What festivals should you submit your film to?

Clementine Leger on the importance of developing a festival strategy.

“Festivals are a way to meet future collaborators and like-minded peers. And for up and coming filmmakers looking to work in the industry, festivals are a great resume builder.”

Clementine Leger

Los Angeles based festival programmer and manager Clementine Leger has been granted special access to the inner circles of the competitive independent film world: among other festivals, she has managed Slamdance — perhaps the most indie of the indie festivals in the U.S. —, from 2015 to 2017. There she got to discover and meet many emerging filmmakers, and dove deeper into programming. Now, as the Festival Coordinator for the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, she helps students understand the festival world and where their films fit within the many different types of festivals that are available for their films in the U.S. and in other parts of the world.

Clementine has been working with festivals since college. She grew up in Choisy-le-roi, France, until moving to Winter Park, Florida to attend Rollins College in 2008. She started interning for the Florida Film Festival, where, she tells, “the programmers were so passionate about cinema it was very easy to fall in love with the festival world.” She ended working there as the programming coordinator from 2013 to 2015, and “learned a lot about the festival landscape.”

She also has served on the juries of the Los Angeles Film Festival and Festival du Nouveau Cinema (Canada.) and continues to program for Slamdance (Narrative Feature), the Florida Film Festival (Midnight Shorts), as well as the Chattanooga Film Festival (Shorts).

Her experience gives her great insight into the process. How important festivals really are for independent filmmakers? For Clementine, festivals offer many opportunities, but it depends on each filmmaker and their own desires and goals.

“Seeing your film play in front of an audience of strangers is a special experience. It’s a way to share your work with people outside of your circle, and a a way to meet future collaborators and like-minded peers. For up and coming filmmakers looking to work in the industry, festivals are a great resume builder.”

Defining your goals is the very first step — finding the right festival for your film takes research and planning — and a healthy doses of self evaluation to go along with it. We often wonder what programmers are looking for, but Clementine takes on a different approach: “every festival is different, and “has a different ‘brand’ so to speak. Programmers are human beings with personal taste and preferences too. So, this is a large question that can’t be answered in a few sentences. I like to think about this the other way around. What is the filmmaker looking for in a festival?”

Clementine’s course at IAFA aims to offer some guidance. Navigating the world of festivals can be challenging for a first time filmmaker and even for experienced filmmakers. The course is built to help filmmakers have a better understanding of film festivals in general. “I hope to give people the tools to be able to create a festival strategy adapted to themselves and their work rather than starting the process blindly,” she says.

As for differences to consider when submitting a feature versus a short film, she says yes and no. “Yes because there are different opportunities for these formats to consider when targeting festivals. But no because ultimately the process is the same. One sends in their work and a panel of programmers will review it and score it.”

Another question that haunts filmmakers is where you premiere your film. This can be a difficult decision. How to balance your submissions and take the best opportunities that arise. “That’s a loaded process,” Clementine says. “That being said premieres hold less weight than they did in the past. Festivals have to compete with the online market now which has changed things a bit. It can be true that a premiere at a big festival may get a film more attention from other fests. My sincere thought is to premiere the film where the programmers are the most passionate for it. Because that positive energy is what will drive a good experience for the filmmaker.”

The course will address distribution of independent films as well, specially distribution opportunities for short films. For Clementine, in this digital age there are many “amazing opportunities for short filmmakers to see their films live on many different types of online platforms. Limiting one self to festivals is a missed opportunity to connect with a larger audience.”

Echoing Clementine’s words, knowing yourself and your film is key to design an effective plan. “Each festival has their own voice, taste and brand. It takes research and patience to navigate, but knowing what type of filmmaker you are and what kind of cinema you are making is definitely an important part of the process.”

by Flávia Rocha @ IAFA