Sundance Film Festival

The latest edition of The Sundance Film Festival is just two days away. Whether or not your film is screening there, you'll appreciate advise on distribution strategy from distribution strategist Peter Broderick, who spearheads the distribution of a number of documentaries and consults with independent filmmakers around the world. Broderick helps design and implement customized plans to maximize revenues, audience, and impact.

Below he provides advice about how to use film festivals as a platform for your film and to land a strong distribution deal. He also outlines the various rights that you have -- and tells you which ones you should be sure to keep! You can read Broderick's articles and his Distribution Bulletin at and you can read the original post here.

Film festivals can help or harm your film. Mistakes can cripple its launch and limit its distribution, including applying to festivals too early, targeting the wrong festivals, not having the right festival team, and making bad distribution deals.  A customized distribution strategy enables filmmakers to make the most of festivals (the first avenue of distribution), choose the best distribution partners, and negotiate win-win deals.

A Customized Strategy

Every film can benefit from having a distribution strategy before its festival premiere and before any rights are sold. A customized strategy can help you maximize audience, revenues, impact, and career. This strategy should be designed based on your goals, your film's content, its core audiences, and the opportunities in key avenues of distribution (from theatrical and television to direct sales). If you have a customized strategy, you can look for distribution partners who can help you implement your strategy. If not, your film may receive a formulaic, one-size-fits-all release in which every film is distributed pretty much the same way.

Documentary filmmakers need to proactively design strategies, which will enable them to split their rights among partners. Educational sales and semi-theatrical screenings can be very important and you need partners for each who can help you fully exploit them. Partnerships with nonprofits are another significant element of a documentary's distribution strategy.

Read More: The Distribution Advice You Need to Read


It is essential to be clear about the ultimate goals for your film when you design your strategy. You can have multiple goals but should prioritize them. What is most important: career? revenues? or changing the world? If you are clear about your goals, you will have a useful framework for making choices as you move through the stages of your distribution.You also need to be clear about your festival goals. Your premiere festival launches your film into the world. It provides a unique opportunity to build awareness among:

• film critics, bloggers, and other members of the media
• distributors
• colleagues, executives, and others who can help with future films
• the general public

Your screenings will give an immediate sense of how audiences are responding and can create word-of-mouth within the festival. These screenings are an ideal place for distributors to see your film for the first time (even if they discount somewhat enthusiastic audience responses). Your film may also get its first reviews and press mentions. It could also receive festival awards and generate buzz online.

Most films are not sold at their first festival. While some distribution deals are made mid-festival, the majority of them happen weeks or months later. Distributors only attend a small number of festivals and there is little or no sales activity at the rest. Be well-prepared for sales opportunities but be realistic. Don't focus on them to the exclusion of the need to market your film to the press, the industry, and regular viewers.