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One thing that has become clear as Ricky, Edgar, Justine and myself work through the 396 page Fantasia program book (seriously this thing is massive) is that to pick your list of films to watch at Fantasia, you need a system.
As it happens, I have been going to Fantasia since the festival started in 1996 and over the years I have gotten pretty good at figuring out what I want to watch and how to build a schedule quickly. I have been known to go to Fantasia on the day that they start selling tickets, buy the program and figure out the 30 films that I was going to buy tickets for… while standing in line.
Now if you are only going to Fantasia to watch the animated films or to watch the martial arts films or to watch the horror films, than my system won’t help you and in fact you don’t really need much help. You can figure out a schedule pretty quickly.
But if you want to take some risks, expand your comfort zone and experience Fantasia in all its glorious weirdness, I can help.
Step One: Limit Your Expectations
Unless your name is Luornu Durgo and you can be in three places at once, there will be some times when two or even three great films that you want to see are all playing at the same time. That’s OK. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have a great Fantasia experience. You just have to build that experience out of what is possible, rather than obsessing over what is impossible.
Step Two: Pick How Many Films You Will Watch
This may seem backwards. Surely, you should make your list first?
But it’s critical to stretching your boundaries. You know how much time you have and how much money you have. Fantasia takes place over 22 days. How many films a day do you want to see? One film a day is about twenty films. Two films a day is about forty films.
Keep in mind that this an average. There may be days when there is nothing that you want to see and days when there are 3 or 4 films that you want to see.
Fantasia gives a discount if you buy tickets in groups of 10. Individual tickets are $9; 10 tickets are $80; 10 tickets when you show your OPUS card are $75. So if you are thinking of seeing 18 films, it almost makes more sense to see 20. (And it is actually cheaper to see 20 films than to see 19!)
It is usually easiest to think of it in blocks of 10 films. As an example, if you have a budget of $250 for tickets that works out to 30 films at $225 if you have an OPUS card with $25 left over, and it means that you will be seeing on average of 3 films every 2 days.
Step Three: Supplies
You need a pen, the Fantasia program book and two copies of the schedule. Alternatively, you can look at the Fantasia program online and print out the schedule once – as long as you have one separate page for the alphabetical film list and one separate page for the Fantasia festival calendar (schedule by date).
Step Four: Program Book
Go through the program book alphabetically. As you look at each title, only read for as long as it takes to gather enough information to group the film into one of four categories: Have to see, Want to see, Might see or Not seeing. Remember that there are 160 feature films on the Fantasia schedule. If you give each listing a full minute, it will take you more than 2 1/2 hours to get through the program book.
When you are reading the descriptions in the program book, pay attention to statements of fact and ignore value judgements and opinions. Knowing that the film stars someone you admire or was directed by someone you respect or has the same creative team as a film you liked is key information. Knowing that Mitch Davis thinks that the film is the greatest thing since slice bread is not.
(I love Mitch dearly, but he is highly exciteable and in any case, unless the history of sliced bread was documented in a film, I wouldn’t trust Mitch to know anything about it.)
Take the first feature film in the program book: 11/25 The Day Mishima Chose His Own Fate. It’s an historical Japanese political thriller that played at Cannes. Snap judgement time: would that bore you to tears, is that the film you have always wanted to see, are you interested or are you not sure?
The key is to make the decision quickly. If you can’t decide than it falls into the Might See category.
On your alphabetical list: if the film is “Have to see” circle it and put an exclamation mark; if the film is “Want to see” circle it; if the film is “Might See” circle it and put a question mark; if the film is “Not seeing” don’t circle it. When marking the alphabetical list up, try not to cover up the information about when the film plays.
Step Five: Calendar
Once you have gone through the program book, transfer the information that you marked on the alphabetical list onto the calendar. (Beside each film on the alphabetical list it is marked when and where the film is playing.)
As an example, 11/25 The Day Mishima Chose His Own Fate plays July 25 • J.A. De Seve Theatre and July 26 • J.A. De Seve Theatre. Let’s say that you marked the film as “Might See” by circling it and adding a question mark, now you circle the film and add a question mark both places that the film plays on the calendar.
Do this for all the films that you marked on the alphabetical list.
Step Six: Add Your Personal Schedule
During the 22 days of the festival, there are probably certain times when you can’t watch films. You visit your Mom on Thursdays; you have a meeting on July 27th; you tutor a kid on Saturdays from 1PM and 3PM; whatever the reason. Cross these times that you are unavailable off your schedule.
Step Seven: Eliminate Conflicts
Odds are that there are now some times on your schedule where there are two films playing at the same time and you have to choose.
It should be fairly obvious, but you start by eliminating conflicts when one film is ranked lower, picking “Have to see (!)” over “Want to see” and “Might see (?)” and “Want to see” over “Might See (?)”.
If the two films have equal ranking, you may need to study the descriptions a bit closer. When choosing, consider whether there is anything that will make the experience in one theatre more unique or more interesting for you. Will the director be introducing the film? Will the star be there?
Also, consider how likely you will be to see the film outside of Fantasia. Killer Joe will be playing at a theatre after the festival, but a 35 MM print of a Shaw Brother classic like Fists of the White Lotus is probably not something that will be playing at AMC any time soon.
