Diary of a Middle-Aged Film Festival Lover, Part One

Not going to Toronto this year was tough, but it also opened up so many new opportunities.
Doing the obligatory photo with the TIFF sign in 2019

Hi! My name is Sean Blanford, I am thirty-seven years old, and I love attending film festivals. Since 2017, I have attended the Toronto International Film Festival three times, the Twin Cities Film Festival twice, and the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival once. I am an active member for the last two years with Film Independent, where last year I was a voting member of the Independent Spirit Awards. This year was going to be my fourth year going to TIFF, and my first year as a volunteer captain for MSPIFF. Then COVID happened…

This is not going to be an “oh, whoa is me” article about missing out on these opportunities because of Coronavirus because everyone in the country and around the world have had to give up so much over the last several months that it would seem out-of-touch to do so. Yes, I miss taking a walk through the Art District, strolling down Queen Street, and swinging by Smoke’s Poutinerie for some delicious gravy and cheese covered carbs.


Going to Toronto for eleven days in September is something I look forward to every year. I don’t mind spending the money out of my own pocket to do so, because I know that this could be a means to getting to where I want to be with reviewing films and working for a film society or film festival. On top of this, I am nearing graduation, hopefully obtaining a degree in Film and Media Studies. With that degree, my ultimate goal would become a film festival programmer.

With every grey cloud comes a silver lining, and when plans change, sometimes it can be for the better. The initial plan was to obtain press credential status thanks to my previous work on the Mad About Movies website (cheap plug to madaboutmovies.com and become a VIP member). However, with the virus and a no way to get into the country, there was a limit to how many press passes were given out due to most of the screenings going digital, and rights access for people to view films in the United States. I knew it would be a long-shot, but I applied anyway. I waited (somewhat impatiently) for the approval and denial email, and the day came, it unsurprisingly it ended up being a no thank you, but feel free to try again next year. It was hard, but I understood. Then a few days later, I got an email that opened gave me a way in.

The email came from the industry side. With two separate industry tiers, and with my writing work as well as the fact I was a student in the bag, I qualified for the lower-level industry tier. So for the first (and hopefully not the last) time, I had delegate status for a major film festival. There was a catch though: with the lower level tier, I didn’t have access to press and industry screenings. So while I didn’t have the immediate access to many of the amazing films that TIFF had on hand this year, I did have a way to educate myself on the ways of connecting with sales reps to try and garner screener access to these films. There were some that either couldn’t or didn’t reply, one awesome guy from Taiwan came through with screener access to one of the Midnight Madness films at this year’s festival.

To be continued….

Author: Sean Blanford

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