How to turn participation in a film festival into an opportunity

How to turn participation in a film festival into an opportunity. Are you excited about the selection of your film at a festival and have even been invited? It’s an amazing opportunity to build networks, projects, future plans. In thirty years of working as a documentary filmmaker, I have participated in so many festivals around the world (we have 82 awards in the last 5 years). It has taken me a long time to understand how to transform simple participation into an opportunity to build a career or to realize new projects.  

The post lock down openings restore some perspective to cultural events as well, including international film festivals. In fact, after months and months of online, some in-person festivals are appearing on the horizon. So, here are some practical tips.

Terence Hill at the award ceremony of Religion Today Film Festival

Prepare for travel with promotional materials

Enthusiasm for selection is not enough. Even airfare alone is not enough. Prepare well. Promotional material is important: prepare social posts in advance, and start advertising your arrival a few days before. Compose also some printed material, it always looks good. I don’t leave out: postcards, some catalogues of  Aurora Vision titles, prints of the new project that’s going around in my head, business cards.  

How to introduce yourself to other guests

Arriving at a festival alone, without knowing anyone, can be difficult. You risk coming home with nothing in hand. 20 years ago I was in Iran, at a super festival, after 5 days I still hadn’t met anyone. So I developed a few tricks.

The most favourable time is breakfast at the hotel, when all defences are still down. Sit down next to someone who looks like a festival guest, start a light, undemanding conversation, and then end it with a commitment to meet again. Rather than getting to know all the guests at a festival, give preference to meeting them in person: one, is always friends with at least two others, so you go through the whole chain. And again: do not try to know “the most important people”, they do not exist. Everyone is a human being full of richness to be shared. Treat everyone with equal respect and dignity.

In China, Nicholas Meyer at Silk Road Film Festival

I was in Morocco, my film was opening the screenings, there was a lot of expectation. Unfortunately, the initial greetings from the authorities lasted more than two hours. The entire audience left with the authorities and I was left there alone, with three, I mean three spectators. The discomfort was great, but it lasted five minutes. At the end of the screening I spoke one by one with the spectators. One was the famous Mauritian poet Khal Torabully, president of the House of Wisdom.. Shortly thereafter I was made an honorary member!

How to promote the screening of your film, to create an opportunity for participation in a film festival

How to turn attending a film festival into an opportunity, is revealed right at the moment of the screening of your film in the theater. In fact, it matters little if there are only three people sitting there. Rather it matters how many people you have contacted by inviting them and leaving the postcard with your film poster. There is too much going on at a festival – events, parties, seminars, screenings. That is not the place where your work can be seriously evaluated. Don’t be upset.

People will remember your smile when you humbly invite them to the screening. And maybe they will apologize to you for not being there. You’ll create a bond that will perhaps blossom into a project.

What to do once back home

Return work is critical. Start by getting your business cards in order, putting the ones you may need soon into your computer. On all the others, write down two notes to remember who they correspond to. Great projects have started with a business card, like our COMPLEXion with Nina Davuluri.

Equally important are thank you letters. They should be sent to the organizers, to the secretary who solved that logistical problem, to the president. And send two lines to all the people you talked to for more than ten minutes, it will help them memorize your address.

Happy festival!

Opening ceremony of Religion Today Film Festival

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