Sep
23
2011

Value Guide to Film Festivals

From Toronto to Venice, from Cannes to TriBeCa—international film festivals are prime travel destinations. Wherever your pleasure, here’s a guide to making the most of your film-fest holiday.

From Toronto to Venice, from Cannes to TriBeCa—international film festivals are prime travel destinations. Aimed at not only jet-setters and entertainment industry elite, they’re for anyone interested in culture, cinema and champagne-laced fun of the flashbulbs, sequins and thrills variety.

As celebs sashay down red carpets and share their latest silver screen coups, and as industry types hobnob with their peers and make deals, visiting a city at film festival time allows you to experience its culture at its most vibrant—a shared cultural experience others only dream of. You can attend fabulous parties, show your heroes some love, meet like-minded people and even learn a thing or two. And, of course, be among the first to see some incredible movies and future Oscar contenders.

To reflect both a destination’s unique personality and the international cultural zeitgeist, festival directors must possess an almost-sixth sense for what works. Miami International Film Festival director Jaie Laplante says it’s like having the soul of an artist, but the head of a businessman. “You need to understand what the culture is calling for and think beyond entertainment,” he says. “We constantly ask, what should we think about and see right now?”

Darryl Macdonald, director of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, says it all depends on the audience. For example, “Seattle has a young, hip, cutting-edge audience that’s much more into Asian cinema than Palm Springs. Palm Springs is into European cinema, and the Hamptons are interested in American independent cinema.”

Wherever your pleasure, here’s a guide to making the most of your film-fest holiday.

Toronto International Film Festival

Toronto International Film Festival
(Sept 8. to 18)

The 36th annual Toronto International Film Festival’s (TIFF)  newest exhibition, Fellini: Spectacular Obsessions, offers a playful look at the great themes in Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini’s work. The exhibit runs until Sept. 18. There is no official competition at TIFF—it’s the film festival that mixes mega-budget films with those that aren’t so easy to market.

STARS IN YOUR EYES
Watch the celebs walk the red carpet in front of the Princess of Wales Theatre, or linger outside Roy Thomson Hall, where galas are held. Star-spotters should also check out Luma at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, the Filmmakers’ Lounge, as well as Toronto’s newest five-star hotel, the Ritz Carlton.

EAT, DRINK AND BE LOCAL
Go to the BlackBerry Lounge in the TIFF Bell Lightbox for celeb sightings and to feel the buzz. Grab a drink in the new Thompson Hotel lobby or at the Drake Hotel on Queen Street West. Have a bite at restaurants that are hidden gems like Tutti Matti or Marben, both located in the Entertainment District.

INSIDER TIPS
New batches of tickets are released every day at the festival Box Office at 7 a.m. Follow TIFF’s Twitter account (@tiff_net) for up-to-the-minute news, or sign up for TIFF alerts. Download the BlackBerry application for the festival’s schedule. Need free Wi-Fi? Head to TIFF Bell Lightbox.

TAKE A BREAK
To escape the craziness of TIFF, head to High Park for a walk in Toronto’s west end or east to the Beaches, where you can amble along a boardwalk that stretches along the sandy shore of Lake Ontario.

A TRIP TO REMEMBER
Go downtown and check out the Royal Ontario Museum, the Mirvish theatres for live stage shows and the Art Gallery of Ontario. Test your bowling skills at The Ballroom, a fun full-service restaurant and sports bar.

 

Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival

Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival
(Oct. 29 to Nov. 6)

No need to freshen up your little black number for this film festival. A faded fleece jacket and reusable coffee mug are the only chattels required to slink among the mountain players who jam the theatres at the Banff Centre each fall. The lights go down in this Rocky Mountain town, and the adrenaline shoots up with a roster of mountain and adventure films, as well as book readings.

STARS IN YOUR EYES
If you want to get up-close-and-personal with some of the world’s foremost adventurers and explorers, St. James’ Gate Olde Pub in downtown Banff is a good bet. Grab a local Big Rock Ale and you might meet folks like modern British adventurer Leo Houlding, who’s one of the festival’s featured speakers this year.

EAT, DRINK AND BE LOCAL
During daytime, grab a sandwich-to-go at The Bison Mountain Bistro. The Three Ravens Restaurant and Wine Bar right at the Banff Centre has the best mountain views in town and festival-goers can get a discount.

INSIDER TIPS
Most films sell out, but a rush line opens up a couple of hours before showtime. On Nov. 1, don’t miss the Radical Reels night at the Banff Centre for films of extreme sports. The next night, the Snow Show features films with lots of deep powder. Buy a ticket to each and you get a deal for $39 for both, instead of $22 each.

