If you love filmmaking, overdosing on popcorn, and waiting in line ups, then you’ve probably seen a film at a film festival before. Festivals have a certain exciting frequency to them as audience members, celebrities and filmmakers all enjoy the same viewing screen. But for a new filmmaker, festivals can be daunting new territory.
InFocus alumni Sarah Race’s student film, Barbarian Press (2016), has been screened at a dozen festivals around North America. Race felt clueless when she entered the festival world—but even though she spent more money on festivals than on the cost of her film, it was all worth it. “To me, it was all about the experience, about all the amazing people I met, how awesome people were, and all the learning curves,” said Race.
Race was encouraged to submit Barbarian Press (2016) by her InFocus instructors, and her film won official selection at Hot Docs in 2016. The decision to take the festival route has been very beneficial for her networking but has limited the potential audience for her film, as opposed to if she had posted her films on an online platform like Youtube. “Film festivals only have a very small audience of a specific sort of people that go to film festivals,” she said.
One of the biggest factors discouraging filmmakers from entering festivals is the cost. It can be expensive to pay for application fees, and then transportation and lodging in the city of the festival. Race said it was expensive but still important to attend the festivals for networking purposes. “You’re there to network and meet people, and maybe eventually those things will pan out to money making.”
Janalee Budge, another InFocus alumni, also took to the festival scene with her documentary In the Blink of an Eye (2016). She has received multiple awards and screenings, including official selection at the Whistler International Film Festival. She said the festival application process was overwhelming and expensive, but she feels that the ‘award winning’ title has its benefits. “To be able to say that [my film has] gone to a festival seems to have a fair bit of weight when you’re talking to people about future hiring,” said Budge.
Budge entered her film into festivals mostly out of curiosity. “I wanted to know if it was going to be interesting to people that weren’t my friends and family,” said Budge. Once the festival began, she was hooked. “I loved going to all the events and for the first time being part of the industry side as opposed to just the filmgoers,” she said.
Aside from the red carpets and events, festivals can be a very busy time for filmmakers. According to Sarah Race, “You have to do a lot of work when you’re there, like bring postcards or just talk to people.”
Of course, choosing to submit your film into festivals all starts with the daunting task of the application process. It can be overwhelming to sift through hundreds of festivals online, each application with its own expensive entry fee and specific requirements. Setting a budget for your festival applications and applying only to the most relevant festivals to your film is recommended. Race suggests focusing submissions on festivals that have a similar theme to your film, such as festivals that are focused on mountain films or skiing if that’s the topic of your film. She also says to be wary of premiere requirements, as some festivals require a film to be a world, national or provincial premiere and your film only gets one of each.
Not every film is destined or designed to go into the realm of film festivals, but those that do successfully find themselves as an Official Selection at a festival can look forward to the title of award-winning filmmaker and proudly display their laurels.