How Film Festivals Work

How Can I Submit a Film?

Each film festival has its own set of rules. Generally, filmmakers are given a deadline by which they need to submit their film(s). Some festivals accept films that have already been screened elsewhere; others require that films have not been broadcast anywhere prior to the festival.

Movies entered may range from shorts that are just a few minutes in length to full-length features that run 1.5 hours or more. Festivals accept one or more formats, including 35mm, 16mm, Super 8, VHS, Beta and/or DVD. Filmmakers pay an entry fee (anywhere from $5 for a five-minute short to $100 for a feature film) and fill out a form describing their project. They may also be asked to submit a director bio, a film still, a synopsis and a list of production credits. Click here to take a look at the Call for Entries for Sundance 2006.

Not every film is right for every festival. Submitting a film to the wrong festival is likely to end in rejection. Before submitting a film for consideration, filmmakers need to research which festivals are most appropriate for their subject. The biggest and most prestigious festivals (Cannes and Sundance) are usually the hardest to break into because there is so much competition for a limited number of slots. In 2004, the Sundance festival received nearly 6,000 submissions; it accepted 255 of those films. New filmmakers have a better chance of getting into a smaller festival and then working their way up to the big-name festivals once they have achieved a few successes.

Film festivals are typically divided into categories. Categories may include:

  • Drama
  • Documentary
  • Animation
  • Short film
  • Experimental
  • Music video

If a movie is accepted, the festival organizers notify the filmmaker. At the festival, the movie is screened for the jury as well as for the audience. The jury is usually made up of film critics, professors and/or filmmakers who will judge each film for its artistic merit, production value, creativity and overall impression. Judging differs from festival to festival; but usually, each member of the jury votes by secret ballot, and the film that receives the majority of votes wins.

Most film festivals also give the audience an opportunity to judge. Its choice is reflected in a special audience award.

Often, while the screenings are underway in one part of a film festival, there are simultaneous workshops on screenwriting, film production, finding an agent and other subjects related to the art and business of filmmaking. They are usually open to filmmakers and anyone else interested in film.