Cockatoo patrons left crestfallen at opener

THE organisers of the Cockatoo Island Film Festival say they have fixed the problems that marred the opening night when 200 people could not get in to see the movie.

The co-creative director, Alannah Zitserman, said hundreds of festival-goers turned up unexpectedly, which resulted in patrons being locked out of cinemas, confusion about seating and long queues for food and drink.

''We catered for 2000 and 2200 turned up,'' she said. ''Everyone said to us there's no way you're going to get people out to Cockatoo Island - not in your first year - and the opposite happened.''

After reviewing complaints, the organisers have improved entry to the cinemas and arranged more bar and food staff and more volunteers to direct patrons around the island.

''That was our most difficult night so it's much easier to handle the rest of the festival,'' Ms Zitserman said.

The $2 million event, which opened with a screening of the Hollywood drama The Master on Wednesday night, is running for the first time on the Sydney Harbour island.

More than $800,000 was spent to create three cinemas, two ''educational hubs'' and an outdoor concert venue for the event, which runs until Sunday.

It includes competitions for feature films, documentaries and shorts, concerts, talks, a yacht race and other activities.

The festival was created by Ms Zitserman and Stavros Kazantzidis, the filmmaker couple who have run the Dungog Film Festival for the past five years.

With the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, NSW Mining and Hoyts as their main sponsors, they have invested $500,000 of their own money into running the event.

Ms Zitserman insisted that 2000 festival-goers enjoyed the opening night.

Of the 200 patrons who were unable to see the movie, virtually all were invited guests who were given free drinks during the movie and later went to the after party. Just half a dozen had bought tickets costing up to $120 for the movie and party, she said. They were given refunds, free drinks and free passes for the rest of the festival.

''We started with the most difficult event we had - the most complicated and the biggest - on the first night. So there wasn't a chance to iron out the teething problems.''

The complaints extended to problems with the island as a new film festival venue.

''Upon arrival to the island there were no signs, no directions, no marshals or stewards to guide us through the labyrinth of former shipbuilding sheds, disused docks and tunnels as everyone tried to work out where the hell the three cinemas were located,'' said Christian Mathis, an invited guest who caught the ferry home when he could not see the movie.

Fairfax journalist George Palathingal said there was confusion about seating in the cinema, the plastic chairs were too uncomfortable for a two-hour movie - ''let alone one with a half-hour intro'' - and there were long, slow-moving queues for ''overpriced drinks and popcorn''.

But other guests felt the island was an atmospheric venue, the new cinemas impressive and the ferry travel easier than expected.

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