Festival strategy: finding the light

Bright lights can continue to shine on your film long after you’ve wrapped production. Film festivals provide a venue to exhibit your film, network with fellow filmmakers and industry professionals, see great films and if you’re really lucky, provide a legit excuse to travel to a part of the country or world you otherwise wouldn’t go.

The key to festival strategy is to begin researching the options early. A common mistake is to wait until your film is complete before thinking about which festivals you want to target. Festival strategy is an integral component of a marketing plan which is created during the development phase of your project.

Fortunately, there are thousands of festivals and they come in many different varieties. Here are a few websites to research the options:

FilmLand Festivals, Markets and Conventions

Telefilm list of accredited festivals (see page 10)

Genie list of eligible festivals

Unfortunately, the number of festivals makes it hard to determine where to begin, hence the need to familiarize yourself with the options early and create a strategy to focus your time, energy and money.

So – how do you develop a strategy?

Identify goals for your film and goals for yourself. Create a tiered approach to festival submission which targets the major festivals first, special interest festivals second and online last.

If this your first professional film and foray into the world of festivals I recommend applying to filmmaker friendly festivals such as the CFC’s Worldwide Short Film Festival and Vancouver, Atlantic and Seattle’s International Film Festivals.

If you want to get international attention festivals with markets like Clermont Ferrand (for short films), Berlin and Rotterdam are the ones to target. A market is an ideal breeding ground for meeting co-production partners and pitching projects in your development slate.

Or if you want to use this current film to raise your profile consider A-List festivals like Toronto International Film Festival, Sundance, Tribecca and Berlin which are attended by industry movers & shakers from around the world.

Research the possibilities and create a wish list. This is where you can use the wide range and number of festivals to your advantage. Think local AND global. It’s important your neighbours get a chance to see your films and it’s equally valuable for the international industry and audience to see your work and consider you a possible candidate for future collaborations.

Kellie Ann Benz unlocks many festival secrets in a recent three-part series written in her regular column for the National Screen Institute. Check it out here and bookmark it as a handy reference.

Programmers of all types attend festivals so screening at one festival will often lead to a invitation to submit to festivals that may not be on your radar. Shelagh Carter’s feature film Passionflower screened at Vancouver International Film Festival in 2011 and as a result, was invited to submit to several festivals in Canada, the US and Australia.

Carefully review the festival entry regulations and forms to ensure you meet the criteria then apply by the deadline.

Applying by the early bird deadline affords you the luxury of saving money and can sometimes mean your film isn’t screened with the mass pile of films that come in at the deadline.

Premiere status can be a deal breaker so it’s important to spend time figuring out which festivals require either a world, national or regional premiere.

Yes it can be difficult to navigate the complicated regulations and somewhat repetitive festival entry forms. Without A Box makes festival submissions a breeze but don’t despair, if you don’t have the time or inclination to walk this road alone, know there are professional supports available. OUAT Media offers a festival submissions service and my company, Exposure Film, provides promotional and exhibition support to independent filmmakers.

Don’t be discouraged if after all your best efforts you get an inbox full of rejection letters.

BC filmmaker, Karen Lam applied to 60 festivals with her current short film Doll Parts. She’s already been accepted into 25 but Karen is quick to point out this ratio hasn’t been the same for all her films. “I’ve directed and/or produced three feature films and six short films, and I have a really hard time predicting how anything will do on the festival circuit. Films that I’ve loved received no attention, so I have to say the film festival gods move in weird and mysterious ways.”

Even if your film doesn’t get accepted into competition at a festival, I encourage all filmmakers to attend at least one film festival a year. Always remember this is a business of serendipity and festivals present an opportunity to meet delegates you wouldn’t otherwise have met.

I recently began work with Lara Cassidy and Shauna Hatt to promote their newly completed short film, Fridge Magnet Poetry at Clermont Ferrand. This article is being typed with crossed fingers as we’re all hoping Fridge Magnet Poetry will be accepted into international competition at Clermont. If it doesn’t, no worries, I’ll be there to provide on the ground promotion support to ensure the film, Lara and Shauna are connected to the appropriate industry professionals from around the world.

Quebec filmmaker, Claude Jutra states “Not making the films you want to make is awful, but making them and not having them shown is worse.” So go find your festival spotlight. You owe it to yourself, your film and your audience to complete this final chapter in your film’s journey.”

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