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Film Festival Submissions — Part 3: The Agony and the Ecstasy

In the final installment of the festival series, Sharon Katz lays out a basic guide to applying to festivals including rules, recommendations and resources.

Find the festivals that best suit your style of filmmaking. Look at their previous screenings and examine the kinds of films festivals have accepted in the past.

Well, Part 1 and Part 2 of this series have certainly generated interesting discussion. In this, Part 3, I offer a basic guide to applying to festivals including rules, recommendations and resources.

Begin by focusing your energies on the festivals that best suit your style of filmmaking. Check out the festivals that interest you (all festivals have archives that you can access on the Web). Look at their previous screenings and examine the kinds of films they have accepted in the past. Ask yourself if you honestly think your film would interest them. If not, pass on them this time round. Most festivals accept films up to two years old; so hit the most likely targets the first year, the less likely targets the second year (if youre still submitting by then).

Then make yourself a festival list by entry deadline dates miss a deadline and youre out automatically!

For those of you just starting out, read the regulations carefully. What format do they want for the entry submission? What format do they want for the screening? Make sure that your film meets these criteria. Film festival entry forms commit you to supplying the film if you are accepted.

Keep in mind that a festival entry form is a legal document. If your film is accepted, you must deliver a screening copy on time. And you cannot withdraw from a festival once youre accepted.

Take note of fests that are looking for world premieres and, especially at the beginning of a fest run, dont allow anyone to publicly screen your film without your knowledge. Try to manage where the various premieres (European, North American, South American, etc.) will be. Premieres are added value to a film, so try to use them to your advantage.

Read the fest regulations carefully before submitting. If your film gets accepted to Cannes and you just screened it outside your own country, youre in big trouble. Cannes informs you clearly in their regulations that the film must be a world premiere (outside your own country). So if you have your heart set on Cannes, dont submit it to other festivals until Cannes has had a go at it.

Read the regulations carefully before submitting and keep in mind that a festival entry form is a legal document. Take note of fests that are looking for world premieres, especially at the beginning of a fest run.

Its a good idea to map your festivals carefully. If you get accepted to several festivals over a short period, you will need several prints festivals do not return prints quickly and, while they are often willing to send your print on to another festival, it all takes time.

Dont broadcast an indie short film on television before the festival window is over. No festival that I know of will readily accept a short film that has already been screened on TV, or on the Internet for that matter (unless it qualifies for the Internet category).

There are many specialty festivals out there and if your film fits one of them, be sure to submit. There will likely be fewer submissions than what a mega fest receives, and you may have a much better chance of getting in.

If your film is very short, be sure to submit to the following: Fantoche Minimotion (10 seconds and under); Brief Encounters Mini Film Fest (one and a half minutes); and the One Minute Film and Video Festival.

My favorite fests that specialize in childrens films include the Chicago International Childrens Film Festival and Sprockets, the Toronto International Childrens Film Festival.

Fests that focus on works by and for the disabled include the Disability Film Festival, Tahdenlentoja, Reel Life, Picture This, The Other Film Festival, Superfest and Kynnyskino.

And there are so many other categories. Britfilms site has the best search engine that I know for finding festivals by locale, and Withoutabox has an excellent genre and category search engine.

Online submissions are fast becoming the norm. But be careful, especially with online submissions where entry fees are involved.

Withoutabox allows you access to a multitude of U.S. and international festivals. Listing your film is free, but upgrade fees are required to add a presskit and/or trailer to your project. But be cautious. Its very simple and easy to submit to a festival via Withoutabox its only a click and youre done. Entry fees must then be paid to the individual festivals (credit cards accepted) so you can rack up a huge bill very quickly.

The Short Film Depot is a European equivalent. Setting up a project is again free and entry fees to these festivals are rare. Only a small number of European (mostly French, some German) fests are accessible from this engine, but they are very nice fests and if your work suits them, this is a valuable access point.

Reelport is yet another European digital film distribution engine. Again even though the number of fests accessed through this portal is limited, these are important festivals.

In addition to these centralized submission sites, some festivals such as Sundance have set up their own online submissions engines.

