12 Jul 2016

The Art of Etiquette - film festivals

From Upbeat, 1:20 pm on 12 July 2016

With the New Zealand International Film Festival just around the corner, producer Zoë George decided to shine the spotlight on attending a film festival.

Is it ok to put feet on the seat in front? Can we leave if we don’t like a film? And what about popcorn?

Jasmin McSweeney from the New Zealand Film Commission gives us a close up look at the etiquette of the NZIFF.

2016 Film Festival graphic thumb

2016 Film Festival graphic thumb Photo: NZIFF

What is a “film snob”?!

Is there such a thing? Maybe they are just people who love films and live for them.

What clothes are appropriate?

Wear something comfortable and something that doesn’t rustle. Something that isn’t too warm. Please take your jacket off before the film starts. Work clothes are fine. Jeans are fine too.

What about if I go to a premiere?

They are special. There’s two New Zealand films premiering at the NZIFF and it’s special for those film makers. You should dress up and feel special about that. We don’t have many occasions to dress up in New Zealand.

How should we behave at a red carpet film?

Be patient. Don’t push and shove. You have a seat, it has a number, and you’ll get into it! Make sure you enjoy the atmosphere. It all starts on the red carpet. Look at who the people are around you watching the films, enjoying the experience with you. Begin to be part of that film community from the start.

If there’s someone famous on the red carpet can I ask for an autograph?

Yes. That’s why they are there. They are there to promote the film and to say hello and they enjoy it.

Once we are inside, what should we do?

Turn off your cell phones. Don’t eat popcorn or drink anything, it’s annoying. The film festival audience is a particular audience, they love to go and sit and watch the films and lose themselves in the dark room. They are not an “everyday” audience. They are there because they want to be sitting with people just like them enjoying that film. Please no hot food either.

Hot food… have you witnessed that?

Yes! We do test screenings at the Film Commission and we had the film director sit with the test screen audience. Someone came in with Chinese takeaways and sat in front of the director! It’s not home! The director was fine with it; she accepted that it happens now. But the film festival is a special occasion, so no food. No talking too. If you need to go to the bathroom, do. And be on time.

How do I get invited to the film festival parties?

It’s about who you know. Overseas it’s about knowing who the film makers or sales agents are. I’m always working so I don’t drink too much, see the people I need to see, get out and move onto the next party, who will serve the same food and wine!

How early should we turn up for a film festival film?

About 15 minutes early. It’s good to get sorted, find your seats, take off jackets, and decide if you want an ice cream before the film starts.

What about technology. Can we use it during the film?

It’s a big no no. Unless you’re a doctor, turn it off! Lose yourself in the film. One of the joys of air travel is that you can turn your phone off and be disconnected from the world. Treat the film fest experience the same way.

Is it appropriate to bring children to the film festival?

Yes, it’s absolutely appropriate to bring children to the right film. Children need to learn how to watch a film festival film. The NZIFF have a short film programme specifically for children.

Is it ok for me to whisper to my neighbour during the film?

A whisper’s ok, but hold it back. Organise to catch up with your friends after the film and chat then.

If someone has their feet on my chair, is talking through the film constantly or is kicking my chair, how do I ask them to stop?

Turn around and ask politely for them to stop and if they don’t, go and get an usher. I’ve seen that happen many times overseas, especially where cell phones have gone off and the audience has booed.

A special thing about film festivals are the panels and Q&A sessions that come with a film. How do we engage with the film maker and the panel?

Don’t heckle! Get engaged, be involved. You’re there with the film maker. They are there to tell you about their process and why they made it. You need to be respectful of that.

One of the greatest moments for a Q&A session that I’ve seen was in Berlin for the premiere of What We Do In The Shadows. When the film finished Taika (Waititi) and Rhys Darby came out and they did the Q&A. The first question from the audience was “there are lots of you here, how do vampires travel from New Zealand to Germany? What happens to the time zone? Taika went into vampire mode and stayed that way for the entire Q&A. These sessions should be fun. They should be an extension of the film.

What happens if I don’t like a film, can I leave half way through?

I think you should sit and soak it in. You’ve made a choice to see that film. You owe it to the film maker to sit there.

At the Q&A how do I express my opinions without insulting the film maker?

You don’t have to stay for the Q&A if the film wasn’t what you thought it was going to be. People can’t create art for all people. But if you are going to stay and give an opinion, do it politely. It’s ok to express those opinions. Film makers understand that what they make won’t be to everyone’s liking.

How do I choose the right films for me?

Read (the festival programme) very carefully. Also, look at who the director is and search for them online. Have a look at their previous work and read reviews from overseas.

Do I have to sit in my allocated seats?

Yes. It’s because people like me have special seats I book especially for these events!

Where’s the best place to sit?

In the Embassy Theatre, I like to sit on the H row in the middle.

What’s a top tip for binge watching?

Don’t get the theatre confused! One year I had a film to see at the Embassy and one at the Paramount. I got confused and thought it was at the Penthouse. So I was there drinking a glass of wine, when a colleague walked by. I told him what I was going to see and he pointed out I was at the wrong place and it starts in five minutes! I made it just in time! That’s the only time you can be late.

If I am late, can I be nice to the usher so they will let me in?

Yes, but there is a window of a certain amount of time you can be late or you’ve lost the point of the film. The first 10 minutes of the film is crucial.

When it comes to the end of the film should we stay to the end of the credits?

Yes. It’s respectful to the film makers. Everybody who has their name in the credits has contributed in some useful way. So stay to the end.

What about clapping at the end of a film?

Yes do clap. I love it. Standing ovations are even better. Sit and take it all in. Laugh, cheer and cry. It’s all part of the experience. The film festival audience will feel the same way as you.

Any final advice for those going to the NZIFF?

If you don’t like the film please don’t behave badly and talk and laugh at scenes that are meant to be emotional moments. In that situation you should leave. Choose your films carefully. Enjoy the people you’re watching the films with; sometimes you won’t see them again until next year’s festival. Choose at least one or two films you wouldn’t normally see; expand your horizons. Have fun!

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