Photo courtesy of Snap'd Hamilton.
L-R: Daniel Baldwin and Nathan Fleet, Audience members, the sold-out Zoetic Theatre during a screening
I want to start this off by saying it is not the responsibility of the general public to support a film festival. It's the festival's job to create an event the public can't stay away from! I start every year with that thought in mind. The list below is for filmmakers and audience members.
Full disclosure, I run a film festival. I should also mention that the festival I run (The Hamilton Film Festival) is my small business and runs outside of the traditional Not-For-Profit festival model which means I can't get local, regional or national governement grants. It means that the money has to be made through fees, sponsors and ticket sales. Why would I bother telling you that? Because it takes year-round work to make a festival tick and I wouldn't bother doing it if I didn't think it was important.
Many people that say they want to go to the cinema to see indie films, which is great, but on the flip side, social posts are filled with statements like "I just binge-watched a whole season onNetflix!" People can pretty much watch what they want, when they want, without leaving the comforts of their dwelling. What can a film festival offer that you can't already get? In 2016 the Hamilton Film Festival screened about 175 movies that were, for the most part, exclusive to the film festival circuit at that time, and from countries around the world. For true cinephiles, this kind of stuff is cinematic heaven. But you can't maintain a festival with that alone. Where does the filmmaker and general public fit in? The experience. This experience differs quite a bit from going to the local multi-plex or watching from the comforts of your home. Here's how in a Top 10 list.
1. Pure cinema
Festival films are, usually, not yet rated so you will see a film that is in it's purest form. Not edited for television, cinemas or content. Viewer discretion is often advised but you don't get watered down versions of anything. They also often take more narrative risks than mainstream films. A film festival will find these and often create special programs around themes or genres.
2. Meet the maker or an on-screen personality
The person or people who made it will likely be sitting next to you. Filmmakers want to network as much as possible and want to get their message out. They don't have the backing of a major company so they must be their own travelling publicity team, and they will be more than happy to chat with you over a brew or coffee. Almost every festival has had that "special guest" show up to represent a film they were a part of. Even if you aren't star-struck, you can have some incredible conversations with some of these name stars who are always good for a story or two!
You will have the bragging rights to tell all your friends about the movie you saw FIRST that no one may ever see. You wont know it at the time but you could be watching a future hit or the birth of someone's great career!
4. Your film has a home
If you are an independent filmmaker thousands of miles away, it would be very difficult for you to rent a theatre to show your movie, advertise for it and bring the crowds. This would cost hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars to do. A festival takes care of that for you and will draw attention to the collection of films that you will be a part of. If you are lucky you may get a nomination, award and/or a mention in the press. This can go a long way as you will see in #5
I've heard it before and I heard it again on a distribution panel last year. Distributors suggest getting your film into a festival. They want to know that your movie has been "filtered" and they are paying attention. Getting reviews, laurels or awards go a long way in the marketing and release of a film once you get a distributor(s) on board. As much as some filmmakers want to dispute this fact, your film on a digital platform with no reviews / laurels, next to a film that has it's poster full of them, will often get passed over. Several distributors are also content creators and you will see them out there on the circuit as well. That should tell you something.
6. Captive Audience
A film festival is so unique in that you have a captive audience, no distractions in a dark room for almost 2 hours. The audience is watching and listening!
Very simple, if you don't like the film you are watching, wait 5 minutes. Film festivals are the best, and likely the only place, to watch short works on a big screen.
Do you even know what an experimental film is? Good chance your local film festival is screening one. These are often my favourites as they really cleanse the cinema pallate and can be very inspiring and/or mind-bending. Enter with an open mind and I guarantee you will leave with questions and conversations.
9. We are there together
When you are sitting in a room full of people, all watching the same movie, laughing together, gasping together, it's like an instant "share" button except that everybody gets it at the exact moment you do. It's a great feeling.
