As staff and volunteers arrive in the soon-to-be-bustling mountain town of Telluride in advance of the 46th Telluride Film Festival, there’s an excitement in the air. What films will screen? Who will the guests be? Will we get to see all the films we want to get into? For many of us, this is a chance to see friends we see only once a year at this Festival. And for others…this is another festival to work on the festival circuit.
I’ve been working film festivals for over 30 years. I didn’t plan to be a Festival Gypsy. It’s like potato chips, you have one and suddenly you’re looking sadly at an empty salty bag. What starts as a passion for films and one festival job that allows you access to films and behind-the-scene comradery, becomes a few festivals that you travel to to work with your friends…to what can become a full slate of festivals and suddenly, you find that it’s your life. I’ve had the opportunity to produce my own film festivals, curate film programs for festivals and have worn many hats for over 20 festivals here and abroad.
Not to be confused with attending a few festivals when you have the means for Passes and accommodations…a true Festival Gypsy may not even have a home base. There are a few I know that stay with family or friends but all of their belongings either fit in a few suitcases or live in perpetual storage. Every gypsy has different story. Some started like myself, in the SF Bay Area, where there’s a film festival every month. Or they found a particular niche in the festival business: Events, Guest Relations, Transpo or Theater Ops and realized that if they knew others in the biz, they could work at other festivals doing the same job. Some festivals even provide lodging and transportation.
The short-term contracts mean that you may have to pay quarterly taxes, have great budgeting skills and be able to make dinner out of cheese cubes and bread sticks from the guest lounge. You meet so many interesting people and each festival has it’s own perks and pitfalls but if you have a certain skill set and can adapt easily to new environments, it can be a wonderful experience. As with any job, it’s your team that makes all the difference. Everyone who works a festival will have a different experience.
If you live in the town of Telluride (lucky you), you can work the plethora of festivals that happen here almost every weekend of the summer. However, most of the jobs are only volunteer, so you’d be hard pressed to make a living and you’d be traveling out of town come the end of September after The Telluride Festival of Cars and Colors. Very few people have the wherewithal to travel the festival circuit as a Volunteer. A Festival Gypsy is likely working multiple jobs for the privilege of traveling to do what they love; become part of the crew that bands together to bring amazing, potentially life-changing films to the masses. So if you see someone carrying a festival sign, toting a bin of passes/waters/ballots, wearing a headset or badge…give them a smile and acknowledge their hard work. They may be sleeping on a couch, subsisting on bagels and coffee, and far from home.