On Saturday 12th March, 2016, in Omaha, Nebraska, my short film, STAY, had it's World Premiere. It's a big deal for a filmmaker to have their film screened in front of an audience but sitting here in my shed in Sutton, some 4,500 miles away, dunking a digestive biscuit into a cup of tea, I wonder how a festival so far away, that I cannot afford to attend would benefit my career pathway?
I think it's important to start by saying that the festival circuit is a minefield. There are around 3000 film festivals scattered in all corners of the earth. That number seems to be growing each year. Once you eliminate the obvious (London BFI, Berlin, Cannes etc) how do you know which festivals to enter? I mean it's impossible to know about each festival individually. As a filmaker I try and go to as many short screenings as possible. In London I do have a nice selection, but then you're probably not going to attend Hamberg International Film Festival (for example) unless you have one of your films screening.
I've learnt the hard way. I have entered festivals that I hadn't heard of and turned up to find the screening room in a grotty hotel in Port Talbot with no audience. I'm arrived at a cinema in Margate and watched my film with two other people, both of whom were actors in the film. I've travelled all the way to New Jersey, USA to find that the festival screening venue had to moved because the organisers weren't welcome in that borough anymore.
Like with the process of making films, the festival circuit is something that you learn by making mistakes. I could tell you festivals that I would attend again. The ones worth the entry fee and the travel to attend. Oxford International Film Festival in Mississippi was one of the greatest experiences of my life, let alone film career. Branchage Film festival was well worth the pilgrimage to the Channel Islands.
I'd say when you're starting out just visit the festival websites you think you'd like to enter. What films played there last year? Do you think your film matches their style? I have to admit that with my most recent film, Stay, I enlisted the help of Festival Formula. They created a bespoke plan based on my film and their wealth of knowledge about the festival circuit. That's why I'm playing in Omaha and I put my faith in them that it'll be good for my career. Of course, in addition to the festivals on my 12 month plan, there'll always be room for me to add those little gems that I stumbled across myself.