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Film Festivals Do’s and Don’ts

Film festivals submission process requires determination, a high level of resistance to rejection, deep pockets and patience when waiting to hear back from the programmers.

I’ve been actively submitting films, not only mine, to festivals since 2006. Within that time a lot has changed: the submission process got easier, festival fees are higher than they used to be, the competition is fiercer, and film festivals aren’t anymore the only way to launch your filmmaking career.

Luckily, the physical submissions are no longer in operation, which is a great time saver. You don’t need to waste your time at the post office, lining up and posting up to thirty submissions a month. 

Thanks to the online submission process, it’s never been easier to find the right film festivals for your project.

While considering taking the film festival route with your project, take into consideration the following do’s and don’ts of the submission process:


  • You need to be organized to keep on the top of the submission process, which can take up to a year. I usually give each of my projects a year for the submission process. This is the time frame I operate within for each of my projects.
  • Submit your film by the earliest submission deadline possible. Yes, you will have to wait longer to hear back from the festival, but in the long run, it’s going to save you shit lots of money.
  • Carefully read the requirements the festivals have regarding acceptance criteria. If the festival only takes local submissions and you have made an international film, don’t bother submitting your film. You will waste time and money.
  • If the festival asks for the media kit, submit it together with your film.
  • Keep in mind that A-list film festivals are going to be taken over by the A-list celebrities and their newest projects. Smaller films, unless truly fortunate or exceptional, might not get as much attention as they should only because they don’t have star power behind. However, if A-list film festivals is what you are going for, make sure that you plan out your marketing and promotional activities well in advance.
  • Have posters and postcards with your film’s screening times ready, when you go to the film festival. Give them out to everyone you meet. You want people to come and see your film, especially if you have made a feature film and it is a world premiere. You’re the one who needs to create the buzz.  
  • While at the festival, attend workshops and Q&A sessions. Take part in as many as you can. If they offer a pitching session, go for those because you never know who is listening.
  • If you submit an unfinished film and it gets selected, make sure you finish it. Don’t let the unfinished project to be screened.
  • Have extra screening copies (if you are attending the festival) on you, just in case. Because anything you think of, that can go wrong with your screening copy, may become a reality.
  • If you can afford it, do attend festivals.
  • Celebrate every acceptance offer and every screening. Over the years, it has become significantly harder to be programmed because of the amount of submission each festival receives. So, really, each acceptance is worth celebrating.
  • Set up specific criteria, which will qualify a festival towards the “yes” column on your spreadsheet. It can be the submission fee; it can be a genre; it can be prestige. Stick to your criteria. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed and excited about the prospects of festival glory. That tactic will lose you lots of time and money. 
  • Try to build a relationship with both: the festival and programmers.


  • Don’t slam the festival on social media if your film isn’t accepted.
  • Don’t stalk programmers, online or otherwise.
  • Don’t go over your film festival submission budget. If you use credit cards to pay the submissions fees, as sometimes I do, remember that one day you will have to pay that back.
  • Don’t rush with submissions and if your film isn’t ready, wait until it is ready to shine.
  • If the festival doesn’t accept your genre, don’t submit your film there; it’s a waste of time and money.
  • Don’t expect festivals to be responsible for your film’s marketing and promotion materials. If you are screening your film at any festival, you will be responsible for your own marketing and promotional materials.
  • Don’t expect the festival to pay for your travelling and lodging. Some festivals do, some help with the costs, but paying for everything is sporadic.

I hope this list will give you a little bit more clarity and will make your submission process easier and more prolific. All the best.

While you are here, you might also be interested in Creative Distribution.

Filed under: film festivals

About the Author

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Magda Olchawska is an award-winning independent filmmaker, writer and screenwriter. She writes not only about making films and writing but also about financially independent and sustainable lifestyle. Her current projects include Ecotopia Universe and School Runs.

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