Filmmakers and fest programmers (past and present) joined a discussion on festivals aptly called "Surviving the Festival Circuit" last week at SXSW, a conversation that basically became a Festivals 101 primer for filmmakers looking to get their films out there.
"My goal was to have someone buy our film in Berlin," said "Shotgun Stories" director Jeff Nichols about his experience taking his feature to the Berlinale back in 2007. "Our strategy was to get into a good international festival, then we wanted a domestic festival - and we got into Tribeca, but I'm not sure if it helped..."
Although it may seem obvious, panelists urged filmmakers readying to take on the circuit to do some leg work to find out more about a festival to make sure a given film is a good fit. Some events, for instance, only offer a few slots for documentaries, while others present large sections for specific categories of films.
"It's important to do do research and find the right festival," explained Sundance and CineVegas programmer Trevor Groth. "We are lucky at Sundance because pretty much everything is sent to us, but I also program for CineVegas and I think there are [certain] films that I think we can do a lot for there." "It's important for a [beginning] filmmaker to also learn to be a sales agent and publicist," added IMDb's director of festivals, Christian Gaines who, until fairly recently, also headed the AFI Fest in Los Angeles. "Those who think the festival is going to simpy take care of everything are going to be really mistaken."
While being educated on aspects of the business side of film is a key ingredient for a film's chances of success, Groth pointed out that some festivals have departments to handle sales and publicity that can be great resources for filmmakers and help them spread the word about their work. Even regional events can be a great way to get a film on the map, and a rejection from Sundance may be disappointing, but is not the death knell for filmmakers willing to adopt a DIY mentality.
Nichols pointed out that "Shotgun Stories" played multiple regional festivals around the country, receiving reviews in local papers which ultimately helped the film find some success. "The film played 20 - 30 cities at local festivals and it got reviewed by local papers and it [ultimately] had a huge impact on DVD sales. Roger Ebert showed up at the Chicago Film Festival...and he ended up putting the film on his best of 2008 list, and it had a huge impact on DVDs - at least I think it did." Continuing he added, "It's important to go after local papers and critics, although they're shutting down now..."
"Alexander the Great" director Joe Swanberg also pointed out the intangibles as key assets at festivals in helping jumpstart momentum for a newcomer.
"One thing with some of these small film festivals is they fly you in and give you a hotel," noted Swanberg. "You probably won't get your film bought, but you meet people... I've met friends at these [events] that I've collaborated with. You may not want to make it your world premiere, but be open to those experiences."
[Editor's Note: indieWIRE is rolling out a cross section of North American and international film festivals listings with dates and links to iW coverage when relevant. Big events such as Cannes, Toronto, Sundance and Berlin are listed along with other large fests as well as regional and specialty festivals. This list will continue to evolve and we hope it will be a useful guide for filmmakers, film fans and industry. We also plan to add further features to the list, so please check back in the coming weeks and months. The list will also appear as a permanent feature in the Quicklinks pull down menu on the iW front page soon for quick reference. Any additions, suggestions or modifications can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.]