TAKE A BREAK
The festival hosts a variety of mountain exhibits including photography, climbing demos, a superb craft sale and book mart. Enjoy a cuppa at the Wild Flour Bakery downtown, then pop into the Whyte Museum, the Luxton and the Banff Park Museum for some alpine history.

A TRIP TO REMEMBER
Explore Banff by slipping away for a little adventure of your own. Grab your hiking boots and walk up Tunnel Mountain right behind the Banff Centre for a 25-minute leg-pumper that rewards you with a panoramic view of Banff and the surrounding Bow Valley.

 

Palm Springs International Film Festival

Palm Springs International Film Festival
(Jan. 5 to 16, 2012)

Though cinema’s elite hop over from L.A. for this annual January festival, festival director Darryl Macdonald feels PSIFF reflects the desert town’s laid-back sense of community and history. With 200 international films (including many foreign Oscar contenders), the action all goes down within a 15-block radius.

STARS IN YOUR EYES
Hollywood really comes out for the awards gala, as the ceremony is like a warm-up to the Oscars. Celebs can be spotted literally everywhere: on the street, in hotel bars, at the Parker Palm Springs hotel (where the stars stay) and at the gala.

EAT, DRINK AND BE LOCAL
Palm Springs’ varied restaurant scene fuses retro flair, fresh cuisine and wow-inducing natural vistas. Local haunt Spencer’s serves American cuisine (soft-shell crabs, anyone?) with a view of the San Jacinto Mountains. And don’t miss Copley’s, housed in Cary Grant’s former estate.

INSIDER TIPS
Some 130,000 folks flock to sunny Palm Springs for the festival (70 per cent are from outside the Coachella Valley), so planning is key. If a flick you want to catch is sold out, join the rush line outside the box office; the earlier, the better. Buy tickets to screenings and parties online in advance—yes, fans can score tickets to the gala, too!

TAKE A BREAK
If golf is your game, Palm Springs has loads of world-class courses, including the Indian Wells Golf Resort and the eco-friendly Desert Willow Golf Resort. Tennis, horseback riding and spas are also regional specialties. Hike through one of the breathtaking canyons just a few miles away for cacti and waterfalls.

A TRIP TO REMEMBER
Palm Canyon Drive is a must-see strip in the heart of Palm Springs. On Thursday nights, shops, cafés and galleries stay open late for Villagefest, an outdoor marketplace of arts, crafts and food vendors. Odds are you’ll find your dream souvenir at this family-friendly local event.

 

Miami International Film Festival

Miami International Film Festival
(Mar. 2 to 11, 2012)

Combine Miami’s multicultural mix with Latin electricity and you’ve got the vibe of this competitive film festival. Last year’s opening film was Spanish director’s Fernando Trueba’s animated feature, Chico & Rita, about a young Cuban musician couple who move to New York, while Quebec icon Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies closed the festival. The event draws an international crowd.

STARS IN YOUR EYES
Before premieres, watch the stars prance down the red carpet in front of historic downtown Miami’s Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center. Linger outside the Freedom Tower, where galas are hosted, or prowl discreetly around the W South Beach hotel, where many celebs shack up.

EAT, DRINK AND BE LOCAL
The South Miami Beach nightlife is perpetually on fire. Skip the jam-packed Ocean Drive and the usual post-theatre haunts, and instead join locals for authentic Cuban food at Versailles in Little Havana.

INSIDER TIPS
MIFF prides itself on being accessible to all. Most films sell out, but join the rush line a couple of hours before showtime to snag last-minute tickets and there’s a good chance you’ll get lucky. Word to the wise: since March is high season in beautiful Miami, book hotels early to get decent rates.

TAKE A BREAK
They don’t call it Miami Beach for nothing. What trip to South Florida would be complete without a dip in the ocean? Take a break from MIFF madness and chill on the beach for a blissful afternoon of turquoise waters and vitamin D.

A TRIP TO REMEMBER
Miami is swiftly gaining headway as an art and design Mecca, so what better souvenir to bring home than an objet d’art? Peruse the growing Wynwood Design District’s many contemporary art galleries, including Fredric Snitzer and Twenty Twenty.

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Mike Fisher

Calgary-based Mike Fisher is a city guy who loves the backcountry because it invites reverence, rewards good behaviour and clobbers you when you suck. He returns regularly to get knocked down to size.

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