Film Festival Submissions: The Agony and the Ecstasy

Congratulations, you just finished an animated short film. Now what do you do... put it in a drawer or send it out to festivals? No one I know puts it in a drawer.

In May 2009 I led a workshop at the Kalamazoo Animation Festival International on submitting films to festivals.

Below is the online version of that workshop...

Why send your film to festivals?

- Audiences who love the kind of film you make get to see your film.

- Your film might get picked up by a distributor.

- Festival directors scouting for films may invite your film to their festival.

But applying to festivals is a lot of work, and costs money.

So here's how you do it...


Step 1 : Make a list of Festivals

A. Make a very broad list of festivals that would consider your film:

- search animation festivals, short film festivals, and feature film festivals that like shorts.

- check out the specialty film festivals that apply directly to your film, for example: women's film festivals, disability film festivals, gay and lesbian film festivals, etc.

- google the genre or niche ( has a great list of niche and genre categories) that applies to your film against "film festivals" and it's amazing what comes up.

B. Narrow the list by doing the following:

- read the festival mandates

- look at their previous selections

- check their premiere requirements

- note the screening date - be careful about overlapping these unless you have a lot of screening copies to send out.

Remember! entering a film means you agree to provide a screening copy by the date they need it.

Step 2 : Create a festival entry Deadline Calendar, sorted by Deadline Date

This is your most important tool when applying to film festivals.

I like to start my deadline calendar with January, no matter what month I plan to begin submitting to festivals, but you can start anywhere in the year. See my list of recommended festivals. They are sorted by deadline date month.

In addition to deadline date and the name of the festival, I include the following information on my deadline calendar:

- Status: was your film accepted or not

- Date by which you expect to hear back from the festival

- Entry: Did you apply to this festival?

- Festival Name

- Deadline Date

- Screening Date: the Festival dates

- Date by which your screening tape is required if your film is accepted. (This is usually several weeks before the festival.)

- Screening format: the film or video format that you agreed to supply if your film is accepted for screening.

- Festival Window. (Most festivals accept entries of films that are a maximum of 12 or 18 or 24 months old.)

- Entry fee (note the different currencies).

- Premier requirement (world, national, state, city) if applicable

- Country (of festival)

- Type of festival and program: animation, shorts, documentary, etc.


Step 3 : Budget

A. Set up a budget for your entries in advance. It's very easy to enter festivals using the online portals such as withoutabox and shortfilmdepot. If entry fees are involved, you can rack up a very big bill in a very short time.

B. What costs money?

- Entry fees. These can range from about $15.00 to as high as $70.00 for a short film. Budget in advance. It's easy to go way over budget if you're not staying on top of this.

C. Screening copies budget

$0 if you're sending them online. Most festivals today accept digital downloads.

D. Entry fees - Are they worth the money?

Big international film festivals charge big bucks. They are looking for very original, entertaining, and intelligent films. If you honestly think you've created one, and you've received reliable feedback supporting that opinion, then it might be worth taking the risk. If not, try the smaller indie festivals. The fees are lower, but so are the number of entries that you're competing against.

Why do some festivals have entry fees and others don't?

- Entry fees help cover the costs of running the festival, renting the venue, paying for the awards if it's a competition, etc.

- If there are no entry fees, donors are covering the costs. It could be local businesses, government grants, and/or corporate donors.


Step 4 : Enter your film

Many festival entries can be made via online portals such as:

Keep in mind that once you've built up a project file for your film on the portal, you need to update it occasionally - especially update the film festivals that it's been accepted to.

Some festivals still request a paper entry, but most either use a portal such as those listed above, or have their own online entry setup.

Whatever way you enter you will need the following information on hand:

- title

- country of origin

- format, language

- synopsis

- director's filmography

- screening history

- contact info etc.


Step 5 : What are the chances that my film will be selected?

Entering a festival is a bit of a lottery. While you may have a lovely film, it may not be accepted simply because it doesn't relate to that year's theme, or it doesn't fit in with the other films. It's important to know that film festival directors are putting together a programme, not just selecting random films.

Having your film rejected by a festival is not a rejection of you. It only means that this particular festival isn't programming your film this particular year.


Step 6 : Hearing back from the festivals

Some festivals contact you to let you know if your film was not accepted. Others don't bother. If you don't hear back, you can assume that your film was not selected. But always check the festival website once the accepted films are posted - emails, even those with positive replies, do get lost in cyberspace (it's happened to me.)

A. What to do if your film is selected?

- Reply and acknowledge receipt of the acceptance.

- Note the date by which the festival needs your screening copy, information on your attendance, high resolution stills etc.

B. What not to do if your film is not selected?

- Don't feel rejected. I know this is sometimes hard, but remember - it's not a rejection of you.

- Don't email or phone the festival to ask why your film wasn't selected. Festival staff are overwhelmed, especially as the festival approaches, and don't have time to provide personal feedback.


Step 7 : What to expect from the festivals if your film is selected

- Festivals rarely pay for airfare

- Sometimes they cover hotel - 2 or 3 nights or even the full length of the festival

- Occasionally they cover meals or a per diem

- The hosting festival does sponsor parties!

- They usually offer a full complementary pass to the festival (but not passes for family and friends, though maybe a guest ticket or 2 for your screening)

So that's it. If you have suggestions for this list, please let me know. You can reach me at:

And good luck with your entries!

Several years ago I wrote a 3 part article published on AWN titled Film Festival Submissions: The Agony and the Ecstasy.You may want to check this out as well.

© Sharon Katz