This is the second blog in a three-part series about film festival submission by Emily Long, Mountainfilm in Telluride’s Program Director. Part 1 was titled “Making a Film is Only Half the Battle.” Hopefully, this series 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.)
So you’ve filled out the application for Mountainfilm in Telluride, provided an online screener link and thrown down a credit card to pay the entry fee. Now what happens with your film behind the scenes?
Every festival has a different process for reviewing films. At smaller ones, sometimes the festival director — who might be the sole programmer — watches every submission. Huge festivals with thousands of entries, such as Sundance, use a cadre of outside professionals and volunteers with several layers of screenings before films work their way up through the junior programmers, senior programmers and finally get to the festival director.
To review submissions, most festivals collect DVDs, but online screeners are quickly becoming the industry standard and will comprise approximately 75 percent of Mountainfilm’s entries this year. A few festivals watch every submission together as a committee on a big screen, but I’d wager that most distribute submissions for individual committee members to watch at home, which is what we do at Mountainfilm.
More than half of Mountainfilm’s submissions come through the open entry process,while the rest are solicited. Films come from filmmakers we already know, are suggested by friends of the festival (often from notes sent through our online comment form), recommended by other festivals and discovered through our own year-round research. For film geeks like me who enjoy crunching numbers: Last year, we received nearly 500 submissions, which added up to almost 20,000 minutes — the equivalent in time to watching films for eight full work weeks.
That’s why we have a screening committee. In 2005, our committee included the festival director and just a few staff and board members. It is now embodied by 15 volunteers, including current and former Mountainfilm staff and board, festival filmmakers, audience members and the local media. Each of our screeners watch the equivalent of nearly one full work week of films over the course of a few months. Despite long hours of intensive film review with no compensation beyond a festival pass, the committee’s attrition rate is low, and it has grown only slightly over the years as submissions have increased.
Each submitted film is watched by at least two sets of screener eyes — no exceptions. Through a system of voting and elimination, films with a yes vote are eventually viewed by me before finally making it to our festival director, David Holbrooke. He makes the final call, based on a not-very-scientific method described in the first post in this series.
David and I each watch roughly 200 to 300 films a year, but we can’t watch them all. It wouldn’t be an efficient use of time and resources, and we have a myriad of other responsibilities to prepare for the four-day festival in Telluride.
In my final post next week, I’ll go deeper into the details of what it takes to make the cut.
Read the final blog in this series, "How to Get Accepted."