When I was in film school in the early 2000s, I knew nothing about film festivals. My tutors somehow didn’t feel it was relevant to share that kind of knowledge with their students. Or maybe they didn’t really know…
I left the film school in 2004 unaware that film festivals, apart from Cannes and Berlin, of which I knew since I was seven years old, existed.
Since I was unaware that film festivals were a vital part of the film business, I also didn’t know that any aspiring filmmaker had to learn how the whole festival circuit functioned and what the benefits of screening at and attending film festivals with your films were.
It took me quite a few years to understand how film festivals work and what the benefits and rewards of being part of them are.
Film Festivals are great for:
- Meeting other filmmakers, and interesting people in general.
- Watching new films before they are released.
- Learning. Yes, learning: attending workshops, talks and Q&A’s is one of the things I love about film festivals the most.
- Visiting new places that you usually would never visit. For me, one of those places was Newport Beach, CA. To this day, the Newport Beach Film Festival is one of the best film festivals I have ever attended.
- If your film is part of the competition, this gives you a fantastic opportunity to make new contacts and possibly find representation.
- If your film screens at one of the biggest film festivals (A-list film festivals), you have a considerable chance of finding a distribution deal for your film.
- Even if you aren’t screening at the main competition, but your film is part of the library of films, it can still be picked up by a distributor or a sales agent. One of my shorts was part of the Cannes Short Film Corner and thanks to that I was able to sell two of my shorts “9 MM” & “The Man With The Spying Glass” to Shorts International. “9 MM” is still with the Shorts International. While another distribution company picked up my latest short film “Dad”, even though the film wasn’t part of the festival but was in the festival’s library. That distribution deal led to another distribution deal for “The Man With The Spying Glass”. Sometimes competition is just one part of what film festivals can offer.
Film festivals have deadlines, by which all the filmmakers wanting to participate need to submit their films. Most commonly, the earlier you submit your film, the lower the submission fee is. There are still some festivals, especially in Europe, that are submission fee-free.
Once you start submitting your film to festivals, make sure you are submitting it to the ones that accept your genre (read FAQs).
There are thousands of film festivals around the globe and your festival submission budget can easily go over your production budget. Make sure you keep tabs on your spending and the best way to do that is to know precisely which festivals accept films like yours. There is no point submitting drama to a horror festival or a narrative to a documentary festival. Take time and do your research properly; don’t expose yourself to unnecessary extra costs and silly mistakes.
After you submit your film to a festival, the programmers will watch your film and decide if it’s a good fit for that festival or not.
When your film makes to the competition, you will receive an email or a phone call from the festival inviting you to attend and present your film. It’s always super exciting to have your film screened at festivals since it means your film was chosen from thousands of other films and stories.
If you can afford to attend the festival, do it. Some festivals pay for the filmmaker’s expenses such as travel and lodging costs; some festivals do it partially, and some have huge discounts available to filmmakers. Check with the festival organizers how they can help you out before you make any arrangements yourself.
As I said before, it’s always fun to be able to watch your film on a big screen, meet people and enjoy your success a bit.
While you are here, you might also be interested in Creative Distribution.