Festivals can be an expensive and time consuming gamble, so do I submit Valentina’s Dream to film festivals?
I’ve been making a series of short films, without funding, for the last five years, including the new Valentina’s Dream. In the hope of raising their profile and building on the scale of the productions, I have submitted various films to an array of festivals, particularly after winning a cash prize for Welcome to Oxmouth. The win, plus the money, gave me an extra confidence to send more films off, but as I soon discovered, a big win doesn’t necessarily mean across-the-board success at festivals…..
I’ve spent more money on festivals for Welcome to Oxmouth and Lot 13 than it cost to make them. I’ve submitted to festivals for over £60 per entry, hoping the organisers spend the few minutes watching them. Festivals clearly need financial resources and I certainly don’t begrudge a submission fee from me supporting a cultural event. However, it can be a disheartening process. There are festivals who haven’t responded, not even an automatic email declining the film. This can’t help but generate a cynicism about the point of certain festivals – money-making events or genuine celebrations of cultural achievements?
For a fee, some festivals offer feedback on your film – but again, not feasible in my position. Instead of a standard email declining the film, I’d be happy with a simple response that states:
1. Your film doesn’t fit in with themes or genres of the festival.
2. Your film isn’t good enough.
Certainly, my films might not be good enough, but added to this (really quite important) factor are the THOUSANDS of festivals to choose from, most asking for a submission fee. The IMBD affiliated (and it has to be said, clunky to use) Withoutabox sends overwhelmingly regular emails inviting films-makers to submit to a staggering variety of festivals, with other sites like the smaller Reelport and the supportive Short Film Depot offering yet more options. In fairness, Film Freeway are thankfully attempting to make the process more user friendly with a simpler and more intuitive submission process.
Every festival has a different agenda and the reality is I’m not knowledgeable enough about the circuit to know what festivals to target. If it’s a genre specific festival, that may be great for enthusiasts, but I’m guessing have less industry impact. Line Signal, released online just before the more experimental Valentina’s Dream, is clearly a more narrative/genre piece, so where to submit? Stereotypically, established ‘prestige’ festivals seem less drawn to certain genres. They seem to favour naturalistic or experimental shorts that address social issues. So I feel I’ve wasted money – money that could be spent on making more films.
This is all within the context of Twitter, Vimeo, YouTube, Facebook etc. Without a marketing budget, I’ve managed to get my films seen and supported by industry professionals. Added to this, websites such as io9 & Film School Rejects (thank you Scott Beggs) have picked up on my films and promoted them to an entirely different audience. It’s possible to bypass the traditional festival route and incrementally develop higher profile projects. For example, the star of Valentina’s Dream is Rebecca Front. She watched Lot 13 online and decided the script would be worth a gamble, agreeing to make the short with me (and of course David Quantick and Moose Allain).
This isn’t to say I’ve decided to avoid all festivals. One of the biggest, Clermont Ferrand, is free to enter and has strong industry links (and there are others too). London Short Film Festival seems to strike the right balance – I like their realistic ethos, charging only £5 for no/low budget films under three minutes. Plus screening nights, such as the focussed and themed Short Sighted Cinema screenings are a great way to get your films on the big screen and create contacts.
What would be helpful to me? This – a list of twenty short film festivals with free entry and industry links, including an idea of what style/genre of film they would more likely accept. Any festival experts out there?
If you’ve got any advice or links, please tweet me @meatbingo
For film makers struggling with similar concerns, I’ve stumble across these: