There are two kinds of movies at film festivals–those that have been picked up by an American distributor, and those that haven’t (there’s also a gray area: films that distributors are negotiating over). The difference is important when you’re deciding what to see. If a film doesn’t have an American distributor, chances are you will never get another chance to see that movie.
For us in the press, films getting a commercial release are called “Hold Review” films–at least that’s what they’re called on the list of them we get in our press kits. The idea is that, while we’re allowed to mention them in our coverage of the festival, and publish short, one-paragraph reviews, we’re supposed to hold our full reviews (if we write them) until the films are out in regular theaters. As I write this, I have nine reviews on hold from the Asian American and San Francisco International festivals.
I generally recommend that people avoid these “Hold Review” films at festivals, and concentrate on pictures they won’t get another chance to see. Of course, I understand the temptation to be among the first to see a heavily promoted movie, and there’s the event factor of seeing it with the director present for Q&A after the screening. Although I saw several of SFIFF’s Hold Review films before the festival, Standard Operating Procedure is the only one I’ve seen at the festival itself–so far.