A step-by-step guide to applying to Film Festivals.

A step-by-step guide to applying to Film Festivals.

April 23, 2020
  • Shweta Raman
  • Film Festivals, Environment, Documentary, Wildlife, Film distribution, Distribution hacks

Film festivals can get your story out there. They have multiple roles to play in making your film accessible by helping you reach the right audience, networking within the industry and more. While a lot of broadcasters scout for good films from within the audience, independent filmmakers have gained success using festivals as their main platform for promotion, funding and distribution. Awards of course, are the icing on the cake that opens up doors everywhere!

We have curated a guide for our readers by breaking down the process of applying to film festivals. Let us begin to understand how to attain the most out of festivals.

There are so many festivals and it can get overwhelming to zero down on one. Film festivals can be categorized by country, language, budgets, genres etc. Each festival has a different specialization. Some are niche, short format, non-fiction/feature documentary, combination, wildlife and so on. You can apply to them based on where your film fits best!

For example, the Philadelphia Environmental Film Festival accepts films that focus on the power of environmental films. This festival showcases thought-provoking, exceptional new shorts and features that entertain, inform, and inspire personal action. In addition to the film lineup, the festival includes an exciting Opening Night Red Carpet Gala, a juried competition, awards and opportunities to meet the filmmakers. If your film genre is based on topics like environment, non-fiction, fiction, wildlife or multi-lingual then this festival would be a good mid-range festival to consider applying to.

In order to reach your ideal audience, you have to identify the right festival. You can do this by being honest about the goals and values of the film. You could start by writing down your personal objectives ??? whether you want the film to be awarded or simply to reach an audience.

Congregate direct feedback and constructive criticism from peers and industry professionals who are preferably a part of the festival circuit. Since they watch countless films all the time they know how to get into festivals and what that festival program is like.

In the following section, we???ve explained submission materials required in order to enter festivals. ??First, write down the ???log-line???, a brief, one sentence description that encapsulates the story of your film. Second, put together a press kit. Your press kit should include the synopsis of your film, directors statement, production stills, artwork, key cast, bio of the crew members, and reviews of the film.

Third, create a website for your film. You can have announcements when your film lands distribution deals, the outreach status and where one can view your film.

Once you have all of the above in your PR docket, you can organize small community screenings at various local film clubs or libraries.

You could also promote your film online with a trailer. If your trailer is shareable your audience will do the legwork for you. Use different content portals like YouTube, Vimeo and other free video platforms to upload your trailer.

Don???t just take the shot-gun approach and apply to any and every festival. Broadcasters really appreciate applicants who take time to research before applying to festivals. You need to investigate the festival in order to make sure your film is appropriate.

Do keep in mind, the ideal festival for your film should fit your budget, exposure, degree of competition, awards and genre. Here are some questions to research before you dive into the application process:

  • The impact of the festival: Is it national or international? Does it have a strong public relation and marketing value?

  • How populated was the last edition of the festival? Was it received successfully, with a notable number of attendees? And would the film be featured on the festival website?

  • What films won in the previous editions of the festival? This is a key indicator to explain the level at which the festival is.

  • Keep track of the filmmakers who won/attended these festivals. Take a look at their career patterns after being featured at the festival. Some smaller festivals are great at giving the first shot to young filmmakers. A festival that constantly gives filmmakers a chance to grow is considered to be a great springboard.

  • It???s important to know the selection process of the films and who selects them. More often than not, people in the selection team of smaller festivals are also on the team for bigger festivals, so by getting selected for a smaller film festival, it could add value for future prospects.

  • What are other factors that are important at a festival? Will selected filmmakers to be able to participate??? Are there training and mentoring possibilities? Will they get to network with industry members and other important folks from the film community?


The next step is understanding the process of applying to a film festival. There are a bunch of submission portals that can make the whole process efficient. Filmfreeway is a platform that comes highly recommended for festival applications. They offer??you access to multiple festivals that are genre and format specific and you can also track your applications. We use this for our films too.?? Here are some of the alternative submission platforms that can save you some time:

Take small steps first, and work your way up. The bigger festivals like Cannes, Sundance or Raindance are highly competitive and receive a large number of entries. However, small festivals receive smaller scale applications and here is where you will stand a chance to shine and/or meet relevant peers, hardworking personalities and mentors. According to most filmmakers; in order to apply for A-list festivals you need to be first listed on B-list festivals.

Below are some festivals that we picked for our readers, categorised into mid-range and top-range budgets. The majority of B-list film festivals do charge for submissions (an average of $27 for short films and $40 for feature films).

NBPT Docu Fest, BendFilm Festival, Indie Memphis Film Festival and Philadelphia Film Festival are some of the mid-range festivals that accept submissions for features, docs, and shorts from all over the world!

Most top-range festival fees range from $50 to $100, going up to $500</b or more depending on the submission time of your film. Some of our picks include: Berlin International Film Festival, Sundance Festival and Raindance Film Festival.

There are thousands of festivals out there so take your time to scout around for the ones that will work for you.

For our recent film,???The Call of Pashmina???, before applying to film festivals, we held a few local screenings to gauge how the audiences were engaging with the film. Some of the events we screened the film at included a film event hosted by Sanctuary Asia in Mumbai, and a wildlife and environment event hosted by an eco hotel called Vaayu in Goa. Following this, we started applying to several small and mid level festivals via FilmFreeway and Withoutabox. These portals made the applying?? process extremely convenient since we had to fill only one central application for all the festivals. We applied to around 20 festivals related to the criteria such as ???environment??? and ???short documentaries???.?? Amongst these were The Environmental Film Festival in the Nation???s Capital, the British Documentary film festival,the Philadelphia Environmental film festival, and the CMS Vatavaran Film Festival.

While attending the smaller festivals we got to network and interact with different mentors, producers and broadcasters. We had a one on one session with them. This helped us build a relationship with the close knit circle of wildlife filmmakers early on. The festivals representatives that came to scout here were the ones we applied to.

The Call Of Pashmina won an award of excellence at the Impact Docs Award! This gave us the opportunity to build connections with different festivals worldwide. The film then got officially selected to The Environmental Film Festival, In The Nation’s Capital, which opened doors for us to other slightly bigger festivals.

Two of the learnings we had through this experience is that it’s best if your film is completely ready before you start attending these forums and festivals and plan your distribution way in advance.

Understanding the art of applying to film festivals is an ongoing process. As young filmmakers, we are also learning new things about it as we go.

We hope this article was helpful and you???re confident to approach the world of film festivals.

If you have any tips or ideas to share from your experience with the indie film circuit, please share in the comments below!