Published on 11 August 2023 in Career

Katie Bignell’s Top Tips for Navigating the Film Festival Circuit

Missed our film festival webinar? Catch up with Katie Bignell’s top tips for navigating the circuit.

In 2014, Katie Bignell created the consultancy brand Festival Formula, helping filmmakers to develop their strategy for the large and competitive film festival circuit. Our Career Development team recently had the pleasure of hosting a webinar with Katie, where she explained how to make the most of your film. For those who missed it, you can read Katie’s advice below.

Get familiar with the different kinds of festivals

Katie outlines three different kinds of festivals. The first is premier-led festivals, such as Festival de Cannes, Berlinale, Locarno Film Festival, and Venice International Film Festival. These kinds of festivals will always include premieres of films, whether they’re international or national. Subsequently, they are industry heavy, with sales agents, distributors, production companies and press featured in the audience. Katie points out that they are generally expensive to submit to, with the exception of Cannes, which is free. They also usually have smaller programmes and play fewer short films.

Audience-led festivals, such as Cinema St Louis and Tribeca Festival, will usually not require a premier, and if they do, it will often be regional. They nevertheless have industry kudos, and will also have larger programmes with more shorts. Katie says that these kinds of festivals are often not as expensive as people may think.

Lastly, there are niche format and genre festivals. These types of festivals will have limited, sometimes hyper-specific criteria. However, they can often lead to further opportunities, as programmers for other festivals attend them because they’re scouting for work, or alternatively, programmers for premier-led festivals often also program smaller, niche-format festivals, and will recommend films to different teams.

Know your audience

Once you’re familiar with the criteria, themes and audiences of different festivals, you can match them with your film. Katie stresses that your film won’t be for every audience, but you can find your crowd by focusing on its characteristics, from genre and themes to setting and location. This also includes your own descriptors as a filmmaker, including age, nationality, and the stage you’re at in your career.

Katie also points out that there are film festivals for all of these elements, and you can find them through thorough research. A large majority of film festivals can be found on FilmFreeway, but larger festivals will only accept submissions through their own website portals. With both options, you can find out more about the festival and whether your film is the right fit.

Festivals often receive massive amounts of submissions that don’t fit their required criteria, so programmers will appreciate it if you carefully read the submission guidelines. It shows you understand the purpose of the festival, and makes your film stand out. Plus, you will save time and money by avoiding festivals that your film isn’t eligible for and submitting to ones that welcome (and appreciate) it.

Watch out for red flags

There are hundreds of film festivals out there, but not all of them are worth your time. Katie suggests avoiding online monthly awards festivals, festivals with long lists of submission categories (30 – 70 is too many!), and festivals that encourage you to submit to more than one category. Even if they are free to submit to, these festivals and their accompanying awards don’t have great reputations and therefore don’t hold any value for you as a filmmaker.

Rejection is tough, but be patient

The competition on the film festival circuit is fierce, which means rejection is inevitable. It can be difficult to deal with, but it’s important to remember that you haven’t made a bad film. Katie says that it’s equally difficult for programmers who have to cull numerous films that they love because they can only select a limited amount. You may have heard it before, but it really is true that rejection can happen simply because a festival doesn’t have the space for your film, not because they didn’t like it. Be patient, because it will feel amazing when your film does get selected!

Make the most of the festivals you qualify for

Festivals provide a great opportunity to network with other people in the industry, from fellow filmmakers to producers and distributors. Katie particularly recommends North American regional festivals, such as Cinequest, Austin Film Festival and Edmonton International Film Festival, as their smaller scope allows for more mingling with industry professionals.

Even if you can’t attend a festival, don’t go silent on them, as they may be able to offer you something else. This could be an interview on their blog, an Instagram Live Q&A, a pre-recorded introduction to the film screening, and more. Festivals also appreciate directors promoting their selection through social media, so make sure you tag them in your posts when your film is selected!

Festival Formula has a number of packages available for directors looking to submit their films to festivals. Find out more about the different options available here.

Cookies help us deliver our services. By using our services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn more