The magic of film festivals – everyone is trying to get their work into them. There’s big ones, small ones, prestigious ones, far away ones, and local ones.
As someone who has been running a film festival for three years now, I feel I have the teeniest bit of experience in them, and some understanding about why they are so useful. But I’ve also attended dozens over the years, here in the UK, in Cannes, Australia and beyond. And that’s where the real experience comes from.
Film festivals are a complex land unto themselves. It’s like navigating the great unknown of casting directors and television shows when you’re just starting out, only this time it relates to festivals. Not all film festivals are created equal, and not all of them will be right for you. But by making the most out of any that you are accepted into, and attending those that you can, along with other festivals that you know are credible, there can be some huge benefits.
- Film festivals are filmmaker magnets: Film festivals, whether big or small, are littered with eager beans who are making films right now. They are current filmmakers, not has-beens or will-make-a-film-one-day. So armed with your business cards and a good attitude, you can meet many industry relevant folk who might just be a great connection for you in the future – be that because they’ll cast you, or you can cross promote, or you can perhaps get ideas on future things you’d like to be in or create.
- Your work will show you off so you don’t need to: Ever a fan of the notion of less self-promotion is more, film festivals are great in that they do that showy work for you. You attend, and your work is on the big screen, be that as an actor, director, writer or one of the crew. And afterwards, you can enjoy people coming to say hi and celebrating your work, without you having to do a thing. And then if all goes well and you’ve struck up a lovely conversation, you have now made a new friend, fan or potential employer.
- If you are creating your own work, then film festivals are a great way to find directors: I often talk with actors about how important it is to go out and choose the director you want to work with, rather than waiting and wishing on a star that they’ll find you. If you’re collaborating with a writer to create a piece you can star in, or you’ve written something yourself and you’re on the hunt for a director, film festivals are the perfect platform for finding said directors. You can attend and watch dozens of short films on the big screen, and without them even realising it, you’re getting to play Simon Cowell in the film version of X Factor. You decide who you love and who you’d bring back to the judges house. If you see the work of a director and think “I absolutely must work with them“, why not approach them afterward and strike up a conversation. You love being approached out of the blue and offered to audition or do a role, right? So surely they’ll be just as flattered that someone is interested in working with them in the same manner! *Obviously use your discretion, based on the size of the director and how well-known they are – I’m not sure this plan would work with Tarantino, but it very well could with a brand new up-and-coming short film director.
- Choosing the right festival is powerful for you: Yes there are literally thousands of film festivals out there around the world, and sometimes it’s hard to know which ones to apply to. But one thing is for sure. If you do your homework and find film festivals that suit the tone of your short and match the style of the festival you are applying to, then there’s every possibility it will get accepted, and potentially screen – especially when it’s a film festival that is bigger and has more room to screen dozens and dozens of shorts, like London Short Film Festival for example. Once you’ve been in a film festival you’ll also be on the film festival programmer’s hotlist because they’ll know your work, and they could be following you in the future. This also means – next time you’re ready to hit up the festivals with your latest piece, you could reach out and see if they’re interested in featuring you again. Many a filmmaker have screened a short in SXSW or Sundance, only to have gone on years later and been fortunate enough to have their feature film there! Now that’s magic but also it’s a cleverly using film festivals, and your contacts, to your film’s advantage.
- Don’t underestimate the power of laurels: Once you’ve submitted to film festivals and you’ve had some official responses – and hopefully some yes’s – you will then receive laurels from those successful film festivals. These will be laurels showing you are in Official Selection, or have received a Nomination. These are great to add to your poster and then use as you continue to apply to other film festivals. Festival acceptance really can aid in additional festival acceptance. Let’s face it, film festival programmers can occasionally be a fickle bunch – wanting to see those shorts that have lots of shiny laurels! They will be thinking, hmmm if other festivals liked it, surely it is something worth checking out (at the very least).
- And finally, where should you look: It would be remiss of me not to include a few great festivals (including the one I curate, of course) that are worth checking out if you’re in the UK and wanting to find the right festival for your short film (or feature):
- Aesthetica Film Festival (a BAFTA recognised film festival, York)
- Encounters Film Festival (A BAFTA, the Oscars® and the European Film Awards qualifying festival, Bristol)
- Glasgow Short Film Festival (largest competitive short film festival in Scotland)
- Leeds International Film Festival (Leeds)
- London Short Film Festival (London)
- TweetFest (London)
- Unrestricted View Film Festival (London)
Whichever way you look at it, film festivals can only lead you to lots of awesome magical film places. So click your heels, and get ready to shimmy down that red carpet. And don’t forget to get a picture in front of the photo boards for your own press and PR!