It was my first time, I was nervous, and my heart was pounding, but as I took my boyfriend’s hand and walked into the room, the delicious smell of popcorn filled my senses and I realized that this is where I belonged. Looking around, I saw that I was surrounded by like-minded people, eagerly waiting to take in all the new cinematic gems the Film Festival had to offer. I took my place in line, all the while hoping I would find the perfect seat amongst the darkened theater.

If you’ve never been to a Film Festival, then let me just tell you about all the intriguing new experiences you’re missing out on. They can last anywhere from 1 day to 2 weeks and are jammed packed with films, parties, and seminars. Anyone can go to a Film Festival, odds are, there is one near you, that you didn’t even know about. For a small fee, you can see half a dozen or more full-length films and even more shorts, that feature familiar actors as well as up and coming directors. These filmmakers have poured their heart, soul and bank accounts into these creations and they’ve worked hard to make sure you get the opportunity to see it. Oftentimes, the cast, directors, and producers are there promoting the film. You get to participate in Q & As after the movie; and they are more than happy to hear your feedback. Your opinion could help launch their dream career and you get to say “I saw them when…”

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Now, when I say anyone can go to a Film Festival, that includes children as well. Most film fests have a kid’s day; like the Phoenix Film Festival, which includes kid-friendly movies and an array of activities, included in the ticket price.

At the festivals, you are free to choose whichever film you’d like to see, keep your schedule handy and head on over to the box office to secure your tickets. If you are unsure of a selection, simply ask a volunteer or strike up a casual conversation in line with a fellow festivalgoer. Chances are, they are more than willing to share their opinion about what they’ve watched or what they are excited to see next. Additionally, all of the featured movie descriptions are generally available online or in the handy festival program.

While you are there, be sure to check out the short films. My personal favorites are always the Horror Shorts; which are usually campy and comedic, with an over all Horror theme. Each viewing block contains a number of themed shorts; choose from Sci-fi, College, Horror, Animation, Live-Action, World Cinema, Documentary or Local Shorts. Also, be sure to keep an eye out for well-known actors that can be heavily featured thru out the films; you’d be surprised who pops up.

When you need to take a break or have some free time between films, make your way to one of the many panels or after parties. Here you can learn more about the industry, hang out with the actors and filmmakers, have a few drinks and relax. While this can seem intimidating, let me reassure you, that in my experience, the parties are low key, fun and professional.  At the last festival I attended,  I was able to hang out with a couple of actors from a movie I had seen earlier in the day and they made me feel very welcomed in our discussions, despite my preconceived notions.  Being able to have a one on one conversation with the people that created the movie was enlightening and fun.

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I encourage each and every one of you to give a local film fest a try. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, approach the filmmakers, shake their hand and tell them how much you appreciate their hard work. I guarantee you will be rewarded.

Tickets are still on sale for the Phoenix Film Festival, taking place April 6-13,2017