Submitting to film festivals – Strategy continued

To continue my thread of a previous post, Why Would You Submit to 90 Festivals?!, I’d like to add the email comments of the filmmaker Holly Mosher, in her reply to someone else’s query on DocuLink. I think her words encapsulate very neatly what we think about the usefulness of understanding your audience and how to reach them, and the value of focusing on community screenings when you don’t necessarily find your festival niche.

With her permission, I’m quoting her email in its entirety, because I think it’s a helpful read.

Bonsai peopleAfter years of doing the festival route with many films, I have started really trying to go for community screenings instead.

You are then not fighting for an audience with all the other films in the festival. All your PR work goes directly to your film and the people that care about your topic find out about and can see your film. You also get a larger amount of the door at these events.

There is room to accept and play at festivals, but I only spend a small amount of time and money going after those.

With my latest Bonsai People – The Vision of Muhammad Yunus, we’ve had over 100 screenings so far. And I’ve had numerous speaking engagements where I screen and speak at conferences with them paying for both my airfare and hotel and I receive an honorarium.

With Vanishing of the Bees we’ve had over 1,000 to date.

I’ve had a great time at festivals over the years, met many people, seen a lot of great films and learned a lot when they have also hosted panels. But in the end the festivals take up a lot of your time that could be put into your distribution and sales efforts which you should be pursuing directly
trying to connect with your core audience.

There are some great festivals out there that will treat you very well, but there are also a lot that are just trying to bring tourism and something exciting to their community. You really need to weigh how much time, energy and money you want to be putting there versus reaching the people that will
buy and support your film.

I also always bring DVDs to sell at the screenings when I do go to a festival. That can at least help cover some of your expenses for getting there.

I would definitely consider pulling your film if they do not consider your film an “official” selection. That is just silly. I do know that all these festivals put in a lot of hard work to make their events happen, and they too are often having a hard time covering their costs as well, so I sympathize with that, but they need to at least respect your needs as well.

Bottom line, it’s time to be much more creative about how to get your film noticed and screened. Don’t just rely on festivals to get exposure, but consider that you should take full advantage of your presence at any of the festivals to grow your following and, as Holly deftly does, make a sale or two.