Every year, there are over 200 major film festivals in North America, drawing thousands of fans who come to see the best in independent filmmaking. Most are open to international submissions, some celebrate a particular genre or culture, and all recognize excellence in the film and entertainment industry.
Most people have heard of Sundance, the annual Utah festival founded by Robert Redford’s production company, and it’s certainly the biggest. But what about the 100 Words Film Festival in North Carolina? Each entry must contain exactly 100 spoken words. Or the Ann Arbor Film Festival, the oldest experimental film festival in the US? What about the GI Film Festival, held each year in Washington to preserve the stories of American servicemen and women? Why do these and all the many others matter so much?
Because Film Festivals are the best way to bring an independent film to the attention of distributors, audiences and future investors.
For a start, films are shown on the big screen, one of the only ways a small production is ever going to get “theatrical distribution”. Festivals provide an opportunity for filmmakers to launch their work in front of a real audience, sitting in a real theater, watching a real movie. Screening at a festival starts the buzz and gives a film the critical exposure that makes the task of distribution less daunting. Film festival reviews can make or break deals with the many players who will bring the movie to a wider public.
Film festivals are also a venue for field-testing a movie, which may be re-cut following the comments and response of the audience. Filmmakers will pay close attention to the feedback they receive, either through questionnaires or post-screening surveys. Better to become aware of an inherent (but fixable) flaw before trying to pitch the film to Netflix or Hulu.
Awards are gold when it comes to giving an independent filmmaker some street credit. Even if an award-winning project flounders after the festival, which can certainly happen, the filmmaker is well positioned to attract investors for their next project. Those who are knowledgeable about the industry understand how difficult it can be just to have your work accepted for showing at a festival, and recognize the importance of those coveted laurels.
Finally, Film festivals are all about networking. Getting your picture taken with Robert De Niro at the Tribeca may be a fan’s dream come true, but filmmakers are going to be far more interested in making connections with the people they might want to collaborate with in the future. Screenwriters, Directors, Executive Producers, Casting Agents and a whole host of other industry professionals will be doing the rounds, and there’s no better opportunity to shake hands and start a dialogue.
And why should anyone who’s not a filmmaker care about film festivals? Mostly because they’re just plain good for business, whatever business you’re in. They draw tourists and boost the local economy in places that might have a hard time attracting visitors at other times of the year. That fan having their picture taken with De Niro is taking taxis, eating dinner, and sleeping in a hotel. The Tribeca alone brings $600 million a year to the area of Manhattan that was all but devastated by the attacks of 9/11.
Anyone who is passionate about film will tell you, if you want to see a good movie, go to a film festival. They’re held all over the continent, every month of the year, so really – what’s keeping you?