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Entering and Attending Film Festivals

Plus Selected Animation Festivals

by Joanna Priestly
October 29, 2005

The very first film festival I entered was the Telluride Film Festival. Bill Foster, Director of the Northwest Film Center suggested I send them my film. It was a splendid experience.

They treat the short filmmakers just like they do the star feature directors. Andrei Tarkovsky was there, showing “Nostalghia.” Krzysztof Zanussi was with him, acting as translator. I was partying with my great cinematic heroes! I was in ecstasy. I became a filmmaker.

Film festivals are like lotteries, you might get in, and you might not. If your film is shown to the jury at nine in the morning before they have had coffee, it might not get in. If the jurors had a delicious lunch and you film is screened next, it might help.

Research the festivals to make sure you have a chance and send to lots of them so you will get into a few. I prefer the international festivals because they are usually free to enter.

I send my VHS tape or DVD in a small Global Priority Mail envelope with a $5 stamp and a customs form marked: “gift, value: 0.”

If your film gets into a film festival, it is important that you go, meet people, and experience the audience response to your work. Film festivals can be fun, and they will remind you that there is a vibrant community of filmmakers out there.

It is often expensive to go, but you can turn your vacation into a tax write off.

I have also had a dreadful time at a few festivals. At both the Taos Talking Pictures, and the Mill Valley Film Festival, I was completely ignored by the festival administrators, screening standards were a mess, and it was difficult or impossible to see the screenings.

Festivals change every year though. Andy and Amy Collen showed their new film at Mill Valley recently and had a great time.

I used to coordinate the Northwest Film and Video Festival, which gave me an insider's view of festival judging.

I remember working with judges that looked at every minute of every film, including the features, and once we had a judge that waved his hand to stop projection of many films after only a minute or two. When there are a large number of entries, it is impossible to look at all the work.

The first big festival I was asked to jury was the Stuttgart Animation Festival, one of my favorites. They honor and exhibit lots of experimental work. It was a wonderful experience.

The juries at big international film festivals are usually made up of filmmakers from numerous countries so translation from one language to another during jury deliberations can be tedious.

If one or two jurors insist on getting their way, it can make the other jurors miserable. I have been lucky and have had juries with people who are willing to compromise when necessary and who honor creative, experimental work.

My criteria for judging is to look for deeply creative that extends the boundaries of animation, and work that strives for excellence on all levels - content, technique, design, graphics, and sound.

I am a student of animation history and cinema history, so I also place the work in historical context.

Once, I premiered a new film of mine at the Annecy International Animation Festival, in the French Alps. It’s the largest animation festivals in the world.

One of the competition screenings featured the international premiere of “The Wrong Trousers” by Nick Park and the Aardman Studio. There was tremendous excitement in the theater, before, during, and after the film played.

Then my new film came. And went. It looked appallingly simple, modest and out of place, even though I had spent three years making that film.

Independent filmmakers produce work without commercial backing, clients, or sponsorship. We often work alone, or with a small group of friends. Our budgets are a tiny fraction of what studios spend on films of the same length. It can be painful to have your work wedged between a Disney and an Aardman film.

Still, it can offer us a much larger audience. It is important for us to see commercial work and for them to see our creative, low budget work.

Annecy is huge and crazy, but it has very interesting programs, great parties, and a fine animation marketplace that is a good place to meet buyers, distributors, and funding. The town is charming, and it is a well-organized festival.

However, I prefer to go to smaller festivals now. They often select unusual films that are not exhibited in the big festivals, but they usually do not have large-scale retrospectives of important filmmakers or curated theme programs.

I am usually energized and inspired visiting film festivals. They have given me many lasting friendships with filmmakers from Poland, Canada, Germany, Japan and many other countries. I encourage you to go.

———— Selected Animation Festivals ————

Annecy Animation Festival, France
Anima Mundi Animation Festival, Brasil
ANIMAC Animation Festival, Lleida, Spain
ASIFA East Film Festival, New York, New York, USA
Berlin Film Festival, Germany
Big Muddy Film Festival, Illinois, USA
Black Maria Film Festival, New Jersey, USA
Brief Encounters Animation Festival, U.K.
Brussels Animation Festival Chiavari International Animation Festival, Italy
Cinanima Animation Festival, Portugal
Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival, France
Culture2Culture Film Festival, Austria
Fredrikstad Animation Festival, Norway
Hiroshima Animation Festival, Japan
I Castelli Animati Animation Festival, Italy
InterFilm Berlin International Short Film Festival, Germany
Leipzig International Festival for Documentary and Animated Film, Germany
Montreal World Film Festival, Canada Newport Film Festival, Rhode Island, USA
New York Film Festival, New York, USA
Northwest Film and Video Festival, Oregon
Oberhausen Film Festival, Germany
Ottawa International Animation Festival, Canada
Rotterdam Film Festival, Germany
San Francisco International Film Festival, California, USA
Seattle Film Festival, Washington, USA
SICAF Animation Festival, Seoul, South Korea
Sundance Film Festival, Utah, USA
Telluride International Film Festival, Colorado, USA
Stuttgart Animation Festival, Germany
Tampere Short Film Festival, Finland
Zagreb International Animation Festival, Croatia

General Festival Information:
German Films Service & Marketing
Animation World Network/Animation Industry Database