Film festival Dos, don'ts

Movies: Plan ahead, dress for comfort and be flexible. And be nice, you're among friends.

April 21, 1999|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

If you believe everything you read, you'd think film festivals were more about celebrities, studio deals and the sartorial necessity du jour than the rather scruffy business of sitting in the dark and watching movies.

To really be a part of Cannes, you need the right invitation. To truly enjoy Sundance, you need the right Prada parka. It's all about what Miramax picks up and for how much. Or so the increasingly agog entertainment media would have us believe.

In reality, festivals are pretty simple. First you buy a red wax pencil, then you get the most final version of the festival schedule, then you commence to circling. You show up early to the screenings of your choice, nab a good seat and enjoy -- or not -- the cinematic offerings to be had. If you are inclined and if the filmmaker is in the house, you might choose to stay for a question-and-answer period, you may hie yourself to the next show, or you may repair to the nearest bar to engage in spirited debate over what you've just seen.

This is what a festival is: seeing tons of movies squeezed into a few days in an increasingly littered theater with cinephiles whose rabidity grows in inverse proportion to the sleep they've had. Because in most cases, you won't be able to see these particular films again -- certainly not in such a febrile mood of pure movie-joy. You find yourself eating things full of ingredients you swore you'd never touch, because they're there and your next screening is in three minutes.

You find yourself getting into heated arguments with total strangers while standing in line to a movie whose title you've forgotten just now. You find yourself swelling with the pride of proprietorship when you recommend your favorite film to a friend who will go and emerge awed at your prescience. A couple of days into it, you find that "real life" is something that increasingly calls for quotation marks.

Welcome to the giddy, bleary, not-quite-so-real life of the festival-goer. For most Baltimore filmgoers, the new Maryland Film Festival, which kicks off tomorrow, will be their only chance to take part in this particular brand of decadent, exhausting, invigorating indulgence, at least until this time next year. For neophytes, The Sun has concocted a list of gentle exhortations, designed to maximize pleasure and minimize angst. Most of this advice, of course, has been gleaned the hard way.

1. DO plan ahead. Visit the Maryland Film Festival Web site at http: //www.mdfilmfest.com to get the most up-to-date schedule, and study the program notes carefully. There may be an actor or filmmaker you've always been a fan of, hidden beneath a title that otherwise wouldn't interest you. Once you get a written schedule, circle, scribble, make notes -- and be prepared to abandon all of it if something else entices you. Which leads to our next rule

2. DO be flexible. Most of the best festival experiences happen when you can't get into your first choice. This year's festival is ideally situated for such spontaneity, since most of the screenings are at the Charles Theatre, making it easy to spin on a dime and pop into another theater. You had your heart set on seeing Giancarlo Esposito introduce a screening of "Do the Right Thing," but it's sold out? Wait a few minutes and check out "The Saltmen of Tibet," a highly acclaimed documentary about a nomadic tribe living in a place of sublime beauty. You may discover a world you never thought existed.

3. DO remember to eat. At most festivals, filmgoers are reduced to foraging for nuts and berries in order to stay nourished, especially when those long restaurant lines kick in. Luckily, the Maryland Film Festival venues will provide lots of noshing opportunities. The Orpheum in Fells Point is in, well, Fells Point, offering myriad gustatory choices. And Classic Catering will provide wrap sandwiches, fruit, cookies, ice cream, fresh roasted nuts and other goodies in the Charles lobby to make sure the sound of growling stomachs doesn't drown out the movies. A bottle of water is a good idea, too, but remember: You may have to pay for it later, just when you have to see what happens next. Imbibe judiciously (that goes for the free coffee refills, too).

4. DO be a nosy neighbor. If you're standing in line, ask the folks next to you what they've seen and liked. Compare notes. This is the best part of festivals, and you can discover gems this way.

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