Anna Demianenko is an experienced festival producer from Ukraine who has worked on a number of short film festivals across Europe. She gives advice here about the pitfalls of film submissions and the importance of a clear festival strategy.
Every film submitted to the ever-growing number of festivals gets an opportunity to be selected for screening, and it is a meticulously planned festival strategy that can be the difference between a film being seen by thousands or just stay resting on your hard drive. Simple mistakes made by filmmakers is one of the reasons that films are not selected.
Last year I was a co-founder and executive producer of a hugely successful short film festival, uFilmFest (Kiev, Ukraine), and from there I started two new festivals in Ukraine Marhanets Film Fest and KieVino – a festival of film and wine. Currently, I am also working as a Head Programmer for Euregion Shorts (Heerlen, Netherlands) which will take place in January 2017.
It is my policy that every film should be watched regardless of the quantity we receive; therefore, my team watches all the submitted films. For the first edition of uFilmFest we received about 1900 films in just 2 months. However, not all festivals follow that policy and in the limited amount of time they have only choose to watch those that capture their attention. So based on my experience, here are some things to remember to make your film stand out and not get lost in a sea of submitted films.
One of the most important pieces of advice I can offer is to always read the regulations and criteria of the festival to which you are considering submitting. We had cases where feature films were submitted to us when our maximum running time was 20 minutes, so they were, unfortunately, immediately disqualified. Just spend a couple of minutes per festival checking the rules and save yourself entry fees and the time of the festival team.
With short films, there is no denying that the shorter the film is, the better chance it has at being accepted. Usually the films selected are up to 20 minutes, but the priority is often given to those less than 10. The reason is that more films can be selected and screened during the festival itself. However, this advice is only useful to those who start writing a script, as you obviously cannot shorten your film when you press the submit button.
The first thing that catches my attention when I open the film profile is the main still on the video. A common mistake of some filmmakers is choosing one of the random snapshots from their film, which gives the feeling that the filmmaker just did not do his/her homework with regard to their submission strategy. Pick the best still or design a completely new one, show what your film is really about with only one picture.
The other thing which I always read before I press play is a short synopsis, if it captures my attention, I will definitely watch the film with intrigue. Moreover, the synopsis is what the film is going be presented with on the festival website, flyers and programme with the whole purpose is to attract as much audience as possible. So if the synopsis cannot grasp the attention of a reviewer, the audience will not be enthralled either. With some festivals it could be that the film is amazing and the story is so original, but the synopsis itself is bad so the reviewer will not bother watching the film at all.
It really depends on the festival and the festival policy, but I personally adore both films with a solid and comprehensive plot and original arthouse films which do not follow the basic rules. My advice here, if you have a film like that, write a cover letter or a director’s statement that will help the selection panel to understand the meaning of your film, what you are trying to convey. This can be useful even if reviewers have a completely different understanding and could be what helps lead to a selection.
From the moment you get that selection, it’s all about networking - and the best place you can do that successfully is at the film festival. It is the only place you can share your full experience of making the film, learn something new and most importantly find people who will work with you on your future projects. By attending you have the chance to meet the programmers and understand their submission policy, plus to grow and develop yourself as a filmmaker. It is also very important to go to festivals in different countries, to broaden your mind, get to know new cultures and use that experience to create new stories.
For me personally, going to foreign film festivals has made me realise that nothing is limited, that no-one puts me in any kind of box. I am the one to decide what I want to do with my career, and all I need is to work hard and have a plan. So, first opt for the biggest festivals like Cannes, Sundance, Berlinale, Venice, Toronto, but also check small festivals that are in your region or the countries you are searching co-production with.
It happens that at small, cozy festivals you find the exact people you need and the work starts faster. Don’t miss a wonderful event like the Exit 6 Film Festival, for example, it could be the one that can give a boost to your career. I also encourage filmmakers to submit to two festivals in Ukraine that I am organizing, Marhanets Film Festival and KieVino which aim is to mainly connect Ukrainian and International filmmakers in a relaxed atmosphere and promoting communication and further co-production.
During the festivals we have workshops by young filmmakers who will be presenting the case study of the short films they have produced, from the very idea right up to the distribution process. The submission to Euregion Shorts is open till 1 December, don’t miss a chance to showcase your work at a fast developing film industry in Limburg region of the Netherlands.
Last but not least, the most important thing is to never give up. Keep trying and send your film to as many festivals as possible, take part in short film markets and even visit festivals to promote your film despite not being selected. Every film has its audience, it is just a matter of a finding the correct festival distribution campaign for the film.
You can contact Anna via Facebook.