The Palm Springs International Film Festival dominates the Coachella Valley 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, though, or any film festival for that matter, the only possible barrier to attending might be understanding how to go about learning about the films, purchasing tickets and finding your way on the ground at the festival itself. We’re here to help!

The first trick is to plan your schedule and purchase your tickets as early as you can. Individual tickets for the 2019 festival go on sale Dec. 26 at 9 a.m. The festival’s website should be your first, best choice for research, but the festival produces a print guide as well that offers up a few distinct advantages.

If you’re fond of a particular genre of film (science fiction or history, for example), searching for films on the festival website allows you to quickly home in on what you’re looking for. Love films from a specific area? Search by region. You can do the same for directors. It’s hard to beat that kind of efficiency. Once you click on a film you’re interested in, you have a wealth of information on the film including a link to its website, in many cases.

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 clicking and scrolling. The print edition also has synopses of all the movies, as well, but is a bit lacking compared to the depth of information found online.

Still undecided about a particular movie? Draw in some extra resources if needed to finalize your decision making process. Track down the movie trailers and check out the film’s rankings on websites like IMDB.com.

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 pre-sale capacity, but there will often be tickets available at the door. More on that later!

If tickets are available, great! Prior to the start of the festival, you can purchase tickets in person at the Festival Ticket and Information Center (777 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs, 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.

Early birds also have the option of buying a voucher for a 6-Pack of tickets prior to the start of the festival, which can be redeemed for individual tickets. The main benefit for getting a 6-Pack is to save a few bucks, allowing you to purchase six tickets for $69 instead of $78. And the tickets that you select from your voucher can shared with others, so if you’re purchasing tickets for two, for example, you only need to see three movies. Want to see more movies? Buy more 6-Packs.

It’s a bit of an extra step since you must first purchase the voucher for the six tickets, then you redeem that voucher for the actual tickets. The process is clearly explained online, but you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth it. Vouchers must be redeemed online, at a theater or the Festival Ticket Center for tickets. Please don’t go up to a theater, stand in the ticket holder line, and expect to gain entrance with your voucher.

Here’s one more step to remember. If you’ve bought your tickets (not just a voucher) online and printed out a copy of your order, you’re still going to need to exchange your printouts for actual tickets. Again, that can be handled at any theater box office or the Festival Ticket Center.

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 list of films “short-listed” for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film is down to nine, 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, you’re aiming 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. We haven’t even addressed passes in this article because they generally sell out well in advance, but essentially they allow access to any film without the need to purchase of a 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 the number of pass holders who show up is less than the 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 likely that there will be tickets available for those who are patient and wait out the Stand-By process. You may end up sitting in the front row of the theater, and couples shouldn’t expect to sit together, 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 they’ve seen so far, and see if they’ve got 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 Camelot Theaters but in the shade at the Regal or Annenberg.
  • Not everyone can stand in line for such a long time. Consider purchasing a fold-able tripod stool at the Festival Ticket Center or inside the theater. Disabled individuals can be accommodated inside the lobby where they can wait until their line is ushered into the theater.

There’s more to the festival than movies! Parties, talks, dinners and more are available if you choose. Whatever you decide to do, we hope you’re now inspired to give the Palm Springs International Film Festival a try, and that your experience is packed with thrilling films from around the globe.

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