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Conferences + Festivals

How to Survive IDFA




Attending a big documentary festival, such as IDFA in Amsterdam (held annually in November),  is something you should do at least once, and attending the major documentary market is essential if you have a film you are trying to fund. But it can be an intimidating experience if you are a festival virgin, and all the more so if you are going alone. But sometimes going alone means you are open to serendipitous meetings, able to change your schedule without consulting with your traveling companions and see all the films you want to see without having to resort to trade-offs and compromise. Still, it helps to have a plan before you go so you can take full advantage of the festival , so here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Buy your pass well in advance – most festivals operate an Early Bird basis, which can save  you money if you can commit to making travel plans early. Before buying your pass you need to decide why you are going to the festival as there are usually different passes that give varying degrees of  access to the pitch forum, screenings and industry panels.
  2. Submit your project to the pitch forum or any other relevant events well in advance of the deadline. You are unlikely to do your best work at midnight the night before.
  3. Study the schedule and work out when it’s best to attend. If you are looking to make industry connections you should time your trip to coincide with the industry events and market/ forum; at IDFA this means the middle of the festival. If you are going to indulge in wall-to-wall screenings, attending outside this period means it will be less crowded and more relaxing.
  4. Book your accommodation – again, book well in advance for the best deals. Amsterdam has an excellent B&B scene, and offers a range of options from renting a spare room in soemone’s apartment, to renting a whole private apartment or houseboat. These options are usually reasonably priced and infinitely more charming than a chain hotel or stag party hang out.
  5. Print and pack some business cards.
  6. As soon as you arrive, pick up your pass and the schedule and retire to a cafe and spend a couple of hours prioritizing and planning your time over the course of your trip. It’s usual to only be able to collect screening tickets on the day of the screening or for the following day so do that as early as possible to make sure you get the ones you want. It’s good to have back up choices in case your preferred screenings are sold out. When planning your schedule take note of where the venues are an make sure you have enough time to get from one to another between events. It will save you a lot of stress if you limit yourself to one or two venues per day.
  7. Find a good centrally located cafe where you can get free WiFi in between screenings. IDFA has a tent in the middle of Rembrandtplein that serves food and drinks throughout the day and serves as a central meeting point, so you might make some new connections whilst you are checking your emails and recharging your caffeine. Starbucks is also nearby and offers two hours free wifi and a refuge from the festival if you feel like hiding out for a while.
  8. Don’t forget to eat! In the mad rush to fit everything in it can be hard to find time for a proper lunch or dinner. Schedule in some proper breaks or at least make sure you have some snacks with you that you can eat in the go. The Place, the cafe in the  Vroom & Dreesman department store on Rokin is very close to many of the IDFA venues but offers a delicious (and somewhat bewildering) array of sandwiches, soups, stir-fries, salads and cakes, much of it cooked to order.
Finally, once it’s all over, be sure to follow up with all the contacts you made, reflect on what went well and what you could have done better, and start planning your next trip!


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