10. Bucket List
I have heard many people talk about taking a chance and buying a ticket to their local film festival. This is a great experience that will help you tick one item from that list...and you might just make some new friends who you will see again when you return the next year!
What are you waiting for!? Google "name of your city" + "film festival" and make your way to the local cinema!
You are on the festival circuit, you only have so much money to spend (or your country has restrictions and you actually have no way of paying ) but your strategy includes getting into some film festivals. As the head of the Hamilton Film Festival, I completely understand this. We aren't a huge festival but we are growing rapidly and I want to share some tips on requesting a waiver, what it looks like from our side of things, and why you may or may not receive a waiver.
1. It's work.
Our festival has 6 programmers and they are paid to watch, rate, comment and suggest films. Imagine we grant 6 waivers for feature films. That is a full days work. We had around 100 requests and if you do the per-minute math, that is a lot of work. Festivals cost thousands of dollars to run and that includes staff, theatre rentals, printing, advertising, special guest, postage, travel...The smaller festivals are not just raking it in. I can't stress enough how much work goes into the selection process. The festival lasts seven days, watching films takes months.
2. Make it personal.
There is nothing worse than getting an email telling you how important it is that they get into your prestigious festival while you are CC'd with 20 other festivals. Someone who does the research, and reflects that in their request, shows that they likely have a film that would fit the festival. We had a great request this year from someone who knew some specific things about the fest. A little research can go a long way.
3. Let us know what you want to submit.
"I wan't to submit my film but I can't afford the fee. Can I get a waiver?" A message like that tells the programmers nothing and likely gets moved into the trash. The most important information is the length, the genre and a trailer. With those three things, a decision can be made pretty easily.
There are certain countries that have restrictions from making payments online. It is an unfortunate thing and our festival does take these requests seriously as we want everyone to have the same opportunities as the rest of the world. Don't be discouraged if you are not granted a waiver. It could be for many reasons. I will say that some of these films are absolutely incredible and it is a good feeling knowing that we can share their work with our audiences.
5. Paying Customers.
If we have 100 requests, we have 600 paying filmmakers and they do get priority. All our waivers get looked at but they are usually some of the last things we take care of before the final deadline. By the end of the submission process, we've rated some films very highly and you are now competing against them in a jury pool and will be judged a little more harshly.
6. Make notes.
This year I saw the same name, same request, come through about 5 times. We have a form response when someone requests a waiver but they clearly didn't note that we had already responded and they sent the same email on a monthly basis. Please keep a log of who you connect with, and what the response was. A follow up is fine. Five of them is a little much.
7. We're all nobody.
In the indie film world, we are all in the same boat working with similar budgets. Please don't tell us how great you are, how great your team is and how amazing your movie is. Please be realistic, highlight legitimate achievements and believe me, your film tells us everything we need to know and the programmers will decide if it is amazing.
8. Take the discount.
We have often only granted a discount instead of a waiver. This is usually a cue that the festival has exhausted its resources to watch movies and it is offering what it can.
9. We aren't worth it.
You have just finished explaining all the festivals you got into but have now run out of money and need a waiver. Nuff said.
10. It's already out there.
I know exactly how this went down. You made a film and immediately thought the best thing to do was to upload it to YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo and share it with the world, sat back and waited for the million hits. When that dream didn't turn out so well, you went back to the festivals in search of an audience. Problem here is that everyone who wanted to see it has seen it and the film has lost most of its value. (This also applies to submitters that have paid entry fees) It is true that you could get fresh eyes but there is no way a festival can promote you with your website or filmmaker links because it will direct the audience right to your film before we've had a chance to present it. A venue can cost between $200 - 2000 to rent so empty seats are not an option.
I hope that helps some of you and while our submissions are closed for 2016, next year is just around the corner!
Nathan Fleet operates the 11th Annual Hamilton Film Festival, The Hamilton Film Expo and the Canadian Film Market and is an award winning filmmaker and composer.
Hamilton Film Festival