Finally, consider what theatre the film will play in. Hall Theatre is more likely to have crowd-pleasers, De Seve is more likely to have films that are more obscure or that take risks and Cinematheque Quebecoise is going to have older film classics. Pick based on how you react to that. When there is an equal choice, I tend to head to De Seve, but I like to take risks.
The other conflict that is trickier to spot is when you circle two films that play one after the other, but in different theatres. Keep in mind first, that it is very easy to get from Hall to De Seve, but harder to get from Cinematheque Quebecois to either Hall or De Seve. If you are seeing a film at the Cinematheque at 7PM and you want to see a film at Hall Theatre at 9PM, you may not be able to do it, but seeing a film at De Seve at 7PM and a film at Hall at 9PM is completely doable… as long as the film at De Seve isn’t three hours long.
As a rule of thumb, give yourself the flex time of about a half hour between the end of one film and the start of another film in another theatre (an hour if you are going to and from the Cinematheque.) If you are seeing two films back to back in the same theatre, don’t worry about any conflict, even if your screening runs long or starts late, since you are not switching theatres, you don’t have to worry.
This may seem complicated, but it is pretty easy to figure out if you look at the schedule. Let’s say that you have circled 11/25 The Day Mishima Chose His Own Fate in De Seve on Wednesday July 25th at 7:20 PM and As Luck Would Have It in the Hall Theatre at 10PM. On the schedule, it shows Citadel starting in De Seve at 9:50 PM. That means that you should be finished the first film at De Seve in plenty of time to cross the street and see the second film in the Hall Theatre.
Step Eight: Count Your Choices
Once you have eliminated all your conflicts, count the number of films that are left on your schedule as possible choices. (Keep in mind you may have some films circled twice, because they are on the schedule twice.)
If the number of films left = the number of tickets you planned to buy… Congratulations you have a schedule! (Also, you should buy a lottery ticket and split your winnings with me.)
If the number of films left < the number of tickets that you planned to buy… You need to start taking some risks. Read other people’s choices online. If you are in line to buy tickets, ask the people in the line with you what they are planning to see. If you are really daring, have them pick a film for you to watch.
Step Nine: Reduce Your Choices
What is most likely to happen is that the number of films left > the number of tickets that you planned to buy.
Start by looking to see where you will have to make cuts. What you need to figure out is whether you need to make your cuts in the “Have to see (!) group, “Want to see” group or “Might see (?)” group.
For example, if you eliminate all of the “Might see (?)”, will you still need to make cuts? If the answer is yes, start by eliminating all of those.
Once you have the easy eliminations, take a look at your schedule as a whole. If you have a day where you have circled five films and three of them you are uncertain about, you may want to cut back on the films on that day.
Also look at the schedule in light of your own capacity to watch films. If there is no way that you can watch three films back to back to back, eliminate one of the three.
You may also need to pick between two different screenings of the same film. Make that choice based on your individual schedule and the need to avoid conflicts with other films.
For example, 11/25 The Day Mishima Chose His Own Fate plays July 25 • J.A. De Seve Theatre and July 26 • J.A. De Seve Theatre. On the 25th, you also have Resolution circled at 7:45 PM in the Hall Theatre, but on the 26th your schedule allows you to watch 11/25 The Day Mishima Chose His Own Fate at 3 PM, so if you pick that time you can watch both films.
Finally, use the same criteria as you did when you eliminated conflicts to reduce your choices.
When you trim your choice down to the number of tickets that you plan to buy, keep in mind a couple of alternate choices, just in case there are sell outs while you are standing in line. (It is likely to happen.)
Step Ten: Network
Until you actually buy your tickets, you have time to change your mind. Talk to the people in line with you. Find out what they are excited about and why. Keep in mind that ten people saying exactly the same thing is really just one opinion. “Zombies are Awesome!” is a reason to see Zombie Ass, but someone saying that they are seeing the film because they saw director Noboru Iguchi’s prevous film Karate-Robo Zaborgar at last year’s Fantasia and really liked it, might be a more compelling reason.
You also have time now while you are waiting in line with your choices to study the program book and see if there is anything that you missed the first time around.
You can also read people’s opinions on line like right here on Sound on Sight and on other film sites, to see if you read a persuasive reason to replace one film on your list with another film.
Also, see if a film that has already sold out has a second (not yet sold out) screening that fits in your schedule. Fantasia crowds are pretty smart. If they bought all the tickets for a film screening, they might know something you don’t.
Finally, keep in mind that you are in control of your schedule. The Fantasia schedule shouldn’t control you. This method is designed to build a schedule that works within your life, what you like and what your capacity to watch films is. If you need to make changes to come up with a schedule that works better for you, than do that.
As a personal example of mine, I never see Fantasia films on Tuesdays. I need to decompress and not watch films one day a week. Also it’s my poker GURPS night.
This means that I will be missing Alter Egos on July 24th and Killer Joe on July 31st, but I am breaking my own rule on August 7th, because I can’t pass up the chance to see ParaNorman presented by its two directors, not to mention take part in the first 3D screening ever held in the Hall Theatre.
But do accept that you may end up going to see films that you normally wouldn’t. Fantasia is all about taking risks. You are depriving yourself of the full Fantasia experience if you don’t take a few risks yourself!