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Indie Filmmaker Questions the Value of Indie Film Festivals to Real Indie/DIY Film Projects

Of course the generally accepted and probably overwhelmingly true answer is: yes, indie film festivals are very valuable and if your film gets into one & plays, it will be a useful thing in selling the film to a distributor or to the audience. But there is always a but, and that's probably why I have not yet submitted my new indie feature Date Number One to a single indie film festival and probably will not do so in the future. Read on.

The problems with the festival route:

1. The Psychological Factor or dude, rejection is tough.
When starting off on a new epic endeavor such as distributing a feature film you need all the feel good energy you can get. Getting rejected by a festival or festivals will probably affect how you see the film and probably yourself, and not in a good way. So I think it is useful to avoid getting rejected by a film organization early on in the distribution process. Maybe avoiding that option forever is a good thing.

2. The Right to Judge or who gave these cats the role of selecting some films as more worthy of audience & press attention than others?
I think there are only two groups of people who are essential for the existence of film as an activity: the filmmakers and the audience. Outside of those two groups we have agents, press, studios, financiers, critics & all manner of often supportive but sometimes obstructionist groups who make money off of & derive their power from filmmakers & audiences. I think film festivals can fall into the "useful to filmmakers & audiences" area or "not very useful to filmmakers & audience" area. Either way, in the past film festivals have launched films into the public consciousness. But what about the films that those same fests rejected? Is it possible I, as an audience member, may have really liked one of those films? I am not sure if I am comfortable with relatively few people making career building or destroying and audience taste forming decisions in an area of creative activity where being different from Hollywood (or not dictated by taste of a few individuals who have one eye firmly fixed on the box office) is the primary reason for the existence of the said area of activity. Or, to put it more simply (I hope :), being a fan of independent film and being an independent filmmaker is a major personal value commitment that may not be compatible with finding the taste making decisions of film festival programmers valuable or useful. Or, I personally do not care much if a given film did well at festivals or got into a or any festivals or not. What I do care about is do I like it? Is it good for me? And the only way I can find that out is by seeing it for myself (and talking to people whose taste I trust & share, so there may be some exceptions to all film festival decisions being questionable).

3. Film festival recommendations have let me down
I rented a movie a couple of weeks ago (I think it was called Steal This Movie or Rent This Movie or something like that, w/ John Cho (sp?), about a filmmaker lying his way into a festival) based on the fact that the movie looked like a movie that I would enjoy (judging by DVD cover info) & the fact that two film festivals selected the movie. The movie turned out to be horrible. So, obviously a film is not good just because it got into a festival. And the reverse is true also, a film is not bad just because it did not get into a festival.

4. With blogs around, the press that can be generated through festivals is not the only press I can get
I blog. Well, I make, show & sell movies - that's the main creative activity, I blog for fun. Blogging puts you in touch with other bloggers. Some of these other bloggers, in my case, are film reviewers, filmmakers & distributors. They knew for months that I was making a movie because I would talk about the project on my blog. When the film got done they wanted to see it. I mailed them DVDs & some of them wrote reviews on their blogs. I got my press or quotes from those reviews. And each time I do a screening I get more press from local media. So I don't really need festivals for press.

5. I am not looking for a distributor
I self-distribute, so I do not need film festivals as an avenue for getting the attention of distributors.

6. Film festivals don't pay
I covered this topic in a Filmmaking For The Poor post a few months back. The basic complaint here is that money is generated by film festivals through screenings but a part of that money does not go directly to the filmmaker's wallets (there are often good reasons for this I've been told - such as film festivals are expensive to put on). I have done 8 screenings so far w/ Date Number One and each screening brought in some money. Not profit but some money to help manage the production of screenings & to help manage the overall cost/debts of the project, including the cost of this early distribution phase. If those 8 screenings were film festival screenings where I made zero dollars, I probably would not be able to do the 9th screening tonight.

7. Indie rockers don't wait around for festival approval
They make the music, rehearse the live shows, get gigs, play, sell CDs & generally get the show on the road on their own terms/as they can/when & where they can. My kind of film distribution is similar to indie/DIY music distribution or is at least modeled on it, so it may be exempt from the festival route, or it/the film may do well w/ out any film festival exposure.

The DIY alternative to the festival route:

1. Get blogs to review your movie.
2. Submit your film to screening venues, get shows. (I find the idea of getting rejected by screening venues more acceptable. Why is that? Probably because there is money involved.
I guess the chance of making at least a little bit of money makes the potential screening more real/useful/valuable to me.)
3. Do press. (fliers, e-mail, ads. I spent a few hours this afternoon in Takoma Park putting out fliers & meeting people, inviting them to tomorrow's show - it was a very pleasant experience)
4. Show the movie, do the Q & A thing, entertain, learn & make some cash hopefully.
5. Continue on w/ more shows, repeat steps 2 - 4.

[By the way, my stance towards film festivals is very unique and there are probably some deep reasons that I do not even know myself as to why, so think very carefully before you tear up your festival strategy. I am just sharing my current thoughts about how I am not 100% (or even 40%) comfortable with the festival route and I am sharing alternatives for getting your film out to the press & the audience. What you do with this info is entirely your responsibility.
Good luck.]

So, as a DIY filmmaker who made an ultra-low budget movie, and as a self-distributor, I do not find submitting to indie film festivals appealing or useful at this point. There could be exceptions (like if a friend is programming a fest and I do not have to formally submit my movie/they've seen it & are inviting the flick w/ out me having to pay & fill out forms & if I get a share of the revenue generated from the screening of my movie at the fest). That's where things stand right now. I like the fact that indie film festivals exist (good opportunity for audiences to see movies that may not play in their local theaters). But I do not think I will be participating in them as a filmmaker. We'll see how things unfold, there may be some exceptions. Will have the final answer on this item re: Date Number One in a year or so.

- Sujewa

The Secret Society For Slow Romance (2022) - available to rent as a new release starting January 1