Local audiences, industry networking, or just plain fun — all are valid reasons for choosing your film festival strategy.

October has quietly become one of the busiest times for film festivals. This month I’m in the priviledged position to attend Zurich, London, Tokyo and Abu Dhabi. And that’s even skipping some of favourite festivals, such as Reykjavik and the Viennale.  There’s New York and Busan and countless other important and smaller ones this month as well. 

This month’s surge of festivals, and a public discussion a few weeks ago about the role of Toronto, reminded me that each film festival is a beast unto itself. I gave a talk to a Film London group of rising filmmakers a few months ago about planning your festival strategy, some of which I’ll repeat here. And the important thing is your main ‘reason’ for attending each festival could be different from one week to the next.

Consider what you want from a film festival. Some likely targets:

•      Audiences: You want to see how your film will play in Des Moines or Dubai. A top reason to choose a festival is great audiences who you want to interact with. You made your film (hopefully) to get it to audiences, and festivals start that journey. In some cases of films that won’t open theatrically (or will do tiny numbers), festivals can provide most of your audience  — so enjoy being a star on the festival circuit and enjoy interacting directly with people who are in the room to see your film.

•      Sales: You need a sales company, so choose a festival (or a market) where sales executives are on the hunt for new product. Don’t expect them just to show up to your screening because it’s there, research which sales companies would be the best fit for you and reach out to them pre-festival. Or in pre-production, of course.

•      Trade or consumer reviews and interviews. Research which big festivals the major press attends and try to get them to cover your film. This goes beyond the usual suspects like Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Sundance and Toronto – all the trades are also in places like Karlovy Vary, Hong Kong, San Sebastian and Abu Dhabi. Any film festival in a major city, from London to New York to Los Angeles, will have that city’s local press attending and looking for stories about interesting filmmakers and films to champion.

•      Blogger coverage and social media reactions. Even if you’re at a tiny festival in a tiny town, there will be bloggers and Tweeters in your audience, encourage them to spread the word about your film. Genre festivals are especially great for social media buzz.

•      To pitch/finance your next project. This could mean participating in a co-production market, schmoozing at festival events with attending sponsors or potential financiers/producers. At a recent Film Finance Forum dinner in cash-rich Zurich, indie filmmakers were seated side by side with the likes of financier Claudia Blumhuber of Silver Reel, Harvey Weinstein, CAA executives and a dozen high net-worth individuals. That’s a dinner worth going to.

•      To land a deal with a distributor in that territory. There’s no better way to land a distribution deal in, say, Australia, than to show your film to a great audience at an Australian festival where local distributors are looking for acquisitions. Just make sure your sales agent agrees it is the right strategy.

•      Bonding with other filmmakers and or industry. Film festivals are the best place to make friends, meet your idols/mentors, and introduce yourself to future collaborators. You can look to see who else might be attending a festival before you book your flight.

•      A red carpet experience. Some festivals are more glamorous than others. Maybe your investors and your mom want to do nothing more than step out of a limousine onto a red carpet. Fair enough.

•      See the world. I’ve luckily been to film festivals in Aruba, the Bahamas, Bermuda and beyond. People travel not always for the quality of the programme but because it’s a great way to see the world via your film. If you’re a starving independent filmmaker, your years of patience and hard work might have earned you a few days of networking by the pool in paradise. This is the film industry, not the plastics manufacturing business, so fun is allowed.