A comprehensive introduction to the process for submitting your short film to the world’s top animation festivals.
by Jeanette Bonds
(Reprinted with permission from GLAS Animation)
There was a time when I was a student of animation when I decided to start submitting my films to film festivals. But during that time, I had very limited knowledge of how festivals operated. I was not sure what to submit to, how to submit, when to submit, whether it was permissible to have your film online, and several other additional questions. I knew of Cannes, Sundance, and that concluded the list of film festivals I’d heard of.
As a new festival submitter, you will find yourself sorting through dozens of lists online to satisfy your answers. More often than not you’ll encounter “Top Ten” lists or “Top 100 festivals of all Time.” But most of these “Top 100” lists are not animation specific. They’re a mixture of live-action festivals and often don’t even include animation festivals on the list. Or you’ll find a complete list of every single animation festival in existence. But what you don’t find, or at least I couldn’t find, is a single page or site that thoroughly explains the festival process. GLAS Animation‘s Guide to Animation Festivals intends to provide you with a comprehensive introduction to the submission process.
TOP ANIMATION FESTIVALS
OTHER FESTIVALS OF NOTE
Film Fest Dresden
Animation Block Party
Northwest Animation Festival
LIVE-ACTION FESTIVALS TO CONSIDER
SUBMIT TO AS MANY FESTIVALS AS YOU CAN
It is important to submit to as many festivals as you possibly can and not limit yourself to what appears on "Top Ten" lists. This is not to say you should submit to every single festival. Focus on first and second tier festivals. Second tier festivals in addition to first tier festivals provide great exposure and have much to offer. In general, festival patrons often include other festival directors, press, students of animation, as well as filmmakers and members of the community. All of these people who see your film, if they like it, will advocate your film and share your film. The more exposure you have, the better.
That being said, make sure your film is a good fit before you spend excess time or money on submitting. Look into the festivals you are submitting to. Read about their philosophy. Look at past editions. See what films have featured at the festival in the past. For instance, if you have a film featuring adult content, it’s most likely not the best investment to submit to animation festivals catered to children.
Some festivals, primarily live-action festivals, require a premiere status. This means that their festival must be the first festival to have a public screening of the film. However, there are many types of premieres that are eligible. Some require a world premiere, some require a continental premiere, some the country premiere, and some require none. Always check to see what the festival policy is for premieres on their website before submitting.
If you do decide to submit to festivals with premiere requirements, don’t let that prevent you from entering other festivals. You can always decline to accept an invitation to screen if another festival of greater importance requires a premiere.
ANIMATION FESTIVALS AND LIVE-ACTION FESTIVALS
The majority of festivals you should focus your energies on should be animation festivals. It is generally the case that animation festivals have free submissions. However, there are certainly live-action festivals that are worth considering.
When you’re planning your festival submissions, be organized. Create a spreadsheet with columns for the festival name, festival date, submission due date, if you’ve submitted, if you’ve payed the fee, how much was the fee, how you submitted, and if you’ve been accepted. These can be columns or color coded to your liking. But it is imperative that you stay absolutely organized. It is easy to remember ten festivals, but once you get past a certain stage you’ll wonder whether you submitted or whether you intended on submitting.
HOW TO SUBMIT
Festivals have different methods for submissions. You can always find the submission protocol on the festival website. More often than not, festivals will have an entry form that you can either print out and mail with a DVD or will have an online submission form that will either ask you to mail a DVD or to simply provide the link for your film directly in the form.
Other festivals require you to use an external site such as withoutabox.com or reelport.com. These sites provide a service, and as such, require small processing fees for your submission. But remember, if submitting to dozens of festivals through these sites, those small processing fees can really add up.
WHEN TO SUBMIT
Most film festivals require that your film be made within the last one to two years. It’s important not to wait too long before considering submitting your film. After you finish your film, you’ll find yourself frantically submitting to festivals. Remember that festivals occur during different times of the year. It’s easy to lose steam after your first quarter of submissions. Remember to submit to other festivals that occur later on in the year. Set a reminder on your phone or calendar for when that time comes.
MAKE A PRESS KIT
You will find that most festivals will ask you for additional materials to send along with your entry form. These additional materials are essentially what comprise your press kit. I highly recommend having these materials in one convenient downloadable folder on a site such as dropbox.com or using your google drive or ready to upload via WeTransfer. Here’s a list of what your folder should include:
3 hi-res stills of your film
1 hi-res Director Photo
Director Bio – a short paragraph about yourself
Film Synopsis – This should include one short synopsis and one longer synopsis if applicable
List of Previous Festivals/Screenings/Awards
Preview versions of your film: vimeo link/ .mp4 in H.264
As an animator, most of the festivals you should be submitting will be animation specific festivals. Thankfully, the majority of those festivals do not require an entry fee. There are other festivals that, if you are serious about your film, you should consider submitting to. If you truly believe in your film and believe your film fits with the programming philosophy of the festival, then it is certainly worth it to pay the submission fee. If you do decide to submit to a fee-based festival, don’t be afraid to contact the festival politely requesting a discounted or student rate. Festivals understand the plight of the short filmmaker and are often willing to work with you. That being said, operating a festival is quite costly and as such they might decline.
