Film Festival Strategies

Hi all-
One subject that I take a keen interest in is festival strategy. Recently, was mentioned in “The Filmmaker’s Journey”, a vlog by Chris Esper. In his episode about film festivals he gives tips for approaching film festivals. You can watch the vblog here.

I welcome any comments. I was intrigued by his advice to contact festivals and am specifically wondering what experiences my readers have had with this, whether festivals are open to looking at work and advising on whether it is appropriate for their festival. Also, I agree that it is sometimes difficult to ascertain whether a festival is right for your work. Has anyone accidentally discovered a “niche” after they started applying? For example, you perhaps thought the film fit a certain audience and it seemed to do well with a different audience instead?

Lastly, what other approaches do you take to find festivals and venues? What are your favorite sites?


6 thoughts on “Film Festival Strategies

  1. You raise some great questions.

    I had never considered contacting festivals in advance about my films. I’m not sure how fruitful it would be. I imagine all of the fee-based festivals out there would respond positively just to get another paid entry.

    Not that I take submissions lightly. I’m looking at the festival web sites, mission statements, social media, past programs and a catalogs, discerning whether my film fits into their program or not. It’s kind of like a relationship, you need to get to know their likes and dislikes, their goals and attitudes. It’s fairly obvious when you find a festival that is right for your film.

    For festivals that charge entry fees, I ask myself “Do I like these people and what they are doing enough that I would just donate to their festival?” Which is basically what you are doing when you submit and are rejected.

    I think it’s also important to make full use of that Cover Letter or Note. If you’ve done all the research, love the festival’s mission and programming, and are excited to apply to the festival, you should have a lot of specific things to say about their festival and why you think your film is a good fit. Just tossing submissions out there without providing the context is kind of sad.

    Regarding finding your niche a little late, I can relate to this quite a bit. I’m currently promoting my film “L’amour en cinq parties” which was shot spontaneously while traveling through Paris with friends. The footage was shot with only a rough concept in mind and then only later crafted into a film. It didn’t have much of a story, but it did have a progression of thought and a point of view. I didn’t know what to make of the film myself.

    I started submitting and got about thirty rejections before my first acceptance, to an “art film” festival, which led me to discover the world of art and experimental film festivals, which I had not even considered since I had never made an experimental film before and this one only accidentally. I re-calibrated my strategy and got another 20 acceptances in the last six months, mostly from art, experimental, and festivals that explore social issues. None of which I thought about going in. The film is playing very well across Europe, but oddly not in France, even though it was shot there and is in the French language with native French speakers.

    Another film “Thrasherland” was a very personal story inspired by my youth, but it took some time to figure out that it was really a family film and that there were festivals for families, children, and youth. So after a year of targeting general-purpose festivals, I’m looking now at these other festivals and getting positive results.

    So, as much as you think you know you’re film, you never really know it until you see which festivals pick it up. I’ve learned a lot.

    1. Wow- thanks for the thoughtful, in-depth response. I kind of think that is part of the fun, in a way, to find out where your film belongs. I always have the intention of not spending money on entry fees. So if I do it is because there is a compelling reason to do so. Thanks again for your comments! -tracy

  2. Hi Tracy,

    As you know we’re a consultancy company for filmmakers and we focus on festival strategy of two reasons – filmmakers lack the wider knowledge of the festival circuit, and they have very little time to implement festival submissions.

    I would agree with Chris Esper *to a point* about approaching festivals to see if they would be interested in your film. From my ten years plus experience of submitting other filmmakers’ work onto the circuit, this works well with smaller festival – arthouse // experimental // animation and more focused festivals rather than the big-hitters. But then there are some festivals that are approachable on the larger scale but maybe we have that open channel of communication with them because we’re not the the filmmaker. Ironically enough we find that festivals that don’t have a large work team are the ones who are more responsive and this may be down to the idea that they don’t have too many folks above them needing to have a set protocol in place.

    In our line of work we’re always keen to promote festivals that are best suited to the film in question. Somewhere along the line there has been a perpetuating myth that filmmakers have to be screened in a large festival to be known. And it’s something that we’re eager to dispel. We reiterate that your film should be seeking an audience, not necessarily awards and monetary prizes. There are so many film festivals out there that crave brilliant strong content but because they’re not listed on a submission platform they’re overlooked. Hence why we’ve used your blog Tracy, why we’ve interviewed festivals from across the circuit landscape, and why when we give lectures and go into film schools and organisations we explore the difference between blowing your submission fee budget and *utilising* it.

    Always a pleasure to read your blog Tracy.


    Katie McCullough
    Founder of Festival Formula

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