s Arrival (2016) with Amy Adams (which I’m very excited to see).

What’s your favorite snack? Grab it and let’s watch some short films, yeah?

Next Floor
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
2008 / 12 min / Canada

During an opulent and luxurious banquet, complete with cavalier servers and valets, eleven pampered guests participate in what appears to be a ritualistic gastronomic carnage. In this absurd and grotesque universe, an unexpected sequence of events undermines the endless symphony of abundance.

Next Floor from Centre Phi | Phi Centre on Vimeo.

A Classic Combo: Casablanca (1942) & Champagne Cocktail

I’m not the first person to say how amazing Casablanca is, nor will I be the last. It only seems fitting to kick-start this blog with one of my favorite films and a celebratory champagne cocktail.

Rick, an American expatriate played by Humphrey Bogart, runs a saloon in Casablanca as the Nazi’s have invaded Europe. When his former lover, Isla (Ingrid Bergman), arrives to town with her husband, Victor Lazlo, Rick is forced to face the bitterness of his past. Victor, a renowned Nazi resistance leader, is on the run. Rick must choose between assisting Victor’s escape and his love for Isla.

There are so many wonderful things about this film that we could be here forever. But first, there’s Ingrid. Beautiful, wonderful, amazing Ingrid. Oh, how I wish I was her. Those eyes! Those hats! Her careful lighting makes her leap off the screen during every scene. Besides my massive girl crush, Casablanca truly is one of the best romance stories ever. Trust, love, war and making the ultimate choice. This film wraps you up and takes you away. Hollywood has been trying to top this ever since (and has failed often as we all know and will discuss later).

The champagne flows throughout Casablanca as refugees make the best of their war-torn situation. Rick and Isla share a glass of it often, most notably as the Nazi’s march into Paris (so the Nazi’s won’t have any to drink upon arrival).

Dating back to the early 1860s, the champagne cocktail is a sweet and bubbly delight. How could drinking a glass not make you feel like Isla or Rick, making you just light-headed enough and falling in love all over again?

If you haven’t seen this movie, seek it out immediately to remedy. Find a retro screening (support your indie theater or local film society!) or download from your favorite Silicon Valley tech giant. It is the perfect film for a weekend evening, perhaps with a glass of champagne by your side.

1 Champagne Cocktail
Champagne
2/3 oz Cognac or Brandy
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 sugar cube

Dash the bitters onto the sugar cube, add the cognac and chilled champagne. Garnish with a cherry or citrus twist if you like

So here’s the classic question: Would you get on the plane? Have another Champagne cocktail favorite? Tell me in the comments below!

-Watch Casablanca on Amazon, iTunes or add to Netflix queue. Or even better, support your local rental store!-