11 things film festivals should do to support emerging filmmakers

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As Executive Director of the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY), I have spent a lot of time thinking about how film festivals can better support emerging filmmakers. Here’s some of the secret sauce for creating meaningful festival experiences that truly move filmmakers forward. These are all practices and policies that we developed at NFFTY, the world’s largest and most influential film festival for filmmakers under 25.

Pay attention to your shorts competitions.

Very rarely do young filmmakers have a feature film worthy of a major film festival – although it certainly does! If you want to be a festival that really wants to give ramps to the circuit for those under 30, having a student or “next generation” short film category that is cheap or free to submit is great and will help you. scout talent to watch. If you are an Oscar eligible festival, you should have a student category – this will qualify students for the Student Academy Awards and make you a highly desirable festival!

Make an effort to put together your short film jury.

There are many platforms, distributors, festivals, etc. that specialize in short films, and they love to discover talent! Short films are often overlooked, especially in film festivals geared towards the market for selling feature films and episodic content, but there are people who love short films. Find them! It will be very important for emerging filmmakers to know that industry fans who might be interested in showing or distributing their work have discovered their film at your festival.

Have an advisory board of filmmakers.

Your festival should be in regular conversation with the filmmakers you serve, and I don’t mean just once a year with a post-festival survey. Having a Filmmaker Advisory Board will help you immensely when considering making operational or programmatic changes to your festival. If you don’t want this to be a free game with filmmakers trying to get films into your festival, pull from your list of former filmmakers! Many of them would be honored to donate a few hours per year to the organization that has helped advance their careers in a meaningful way.

Exit it already with the requirements first.

We do not care? Look, I understand if you’re looking to get a hot feature film for your opening night, the exclusivity will create some excitement. But if something is available on a filmmaker’s Vimeo page, does that matter to 99% of your audience? How many of them scour the Internet to watch whatever is published? No one has time for that, and audiences (and filmmakers) are thrilled to see good work on the big screen! If you are a virtual or hybrid festival, you should have zero expectations when it comes to shorts. Young, novice filmmakers may not be familiar enough with the circuit to know which festival to play and when, and can preview their film online after a few festival screenings. If you want to filter their work, don’t blame them!

Involve distributors in your festival.

You don’t have to be Sundance or TIFF to create a “market” for films at your festival. We have been able to maintain relationships with platforms and distributors who present short films, music videos, brand work, etc. This is one of the more opaque areas in the industry for newbie filmmakers – if you can help make a deal easier, great! Deals can go either way – NFFTY negotiated deals and acted as a licensee and shared the income with the filmmakers, or just played the role of matchmaker. The majority of film festivals simply don’t do enough to connect emerging filmmakers with buyers and curators. Now if your festival has a market for short films like PSSF or Cannes, that’s another thing. Both create a lot of value for participating filmmakers, even for those who have not participated in official competitions!


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