Why You Should Become a Calgary International Film Festival Volunteer


Career, Work / Wednesday, August 14th, 2019
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Being a film festival volunteer is a truly rewarding experience. If you’re a lover of film and you want to get more involved in your local community, I would highly recommend becoming a volunteer.

P.S. the Calgary International Film Festival is coming up next month, fancy getting involved?

I have always been a lover of film, but until recently that whole world seemed so far away. Hollywood is nowhere near Calgary, so what was there really in the film world for me?

I had this singular and depressing mindset until I made some serious career changes in my life and decided to pursue my passions while living life on my own terms. And that’s when I decided to look into the local film industry—and as it turns out, Calgary has a thriving one!

My involvement started out small, I took a few classes and became a volunteer with the Calgary International Film Festival. And I have to say, becoming a film festival volunteer was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Film festival volunteer
Last year the Calgary International Film Festival saw over 300 volunteers.

6 Amazing benefits of being a film festival volunteer

Before I tell you how to become a Calgary International Film Festival volunteer, let’s talk about why you even want to. There are a ton of great reasons why you should volunteer, here are six of them:

Free access to films

When it comes down to it, we mostly do things because they benefit ourselves (even if we don’t want to admit it) so the benefits of volunteering at a film festival really do have to be personal. And one of the best is the free access to films.

If you’re reading this post, I’m going to assume that, at the very least, you like film. But seeing a film in the theatre can seem a little expensive—especially if there are a ton of films on your must-see list. And that’s where being a film festival volunteer comes in. 

One of the biggest perks for volunteering at a festival is the access to free films. Every festival is different for how they give out passes to volunteers, but I can tell you that for the Calgary International Film Festival Volunteers it’s based on the hours you work.

According to the handbook, for this year’s festival volunteers who contribute get tickets based off the following hour scheme:

During the festival

  • 16 to 19 hours: 2 vouchers
  • 20 to 24 hours: 4 vouchers
  • 25 to 29 hours: 6 vouchers
  • 30+ hours: 8 vouchers and a festival pass

Before the festival

  • 26 to 29 hours: 2 vouchers
  • 30 to 34 hours: 4 vouchers
  • 35 to 39 hours: 2 vouchers
  • 40+ hours: 2 vouchers

The more you volunteer, the more films you can see. That said if you’re volunteering 30+ hours during the festival you’ll have limited time to use your rewards, so plan accordingly!

Learn about filmmaking

For the aspiring filmmaker, a film festival is a great place to be. Not only do you get to see an array of good films created by those that you might not normally be exposed to, some of them also offer sessions with invaluable information.

These sessions are usually themed panels, things like women in film, creating great graphics or putting together a great cast. As a film festival volunteer, I recommending attending these sessions before or in-between shifts, depending on how the scheduling of your crew goes.

Alternatively, you can volunteer in a position that would allow you to be there while these sessions go down and catch them while you work!

Build a network in the industry

Besides film enthusiasts, who attends film festivals? People who work in the film industry! This seems obvious, but I think people often forget this. 

Being at the film festival while it’s going on means having the opportunity to connect with industry movers and shakers. But, if you want to connect it’s not good enough to just be there you need to introduce yourself.

So, take advantage of the opportunity and shake some hands!

Pad your resume

There are ton of benefits to volunteering overall, but one of the main ones I like to point out is that it helps you grow skills on your resume. This is especially important if you’re in the process of building your resume. 

Volunteer work helps to grow your experience and, at the same time, add a little colour to your resume!

Support your local community

I’m a big proponent of supporting your local community, but I like to advocate for contributing in ways that are meaningful to you personally. 

The Calgary International Film Festival helps put Calgary, and by proxy, Calgary filmmakers on the map and helps to build the overall local industry’s portfolio. When you support the festival, you support your community and the local filmmakers and that is incredibly important!

Have a ton of fun

I have a ton of volunteer experience under my belt, but I can tell you that being a Calgary International Film Festival volunteer was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had the opportunity to experience.

There was a mixture of great films, amazing people, access to a brand new network and simply an enjoyable way to spend an evening (or, like 10, in my experience). If you’re looking for a new experience and some community involvement, I would highly recommend it.

Calgary International Film Festival volunteer impact page
Your film festival volunteer page has helpful information regarding your impact!

Becoming a Calgary International Film Festival Volunteer

When I decided to become a volunteer at the Calgary International Film Festival, the idea came through an email from the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers and I was a little late to the game.

I signed up at the beginning of September of last year, a mere two-to-three weeks before the festival. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to become a film festival volunteer. 

Step 1: Do your research

First thing’s first, while my post on volunteering is clearly a ringing endorsement, you still need to do your own research to make sure it’s the right gig for you. Namely, that you have the time for it. 

First and foremost, you’ll want to make sure you’re available during the festival otherwise all of this jazz about how cool it is, is kind of wasted. The Calgary International Film Festival dates for 2019 are September 18 to 29.

Furthermore to ensure they have proper coverage, film festival volunteers need to commit to 16 hours during the festival. The festival takes place over a 12 day period, so there is a lot of time to get those hours in (seriously, last year I put in almost 50 hours).

