Today I will be discussing how to get your film selected for an A-list film festival – let’s begin!
Lots of filmmakers always want to screen their film an A-list festival. The A-list festivals are considered to be what is otherwise known as the ‘Top 5’ fests – Sundance, Cannes, Berlinale, Venice and TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival).
These festivals have been around for a very long time and have a rich history to them. Sundance was created by Robert Redford and began in 1978, Cannes began in 1946, Berlinale 1951, Venice in 1932 and TIFF 1976. These festivals have launched thousands of highly successful films some of which have won Oscar & BAFTA awards as well as a successful theatrical run.
Before pressing the submit button and submitting to to these Top 5 festivals, it is important to bear in mind these 3 key points
1) These kinds of festivals receive the highest number of submissions, so a film is already competing against hundreds, if not thousands of films, for maybe around 30-40 slots in the case of a short film.
2) The bigger the festival, the fewer films they take from cold submissions, even short films, so the chances of any one film being selected is far below 5%.
3) Because of these two factors, the film needs to be outstanding in order to get a programmer’s attention.
The key point to remember here is yes, having connections with festival programmers is certainly important however for a top tier programmer to take an independent film seriously, you really need to have a film that is not just good or okay but a great one, so you can be considered equally alongside these other films that you will be competing against.
It is also important to understand how these top 5 festivals curate their program. These festivals don’t need to rely on Film Freeway or any blind submission platforms to find content, as they find films via other methods including; sales agent contacts, distributors, film schools, alumni filmmakers, other film festivals, festival strategists like myself, their own filmmaker connections and in some cases their own productions that they are involved with.
What makes a great film? The formula is an original story + striking execution. Having a film with a great and innovative concept is not enough, as it also needs to have a strong, confident and bold execution which takes risks and does not back down or play it safe. Festival films are game changers and get people talking. CODA won the Best Picture Oscar due to its striking representation of a girl named Ruby who is the only hearing person in her deaf family. The film takes a unique approach by focusing on Ruby’s dilemma and how she is torn between pursuing her passion at Berklee College of Music and her fear of abandoning her parents. The film delivers incredible performances that are captivating and also has a brilliant screenplay. This film certainly has Sundance to thank for contributing towards its success as it launched at this festival and then went on from strength to strength, including a BAFTA win for the script.
The more realistic you can be about your film the better – if you haven’t got a great film but a good one that is not going to be a problem, as there will be a home for it somewhere on the circuit. Remember the golden rule – evaluate your film and then create the right type of strategy for it before you submit.
Do you have a topic that you’d like me cover in a future column? DM me on Instagram @rebekahfilmdr and let’s connect. I’d love to know what else I can help you with.
In my next article I’ll be interviewing Wade Gardner the Director of the awesome DocuWest Documentary Film Festival and will reveal what goes on behind the scenes when putting a film festival together. See you soon!