Dear Documentary Filmmakers: Do your research on what kind of films fests/broadcasters accept. Don’t waste your $ & our time.
This one’s short and simple, and really should go without saying, but unfortunately I’ve seen more than enough evidence to the contrary: Do your research before sending your film in to a festival or a potential broadcaster. While many are open to a variety of films, some are instead very very specific about what they do and don’t show. Don’t submit your film everywhere. Read up about a festival before submitting your film for consideration. Go through their submission guidelines. Make sure your film fits their criteria so that it has a chance of being selected. If the festival only considers films made within the last year, don’t submit your film that’s been on the circuit for the past three years. If they only accept feature-length projects, don’t mail in your short. If they are focused on social issue docs, think twice before sending in your portrait of your quirky aunt. If they only accept general entries from local Mexican documentary filmmakers, don’t submit your US-made project.
Festival submission fees add up quickly. Even if you’re independently wealthy, why waste the money? Beyond that, if you have plans to make another film, why take the risk of giving a bad impression to festivals or broadcasters who you could potentially work with in the future?
Your impulse, after months or even years of making your film, is to get it out there. That’s understandable – but do so strategically. Come up with a plan, and constantly reassess and adjust that plan as you receive decision notices from the festivals to which you’ve applied. Just as not every film is appropriate for every festival, not every festival is appropriate for every film. The same thing can be said for broadcasters. Be smart about how to position your film to give it the best chance of getting the exposure you want for it.