With that out of the way, here are two great places to start your research: 

Step 2: Build a profile on Galaxy

Research done, you in? Excellent. Once you’ve decided you’re ready to take the plunge and become a Calgary International Film Festival volunteer, it’s time to sign up for Galaxy. You can get to the festival’s Galaxy Portal from their Volunteer page.

Signing up for Galaxy is a piece of cake, seriously. Once you’ve made an account, you have to fill out your information—things like name, email, address, etc.—and make sure to fill out their specific questions, which include:

  • Agreeing to the volunteer waiver
  • Agreeing with the volunteer agreement
  • Verify your age
  • Provide an emergency contact
  • Fill out medical and language information
  • Give your estimated hours
  • T-shirt information
  • Agree to attend the orientation

And finally, pick your desired crews!

Step 3: Pick your crew

Crews you ask? What crews! There are a ton of awesome ways to volunteer with the Calgary International Film Festival, here’s a brief, and hopefully accurate, description of the different volunteer options:

General Crews

  • Venue—The venue crew consists of front and back of house. They help tidy the theatres, direct guests and answer questions. This is a great way to get face-to-face interaction with patrons! 
  • Ballot—There are awards to be given out at the film festival, and some very trustworthy individuals have to count those precious ballots!
  • Office—Even film festivals need to get paperwork and have a coffee runner (I’m joking on the coffee thing, I think), office volunteers help with office-related work to ensure the film festival operates to its fullest potential.
  • Logistics—Okay, honestly I’m not entirely sure what the logistic crews do, but judging by my event knowledge I suspect they do the set-up, take-down and other arrangements.

Specialized Crews

  • Bartender—this crew serves thirsty patrons. Since we’re in Alberta you need to have your Pro Serve for this crew.
  • Tech—calling all tech-savvy individuals, the tech crew obviously runs the festival’s tech!
  • Screen Lead—this crew makes sure the film runs well and on time. It includes checking the film before-hand, assisting the programmer (and the Q&A if there is one) and sitting through the film (AKA watching it) to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
  • Crew Lead—crew leads lead the different crews. I believe this is mostly for front and back of house.
  • Photography—the photography crew makes sure there’s documented photo evidence that the festival took place.
  • Social Media—the social media crew helps put that documented photo evidence online… tweet or it didn’t happen!
  • Development—the development crew helps out during special events like the opening and closing galas.
  • Transportation—the transportation crew helps ensure important people get to where they need to be… using cars!
  • Dynamics—I think the dynamics crew is the volunteer volunteers, those volunteers that help other volunteers with various things. Though, to be honest, I’m not clear on it.

For the festival to function optimally, all of these crews need amazing volunteers. Just like there is no small part, there’s no small volunteer roll!

Step 4: Attend a volunteer orientation session

Volunteer orientation sessions are mandatory and they help introduce you to your key contacts, get familiar with the festival and learn about the different crews. It’s a quick-and-dirty overview of the festival and they share some incredibly valuable information.

If you want to become a Calgary International Film Festival volunteer you need to attend a volunteer orientation session. The next session is on August 17, so get yourself signed up today!

Step 5: Attend your crew orientation (if applicable)

If you join a specialized crew, you may need to attend a specialized orientation or training session. Not all crews have these, but if you do have one you definiately need to go because it means they have something important to teach you!

Step 6: Build your schedule

According to their website, volunteers can start building their schedules on August 21st at 5 pm. The earlier you build your schedule, the more flexibility you get due to shifts still being open. So build early.

Step 7: Pick up your perks

The Festival HQ opens on September 13, and that’s when volunteers can start picking up their perks and volunteer badgest. This process is super simple, you just show up at the HQ in Eau Claire Market and pick your things up.

Step 8: Volunteer!

Showing up is incredibly important, don’t be a no show. If volunteers don’t show up, that leaves the crews out there short-staffed which is uncool. Plus, there might be someone else that could (and wanted to) take that shift!

Film festival volunteer FAQs

What is a film festival?

A film festival is a curated collection of films shown as part of a celebration of film. There are a ton of different types of film festivals—local, international, genre-specific and even ones based on a certain type of filmmaker (like a festival for woman filmmakers).

They also give filmmakers access to awards, allowing filmmakers to gain access to funds, resources, and helps them build their professional profiles. They offer a great opportunity for indie film creators and artists to show their films, connect with their audiences, and ultimately make more films.

But film festivals give you more than just access to films, they put filmmakers and film participants (performers, crew) directly in front of their audiences, offering things like Q&A sessions and situations to interact with each other.

Plus the bigger film festivals often have educational and informational sessions where you can learn (and ask questions) about creating films. Last year the Calgary International Film Festival offered a local film expo where people could learn more about the film industry.

If you’re interested in learning about and experiencing film, then you should definitely fit a film festival into your schedule.

What kind of volunteer jobs are there at film festivals?

There are all sorts of roles for film festival volunteers. Whatever your forte and passions are, there is something at your local film festival that you’d excel in! 

If you love interacting with people, a role in guest services or front of house venue positions could be your sweet spot. For those that lovee the technical aspects, they always need projectors. And if you’re a social media whiz, they can usually need some help! 

I’m a film fanatic, I watch as many films as I can possibly get my hands on so the perfect volunteer role for me was as a screen lead. This meant I was in the theatres watching the films with the audience throughout the festival, and it was perfect for me!

Have you ever been a film festival volunteer? Tell me about your experience in the comments below!

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