One of the non-traditional ways to pick a travel destination is to visit a place during a film festival.

Because events are held in various venues around a town, attending film festivals is a great way to explore a city while experiencing marvelous old theaters that you wouldn’t see on a typical vacation. Unlike the paparazzi-laden galas at Cannes or Venice, most film festivals are very approachable, with screenings and events that are reasonably priced, or even free.

That’s how we found ourselves at the Edinburgh International Film Festival last month in Scotland’s capital city. Now in its 73rd year, it’s the longest continually running film festival in the world and has developed a reputation for discovering wonderful independent movies. With Edinburgh in particular, you can explore castles by day and perhaps see a movie filmed in those same castles by night.

We spoke with two Philadelphia-area filmmakers for tips on finding film festivals and how to get the most out of the experience. Sarah Megan Thomas is the screenwriter and star of Liberté: A Call to Spy, a World War II spy thriller that premiered at Edinburgh. Mark Aznavourian is the screenwriter of Breathe, an award-winning short horror film that has been making the rounds of festivals this summer.

Aznavourian recommends seeking out festivals on the website, which lists every film festival in the world. The list includes generalist festivals as well as those specializing in genres such as Science Fiction and Documentary.

Locally, the Philadelphia Film Festival this year is scheduled for Oct. 17-27. (For information, go to Additionally, upcoming festivals within a day’s drive of Philadelphia include the March on Washington Film Festival in the nation’s capital in September and the Spooky Movie International Horror Film Festival in Silver Spring, Md., in early October.

To get the most out of your festival experience, Aznavourian advises “seeing as many films as possible.”

Thomas, who attended the Shipleyh School in Bryn Mawr, adds, “Also go to some screenings where there are cast/crew question-and-answer sessions. After you watch a film, it is very informative to hear how it was made and speak with the cast about how they developed their roles. I would also recommend seeing several diverse types of films at a festival. There are many hidden gems out there, and they aren’t always the films with the most publicity.”

During the Q-and-A session with Thomas after Liberté, we learned that parts of the film representing World War II-era France and Britain were actually filmed in the Philadelphia area. Most notably, the Ardrossan Estate on the Main Line stood in for a Scottish spy-training facility.

Attending free events where filmmakers talk about their craft or lectures about topics such as “Food and Film” can greatly enrich your festival experience. Thomas also recommends that during screenings, “Turn off your cell phone and enjoy the film.”

Good advice.

Philadelphia natives Larissa and Michael Milne have been full-time global nomads since 2011. Follow their journey at