Volunteering at the Sydney Film Festival (19th June 2011)

After my stint last year at the New Zealand International Film Festival in Wellington, I wasn't planning to volunteer at another film festival and not getting to see much of Jono or time to myself over the course of the event. And yet I signed myself up to volunteer at the Sydney Film Festival on their website when they first announced the dates of the event! Well, I've been in Sydney for about 3 months now and I'm feeling quite settled into the routines of work and life and thought, it's probably about time to get involved in the local arts and culture scene like I have been back in Wellington. The Sydney Film Festival was the first event that happened to pop up in my radar :) The festival runs for 2 weeks from the 8th - 19th of June showcasing 161 films from 42 countries - many of the films have sold out so you've to be in quick!

A week prior to the festival, volunteers gathered at Dendy Cinemas on Opera Quays for the induction where we where given a pack consisting of a volunteer shirt which we got to keep at the end of the festival, pass, handbook with important information you need to know about being a volunteer at the event as well as a festival programme booklet. Several festival staff including the festival director each gave a briefing on what the festival is about, what their roles are and answered any questions the volunteers had, most of which I'm aware of since I've worked in similar events in the past.

I was quite surprised that there was no minimum amount of shifts a volunteer had to do - I only had 2 shifts, both on Sundays and each was 4.5 hours long. My first shift was at Dendy Cinemas on Opera Quays where I worked with volunteer co-ordinator Emily and 3 other girls. The cinema reminded me a lot of Penthouse Cinema in Wellington where they were less mainstream and screened a lot more festival movies. Emily gave us a briefing of our tasks and I ended up being one of two girls handing out voting slips and counting votes at the end of a screening (films over 40 minutes in length screened are subject to an audience vote), while the other pair had to scan audience tickets with a handheld barcode scanner (some of the scanners are able to scan mobile tickets too) upon entry to the cinema. There was no ushering or cleaning tasks required of us. We had only 1 cinema screening the festival films so it was an easy job managing the patrons. I obviously have the 'I'm here to help' face because I kept getting random people coming up to me to tell me things such as "There wasn't any toilet paper in the women's toilets" or "The movie was too loud" and none of them were even  here for the festival films!

Each of the volunteer had a 30-minute break for lunch and we also received a staff discount when purchasing drinks and food from the candy bar. My mochaccino only cost me $1 - sweet! It was somewhat disappointing to learn that volunteers do not get a chance to watch the movie while they are on duty (in the Wellington film festival, seats were booked out for volunteers so when we have completed our tasks, we could slip in to watch the movie) and that we only got our complimentary ticket after completion of each shift. Under normal circumstances, I would say it's only fair that one receives the reward at the end of completing their task. However, in this instance, giving us complimentary tickets this late into the festival leaves volunteers no opportunity to make use of them since most films would be sold out. I was fortunate enough to swap my complimentary ticket from this shift for film Even the Rain, which was a Spanish film about a filmmaker (played by Gael Garcia Bernal) who went to Bolivia to shoot his film in the midst of protests during the 2000 Cochabamba water crisis. A stirring yet heartwarming part-fact-part-fiction movie giving audiences a glimpse of what it was like during the protests by the Bolivians fighting against the water shortage caused by a multinational.

Oh, you wouldn't believe who I bumped into at Dendy Cinemas - Janice! She was in a rush to another festival film at a different location but it was still lovely to see her as I've not seen her since our catch up in April!

My second shift was on the final day of the festival, this time at Event Cinemas on George Street. I wasn't feeling my best having a puffy left eye thanks to a darn drain fly (those tiny annoying bugs you find in your bathroom) that decided to kill itself by flying straight for my eye. It has been 2 days now and the swelling and itching still persist. Hmm, might have to go see a doctor after this shift...

There were 6 girls including me on this shift. Volunteer co-ordinator Bronwyn had a totally different approach to managing us, pretty much letting us run the whole show on our own - I'm not sure if it was because it was the last day of the festival or that she assumed we knew what to do, it was rather unprofessional to let us self-manage when some of us had never worked in this venue before. There were 2 cinemas screening about the same time making it challenging to co-ordinate patrons so that they queued up for the appropriate cinemas. I ended up being the primary person scanning the tickets, and also had to count votes for ones of the films. At one point Bronwyn came and took my scanner off me towards the cinema to scan some tickets (patrons probably came through another entrance) and took off, forgetting that I still have last minute patrons waiting impatiently for me to scan their tickets so I had to chase after her just to get the scanner. Sheesh!

Volunteers on the final day of the festival were invited to attend the festival after party instead of given a complimentary ticket. I'm going to pass since my eye is still not good and it's a Sunday. All in all, volunteering at the film festival was an experience in itself though there's room to make the volunteering experience an even better one - there is much they can learn from the Wellington organisers, that's for sure.


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