This is the first blog in a three-part series about film festival submission by Emily Long, Mountainfilm in Telluride’s Program Director. Hopefully, it will help filmmakers understand this sometimes-confusing world because Mountainfilm is now accepting entries for our 35th festival, held May 24-27 in Telluride, Colorado. (Submit your film or learn more.)
You’ve just spent a good chunk of time, and a larger chunk of cash, to finish your film. Congratulations. But now that it’s complete, a new kind of work begins. Even some of the best documentaries struggle to find an audience, and a film that screens to a sold-out crowd in one town might only attract 10 people at a film festival elsewhere. Or a film that won a respectable audience award somewhere might not even get into another festival at all.
Why are the results so inconsistent? I’d like all filmmakers to understand and embody one fact: simply because your film gets rejected from a festival doesn’t mean that your film isn’t worthy. In planning a festival, each film is a small tile in a mosaic that makes up the larger event. So each film has to contain a certain collection of characteristics that fit into the larger picture. Those factors include filmmaking quality, storytelling, film duration, relationships, filmmaker availability, subject matter and more esoteric artistic qualities that appeal to specific programmers.
I’ve run the film entry process at Mountainfilm in Telluride since 2006, and a few years ago, I consulted with Felt Soul Media to get one of their films, Red Gold, into theaters around the world. Additionally, our festival director, David Holbrooke, is a filmmaker who crossed into programming when he started working with Mountainflm in 2008. Together, we understand the frustrations and complications on both sides of the submission process.
Every year at Mountainfilm, we whittle down hundreds of submissions to 120 to150 films that we think would play well in Telluride. But we can only program around 75. We squeeze in as many as we can, but are limited by the time and space (and audience) available to us. The day we send out denial letters is the toughest on our calendar, only sweetened by the fact that we also send out acceptance letters.
Next week, I’ll give you a peek behind the scenes of our entry process.
Read the next blog in this series, "The Secrets of Film Festival Selection."
Read the final blog in this series, "How to Get Accepted."