Signe Baumane advises filmmakers to weed out fests that are inappropriate for your film. She has discovered that festivals that accept all genres will accept small films more often than exclusive animation festivals.

Independent animator Signe Baumanes advice when it comes to targeting your entries is short and sweet:

You probably have one of those film festival guides? That should pretty much give you everything you need to know. You dont want to submit your film to an inappropriate festival, like a sex film to a childrens festival, a straight story to gay and lesbian festival, etc. That leaves 27,626 festivals for you to explore and, as I said, the best criteria to weed them out is if they give you a fee discount or a waiver. Aagh, and another thing Pat [Patrick Smith] and I we have discovered that festivals that are accepting all genres docs, live-action shorts, animation, etc. are more likely to accept our humble films than exclusive animation festivals.

Below is a list of Signes and my favorite festivals. We make very different types of films. Signe is a narrative animator (her films have a solid storyline) while my films are more artistic and experimental. But together we cover much of the gamut of the best of the fests that show animation.

I must also add that this is by no means a complete list there are other excellent festivals that weve simply forgotten to include. But its a start for people beginning the long and arduous task of getting their films out of the drawer.

In addition to the mega festivals such as the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, Los Angeles and Palm Springs Short Film Festivals, Berlin International Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival, Signes top North American picks (along with her commentary) include:

Florida Film Festival: the one festival that is worth entry fee. If you get in, they treat you as celebrity no matter that you are animated short maker they know all about you the moment you get out of car!

Brooklyn International Film Festival: maybe they dont get every single person out to Brooklyn to see your film but they have great connections with other festivals, so I get about 10 invitations (free entry) to submit my film from just being in their catalog. Those guys do a great job and yes! they do treat short filmmakers with respect. If you are present at the screening, they stop right after your film and you get to do a Q & A right then, which is so amazing!

If you dont get into festivals or arent happy with your film's acceptance rate, organize your own screenings.

San Francisco Independent Film Festival they are great guys to work with and they do their best to get 1,712,624 people to the screening, and I like their PR.

Woodstock Film Festival is an amazing experience and it is hard to get into because Bill Plympton and I have been selecting animation programs for last few years...

Atlanta Film Festival, Garden State Film Festival, Philadelphia Film Festival, Red Shift Film Festival, Newport International Film Festival, MUFF Melbourne Underground Film Festival, Stony Brook Film Festival, Red Bank International Film Festival, Film Columbia, ASIFA-East Festival, Coney Island Film Festival (I just love it!), Rooftop Films (they get 500 people for a screening!), Tribeca Underground Film Festival (an excellent alternative to Tribeca Big Bro! and I dont think they ask for an entry fee!).

Youll notice that Signes list includes mostly live-action film festivals. My list, on the other hand, focuses on the ASIFA and other dedicated international animation festivals such as AniFest, Anima Argentina, Anima (Belgium), Animac, Animated Encounters, Anima Mundi, Bimmini, Cinanima, Hiroshima International, Holland International, I Castelli Animati, Kalamazoo, KROK, Melbourne International, Norwich, Ottawa International, Trickfilm and Zagreb.

I also like to include the documentary and short film festivals that take animation seriously such as Bradford, Brief Encounters, Canadian World Wide Short, Clermont-Ferrand, Dresden, Fantoche, Flickerfest, Leipzig, Oberhausen, Prix Ars Electronica, Tampere and the Victoria Independent Film & Video.

Finally, if you dont get into festivals or arent happy with your films acceptance rate, organize your own screenings.

Here are Signes closing words on the subject:

Together with other filmmakers, energize your local community. Find a bar, a restaurant, a movie house that would host your evening, and build a relationship with people who come, build your own audience independent of the festival circle. That way you dont have to despair when yet another festival rejects your film. And your film is out there, doing its job; entertaining people and making them feel and think.

So there you have it.

Rules, recommendations, resources and our best wishes for lots of good luck.

Sharon Katz is an independent animator who lives and works in Ottawa. Her recently released animated short film, Slide, is now traveling more than she is.