As artists who produce animated moving image, there are many venues in which to display our work. Some animators may choose to focus on art galleries, or site-specific installations. Others may have work that is more appropriate for the internet. Another important avenue for having your work seen could be film and animation festivals.
Submitting your film to festivals can seem confusing and overwhelming at first. But it’s pretty straightforward if you keep a few things in mind. Jeanette Bonds from the excellent GLAS Animation Festival in Berkeley, CA has already written up a succinct guide, that covers topics such as when to put your film online, what to do about premiere requirements and submission fees, and even offers a few names of the top animation festivals to get you started. Please check it out!
I generally agree with everything in the GLAS Guide, but I will add a few notes to emphasize or supplement it:
- Research case studies:
The GLAS guide already expresses the need to stay organized, and indeed you should make a spreadsheet of your festival list. But how to know which festivals to include? Find a film that is similar to yours – same tone, animation style, or topic – and research which festivals awarded it prizes or accepted it in the official competition. Copy these festivals down to your list. Do this for two or three films and you’ve got yourself a good list of festivals potentially interested in your work. Everyone’s list will be different.
- Don’t discount live-action film festivals:
If the work you make is not traditionally ‘cartoony’ or focused on character animation, you may benefit greatly from submitting to live-action film festivals just as much as animation-only festivals. This is because live-action festivals receive fewer animation entries, and are often impressed with ‘alternative’ or ‘experimental’ approaches to animation in the same way they are with film.
- Festival submission platforms:
Yes, there are many different websites out there where you can upload your film once, and then submit with a few clicks to many festivals in one sitting. Examples are withoutabox, reelport, shortfilmdepot, filmfestivallife. In my experience FilmFreeway.com is by far the easiest to use and least onerous – you don’t even have to upload your film file, but can rather just add the link and password (if you have one). And another note: avoid the trap of just clicking down the list of festivals with open calls for work from within one of these submission platform sites. This is not the best way to focus your film to the most appropriate festivals out there, and if there is a small processing fee associated with using the site, these add up fast. Instead, curate your festival list by researching case studies (see #1) and use one of these sites once you are directed to so by the festival you have selected.
- Don’t lose steam:
The GLAS Guide emphasizes not to wait too long to start submitting your film. Yes! Don’t sit on it! But also remember, you will probably spend 1-2 years submitting your film to all the possible film festivals. Don’t lose steam after a few months! This is a long-term endeavor, but if you’re organized, it only has to take a few hours a week.
- Fee waivers:
I just want to emphasize that you can and should politely ask a festival for a submission fee waiver (if they require one). The topic of submission fees is one of much debate among filmmakers and festival organizers, but at the end of the day most independent animators can’t afford them. Ask for a waiver, include some basic information about your film and a link to a trailer if you have one. They can always say no or ignore your email. But in my experience, about one fifth or one quarter of festivals will grant one.
- Attending festivals:
This is the fun part! But make sure your trip will be worth it. If you’re unfamiliar with a festival, and want to know whether to shell out money to attend, try to find a previous attendee and email them about their experience. For some example of how I expect a good festival to behave, you can read my Cartoon Brew article ‘11 Ways Animation Festivals Can Support Filmmakers.’
If you have any questions that aren’t covered by the GLAS Guide or these items, feel free to send Haptic founder Tess Martin an email. Good luck and have fun!