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Image of the audience at the preview party for the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Member Preview Night at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

The Palm Springs International Film Festival dominates the cultural scene in the desert in January. You don’t have to be a dyed-in-the-wool cinephile to appreciate the festival’s sophisticated programming—there’s plenty of opportunity for novices to jump in and experience their very first film festival, as well.

If you’ve never attended the Palm Springs Film Festival—or any film festival for that matter—understanding how to go about learning about the films, purchasing tickets and navigating the festival itself can be confusing. We’re here to help!

The first trick is to plan your schedule and purchase your tickets as early as you can. While the festival itself runs from January 2-13, individual tickets for the 2020 festival go on sale December 20 at 9am. The festival’s website should be your first, best choice for research. It allows you to search for films by genre, region or director in addition to day and time. Clicking on a film that you’re interested in brings up a deep dive of details, including, in many cases, a link to its website or trailer.

The festival’s print guide on the other hand, has a convenient pullout centerfold section with a grid showing the film times, making it easy to scan from one day to the next without

Olivia Coleman greets fans at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Olivia Colman greets fans at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

clicking and scrolling through the website. The print edition also has synopses of all the movies, as well, but lacks the depth of information found online.

Once you’ve made your selections, you need to buy your tickets. Again, the website is your friend as it will clearly indicate if a screening has already reached a “Limited Availability” or “Stand-By” status. Limited Availability simply means you need to call the box office to check on the tickets. Stand By indicates that a film has reached its presale capacity, but there may be tickets available at the door. More on that later!

If tickets are available, great! You can purchase tickets online, or in person at the Festival Ticket and Information Center (707 E Tahquitz Canyon, Suite G20, near the Regal Cinemas). After the start of the festival, tickets can be purchased at the Ticket Center as well as any of the theater venues.

Sam Elliott presents Bradley Cooper with the Director of the Year award at the 2019 Festival.

Sam Elliott presents Bradley Cooper with the Director of the Year award at the 2019 Festival.

Prior to the start of the festival, you have the option of buying a voucher for a 6-Pack of tickets. It’s a bit of an extra step, and you’ll have to determine if the effort is worth the few dollars you’ll save. First you purchase and pay for the voucher, then you redeem that voucher for the actual tickets either online, at a theater or the Festival Ticket Center.

Here’s one more step to remember. If you’ve bought your tickets online and printed out a copy of your order, you will still need to exchange your printouts for actual tickets. Take your paperwork to any theater box office or the Festival Ticket Center, and it will be handled promptly.

Even if you do everything right, some tickets are going to be harder to snag then others. Canadian films are always packed. And even though it’s an international film festival, some folks still don’t like reading subtitles, so English language movies do particularly well, too. By this time the festival rolls around, the ten films “shortlisted” for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film have been announced, so those films will be popular, too.

Whew! You finally have tickets in hand! Ready to see some films?

The last part of the drill is to understand the onsite logistics at the theaters themselves. Even though you have your tickets, the real lesson here is to get to the theater well in advance and line up. (Sounds counter intuitive if you already have a ticket, but that’s the way it works.) Upon your arrival, look for a “Ticket Holder” line labeled with your movie name and time. Lines begin to form about one hour before show time, and you’re expected to be in line no later than 30 minutes in advance.

The first folks admitted to the theater are the pass holders who are allow access to any film without the need to purchase an individual ticket. A limited number of pass holders are admitted to each showing, so they’ll be lining up, too, in a pass holder line.

About 30 minutes in advance, pass holders are ushered in. Shortly after that, ticket holders are admitted. If there are still seats available—which is not unusual if fewer pass holders

TImothy Chalomet signs autographs in 2019.

Timothée Chalamet signs autographs at PSIFF in 2019.

show up than the the number of seats allotted for them—people in the Stand-By line are admitted.

The helpful lesson there is to keep the faith. Unless a film has a lot of award buzz surrounding it, it’s entirely possible that there will be tickets available for those who are patient and wait out the Stand-By process. You may not end up sitting in your favorite row of the theater, but you’ll get in.

Now that we’ve got you there and in the theater, here are a few of our other helpful hints, based on our years of experience:

  • While some people pass the time in line by reading, it’s something of a tradition to talk to others around you in line. Since you’re all film fans, it’s likely that you have something in common. At the very least, you can chat about what you’ve seen so far and ask for any film recommendations.
  • You can go into a theater lobby early to purchase food or use the restrooms. There’s no outside food and water allowed, but we’ve never been stopped from returning to a theater for a second or third film with a bottle of water purchased earlier in the day.
  • Dress not only for the weather but also for the location. While all the venues are a fairly short distance away from each other, you’ll have a completely different experience whether you’re waiting in line in sun or shade. At any given time, you may be standing in the sun at the Palm Springs Cultural Center but in the shade at the Regal or Annenberg.
  • Not everyone can stand in line for such a long time. Consider bringing a fold-able tripod stool or purchasing one at the Festival Ticket Center. Disabled individuals can be accommodated inside the lobby where they can wait until their line is ushered into the theater.

If you love movies, it’s time to give the Palm Springs International Film Festival a try. With planning and a little luck, you should be able to create an experience that’s packed with thrilling films from around the globe.

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