How to Navigate the International Film Festival Circuit

How to Navigate the International Film Festival Circuit

With Addicted to Sheep, our first UK Indie feature documentary in post-production, it was great timing to join the inaugural webinar by Debra Zimmerman of Women Make Movies (WMM) on How to Navigate the International Festival Circuit.

Two and a half hours later, and armed with a follow-up email package, we’ve saved weeks of research and sleepless nights all from the comfort of my lap-top and armchair!

To summarize, here’s ten key takeaways from NAMAC and WMM’s Film Festival webinar:

1. Define your Goals
Every film-maker and film are intrinsically connected. Research the market and do your best for both in order to grow a profile, reach an audience and develop the relationships that will allow your film and career to sustain.

2. Create your Strategy
Create a watch list of festivals. Great resources include Festival Focus and Indiewire. Start with the A+++ festivals like Sundance and track back to create your own wish list. Premiere status is important so make sure you start with World, then International and Regional. It’s hard to do it in reverse.

3. Research is Queen
Look at genres, categories and types of festivals that best suit your film. Dig deep and read the Programmers’ and Jury profiles. Get specific and knowledgeable and try find the perfect fit. Look at what has been successful before and track the journey of similar films.

4. Timing is everything
You have 18 months to maximize your launch options. About two thirds of Festival programmes are filled before submissions are reviewed. Start early or better still, get someone to recommend your film on your behalf.

5. Get the right mix
Premiere status matters, it’s your launch pad so don’t give it away. Check the guidelines and prioritize submissions in the order and status of your best ‘fit’ preference.

6. Slow burn or a bird in the hand?
If you are approached to screen your film locally – call it a ‘sneak’ preview rather than a premiere. Otherwise take your time and work through your strategy.

7. Watch and Learn
Get to know programmers and successful films and track their journey and see what works. Ask for advice, support and recommendations along the way. Treat it as an opportunity to develop support and connections for the long-term.

8. Ask what a Festival can do for you?
It’s a two way process so be selective and make sure you get what you need to reach your goals. If you aren’t selected ask for feedback to trusted contacts and make adjustments to your approach.

9. Making a submission
Prepare quality marketing materials – photos or graphics that capture the story and catch your eye go in the catalogue. See Festival catalogues and tailor submissions for the end user.

10. Make it easy to promote
Once you are successful other festivals are likely to invite you to screen. Make sure your online content is up-to-date and everything you need in terms of press pack, trailer, poster (vertical is best) and a good Facebook page is ready to go.

So, finding the right fit between film and marketplace is key. A blanket approach won’t work.

Alongside festival planning, we have also learnt a lot about film distribution. One of the sources we found really helpful is the distribution blog ‘Distribution Advice for 2014’ by Thom Powers.