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The Importance of Attending Film Festivals

If you want to make movies and you aren’t fortunate enough to have made it within the Hollywood system, you’re undoubtedly aware of how important festivals are to a film’s overall success and potential sale. Yet I know so many filmmakers or aspiring filmmakers who have never been to a film festival. Or maybe they’ve been to one small local film festival. Sure, you can watch a lot of the the bigger festivals’ films later on Netflix or whatever, but to actually get a feeling for how festivals are run, what each one is looking for, which ones will be best for you and your film, and how to best take advantage of them while you are there, you really must attend.

Of course, it’s expensive to attend festivals. But there are conferences for every type of industry and none of them are cheap, yet people understand the importance of being there in person to network and to really get inside information about the current climate of their industry. We filmmakers are just lucky that our “conferences” involve watching lots of (hopefully) great films.

In the past, I have been fortunate enough to attend Sundance, Tribeca, the New York Film Festival, and I've been a regular attendee of what used to be Silverdocs but is now AFI Docs. This year, I attended SXSW, Full Frame, AFI Docs, and the Virginia Film Festival. Of course, festivals change their priorities and programming strategies over the years but as someone who will start submitting my film to festivals in probably the next 6 months, I can probably rely on their tastes to stay relatively similar to what I saw this year. For example, Full Frame films tend to be very well-funded and featured mostly heavier, social issue type topics. SXSW of course loves music- and art-related films and, as a huge festival, they had a wide variety from very DIY (low budget or low production value) to Hollywood. AFI Docs also tends to skew a little less more toward heavier social issue films but they seem more open to more DIY films than did Full Frame. The Virginia Film Festival generally had films that were more DIY but did a great job with story. And of course, they like to highlight Virginia-based or Virginia-related work whenever possible.

So in the coming months as I start to plan my festival strategy, even though I’ll probably still apply, I won’t pin high hopes on Full Frame with my hand-held, DIY doc about an artist that is not a social issue film, but I am more hopeful about SXSW and AFI Docs, and since my film is a Virginia story, the Virginia Film Festival is pretty much my target market. If I get into any of the festivals, I know how to navigate them and what to expect for the most part. So I can go into this whole complicated and terrifying process with a little more confidence.

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