Need a film festival strategy? Kellie Ann Benz helps out


That’s usually the number one question I get asked. Where do I submit my short film?

While Sundance, Tribeca, Cannes and Toronto get all the dream-come-true inducing film festival hoopla, these cinema parties might not always be the right ones for your film.

It’s extra hard to have perspective when you’ve just dumped a year of blood, sweat and tears into your little masterpiece, but a tiny dose of thinking-it-through-ness might just save you thousands of dollars. Especially at the end when you’ve maxxed yourself back into a full time day job.

Take a look at these two completely different festival strategies:

Next Floor directed by Denis Villeneuve started its festival life by winning Cannes in 2008. This 12 minute film was a superb combination of deeply interpretive esoteric storytelling, perfect performances and a master filmmaker (if you doubt this, rent Polytechnique).

Treevenge is a short that’s travelled the globe with its bizarre and funny story of a tree who reclaims Christmas. These guys from Halifax have found a route that won their film prizes and recognition almost everywhere it went.

I could go on, but you get the drift. Find a film you admired and then study which festivals they went to. Apply within.

A film’s festival life is usually about two years. In that first year, submit to some of the bigger festivals that smaller festivals look to for programming.

Cannes only takes six short films into competition a year, so don’t waste your time or money unless you’ve got the backing of a federal or provincial agency who will push your film through the ranks.

Sundance and Tribeca celebrate American independent cinema so, again, unless you’ve got some big backing, save your money.

Toronto only programs Canadian short films, so by all means, submit.

After that a good list to study is the list of Oscar® recognized festivals which would be the ideal ones to submit to in your first year.

If you have big plans for your film, be careful about premiering at your local film festival, it might take you out of the running for the bigger festivals you want. Do the local festival in the second year, or after you’ve had your world premiere.

General rule is the North American film festivals charge an entry fee with a few exceptions, while European film festivals do not charge entry fees, with a few exceptions.

Some important short film festivals internationally are São Paolo, Oberhausen, Clermont-Ferrand, Tampere and Uppsala. Also, Palm Springs for North American importance.

Remember that Seattle International won’t program you if your film has already popped its Seattle cherry, so choose wisely.

I’ve always liked the BFI London Film Festival. There’s also Cork and Edinburgh, both excellent film festivals. These would all be ideal festivals for your world premiere.

Sometimes it takes several rejections before you get your first invitation. Stay strong. The right festival will invite your film and then it can begin its life, and you can finally show it off for all the world to see.

For more lists, here’s some useful links: Telefilm’s calls for entry and Oscar®’s Short Film Festival list.

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