THE SELECTION PROCESS
Every festival has a different selection process. Some festivals select through committees, some festival artistic directors have oversight over the committees, and some festival directors have complete control and want to see and choose everything themselves. Selection committees are often small and have specific tastes and your film may not fit into that. But for another festival it might be a perfect fit. Once your film is accepted into one festival, you can anticipate it being accepted in another, and a snowball effect will take place.
When your film is selected, you’ll receive an email from the festival with details of how to proceed. Each festival has their preference as to what final screening format they require. Some require DCPs, HD-CAMs, high-quality Digital File, Blu-Ray, and DVD. These days, most festivals screen from DCPs or high-quality Digital Files. High-quality digital files (such as ProRes 422 HQ or ProRes 422 Codec) don’t cost you anything. DCPs, HD-CAMs, and Blu-Rays do cost money. For DCPs, look online for a DCP conversion location near you. Some festivals have a special program in cooperation with a DCP service that provide a discounted DCP conversion rate if you do it through them.
WHAT’S THE BENEFIT OF ATTENDING?
Attending festivals is one of the most beneficial things you can do as a filmmaker. First and foremost, it is great exposure for you and your work. You’ll become acquainted with the majority of filmmakers in attendance and create lasting professional relationships, and often times lasting friendships. You’ll have great access to other filmmakers as well as other festival directors and press. You’d be surprised as to what job opportunities will come of this experience.
Be smart about which ones you invest your money in. Many festivals provide lodging to filmmakers who are featured in competition screenings. If the festival is on the top ten list AND provides lodging, it’s best to attend if you can. You’ll most likely have to pay for your own airfare, but this is common. For animators from the US traveling to European animation festivals, you see how this can add up quite quickly. But again, if the festival is longer than a three days, it’s certainly worth it to attend.
Not to mention, seeing films in a theater is undeniably better than seeing it on your computer. The experience itself of viewing curated animated screening is worth the attendance.
SHOULD YOU PUT YOUR FILM ONLINE?
The short answer is, yes, by all means. It generally does not hurt your chances to get into festivals. But be smart about when you release it and how you release it. There is a great article from Short of the Week that has a detailed list of the best festival as well as their policies for online films. The general trend for animators is to allow their film to run the festival circuit until they release their film online, but thankfully this trend is becoming a dying one. Just to be sure, check to see the festival’s policy.
When you do consider putting your film online, be sure to submit to Short of the Week. I’ll include a list of other sites to submit to below.
Click below for the article on Short of the Week:
DON’T BE DISCOURAGED
Many animators submit their films to only the top three festivals, get rejected, become discouraged, and stop making films. Whatever you do, don’t do that. It really is important to submit to everything you can and can afford. There are countless free festivals to submit to. You’ll certainly find a home for your film somewhere in the world. And even if you are rejected, do not take it personally. Your film may be fantastic but difficult to program with other films. Your film might just also not be terribly great. Work harder on your next one. And most importantly, don’t give up. Each film you work on you’ll learn something that will make you a better filmmaker. Many filmmakers are rejected from major and even smaller festivals when they start out. But they keep making new work and eventually they get in.
ONLINE RELEASE STRATEGY
It is a good idea to plan how you intend to release your film online when you decide to release your film online. Short of the Week offers us another great resource with a highly successful example:
Be sure to plan ahead and understand that releasing your film online successfully does take work and a bit of time. Make a blog or tumblr or website for your film and include works in progress, original artwork, GIFs of clips of your film if applicable. Make a trailer and release it prior to releasing your film. You want people to be excited about your film coming out. When you’re ready to release it online, submit it to Short of the Week or another short film website beforehand and hope to have a feature article written about the film upon its release.
THE MASTER LIST OF ANIMATION FESTIVALS
This site includes all major and non-major animation festivals including some live action festivals with animation categories or simply welcoming of animation. This site provides direct links to websites, festival dates, and indicates submission fee, if any.
RAINDANCE ESSENTIAL LIST OF 100
This is primarily for live-action films, but it includes links to each festival as well as short summaries of the festival’s major accomplishments and philosophies.
Jeanette Bonds is a writer and independent animator living in Los Angeles. She is co-founder and director of GLAS Animation, a resource for producing gifted, innovative, and independent animators across the globe. She received her MFA and BFA from CalArts in Experimental Animation. In 2012, Jeanette co-curated Platform International Animation Festival and has programmed for Slamdance Film Festival. Her films have been featured at Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival, London, Seoul, Holland, and Melbourne International Animation Festival, and in 2014 was nominated for an Annie Award.