There’s more to festival strategy than blindly dumping your film into the Sundance hat on Withoutabox and impatiently waiting for your impersonal rejection letter months later. Once you emotionally cope with not playing ball on the big league festival circuit, should that fate come to pass, quite a few nice exhibition opportunities still remain out there peppered amongst the vast wasteland of festivals existing with little purpose beyond siphoning cash from publicity-starved independent filmmakers’ pockets.
A little googling goes a long way when trying to separate the men from the boys in the festival realm, if you’re willing to put in the time – something an independent producer with less-than-desirable financial backing had better be enthusiastic about dedicating to their projects. The goal in doing so will be to single out festivals with agendas that align with or have a physical proximity to the themes and/or subject matter in your film, upping your chances of being programmed and thereby making the money spent on the costly submission process a little more worthwhile from an aggregate standpoint. Was your film shot in the desert? The Phoenix festival is well done, and their programmers clearly don’t mind deserts. Have a gritty New York film? There’s a ton of smaller neighborhood festivals in NYC that will give you a screening opportunity in a major market if you’re accepted, giving you something substantial to pitch to journalists and distributors in town when you’re cajoling them into leaving the confines of their overpriced NYC apartments to come out and see your film. Did you produce your film on a particularly low budget? Look for festivals that cater to micro-budget filmmaking/filmmakers, and stress how far you stretched every dollar that was spent putting your story on screen.
Oh, and include a cover letter when you send in your film! Surprisingly few filmmakers take this opportunity to separate their submission from the pack with an eloquently-scribed love letter about their baby and all the hard work that went into it. Single out a handful of particularly impressive attributes about your project – highlights that should already be covered in your beautiful EPK anyhow – and pitch them in the letter as enthusiastically as your mom pitched that noodle collage you made when you were five, which still hangs on her fridge, to her friends.
Ultimately, understand that selection committees are just a grouping of human opinions, not an omnipotent collection of film gods – appeal to their sensibilities, and your submission becomes more than just another film in their digital pile.