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Submitting to Film Festivals

Submit your film now to the next Our Vision Caribbean and Latino Film Festival which takes place on April 19, 2025 to share your work, reach your audience, and turn your dreams into reality.

Which Festival Should I Submit My Film To?

Every festival has its own personality. If you can’t differentiate personalities between festivals, you’re not digging deep enough. You definitely want everything that you are using in your body of work to promote yourself to have an accolade for each project. A festival win, place, show, or screening, no matter the size, are all equally persuasive ways to provide third-party validation for your work.

Every festival has films in-competition and out-of-competition. The films you hear most about are usually the ones in-competition, and that’s probably not even 10% of the number of films in the festival. A lot of films, particularly in-competition, are curated by the festival director and festival committee. That means the films are invited to be in the festival.

Make sure you check out the 12+1 Best Black Film Festivals for Emerging Independent Films and Filmmakers 🍿.

What’s a Curated Film Festival?

Curation also extends to beyond in-competition to also out-of-competition films. Some festivals are 80% curated. That curated list is going to compromise films with the biggest names attached as producers, directors, or actors. The biggest festivals with the biggest names are going to be the most curated.

With that being said, you now know that for a big festival, if admitted, you will most likely screen out-of-competition. No problem, it’s still just as valuable a slot to promote your career. Because short films have short running-times, all festivals accept more short films than feature films. Large festivals like Sundance also expand their slates to include midnight screenings of shorts.

How Can I Create a Strategic Advantage?

The more niche your content is, the more likely it can fit into a slot at a festival, as long as that festival programs that type of niche content. If your film does not fit into an official festival category, or an unofficial type of film that the festival likes to program, it will most likely not get programmed because they will have no program in which to include your film. No film is a one-off screening. They are part of a slate of films for a slot of related themes.

You have to go to each festival and look at the films for the previous years and see if your film is a perfect fit with the types of films they have already programmed. If it isn’t, you likely won’t get programmed in that festival.

Submit your film now to the next Our Vision Caribbean and Latino Film Festival which takes place on April 19, 2025 to share your work, reach your audience, and turn your dreams into reality.

Submitting a Documentary Short

For a documentary short, you definitely want to focus on festivals for documentary shorts or festivals that have a documentary short category. Aside from documentary festivals, a lot festivals just have a singular documentary category, which means you’ll be juxtaposed with features. That’s not necessarily a deal breaker if your short can be paired to screen before a similarly themed documentary feature. The way to know this is by looking at the films programmed the previous year. 

Think of a film festival as a reality TV series. Every season, you basically know that they are going to recast the same character personality types. Festivals are exactly the same; new films, but same kind of films that fit into the previous years’ slots.

Genre festivals are a great way to go, but in your case, for the most part, your genre is a documentary short.

Why a Short Film Can Get Your Further Faster

You have a greater chance of getting into a larger festival with a short because they program more shorts. Even though the biggest named festivals domestically and internationally are a longshot, you still need to apply to the top one’s in the nation and the world. For the most part, this is because these festivals have so many submissions that great films that don’t fit into their program themes still need a home. 

Understanding What Happens Behind-The-Scenes When You Submit Your Film

The festival directors of smaller festivals are in contact with the largest festivals asking the big festivals what was submitted that’s amazing that could not fit into any of large festival’s programs. 

With only 2 copies of my first narrative feature film in existence, one on my desk, and the other at Sundance, other festivals communicated with Sundance. I got invited to another festival, as a curated film in-competition, and ultimately swept the festival with 3 wins at that festival.

Dr. Christopher C. Odom, MFA, PhD

A good ground game for the festival circuit is to apply to as many as possible, more like 40 festivals. Some festivals will allow you to apply to waive the submission fee. A smoking hot short might get invited to +500 festivals internationally (These were usually lensed by hot shot DPs). 

For a smoking hot feature, the festival might pay the filmmaker to screen the feature and pay for your travel and hotel. I have not been paid to screen my film, but I have had my travel and lodging covered to come speak about the film after the screening.

Go Niche

I’ve had better luck with niche festivals. So out of those 40 submission, you’ll want to submit to about 10 big, 10 international, 10 medium, and 10 niche. If anyone is considering a Black film festival, you’ll need to do original research. For the most part, everyone is rehashing an old blog post I made in 2008, and it is no longer a valid list.

The Haiti International Film Festival (in Hollywood) is now the most important Black film festival because for the last 3 years in a row, Cannes has screened the Haiti International Film Festival’s slate in Cannes as part of Canne’s Pan African Pavilion. Add a Haitian element to your film and fast track your career by screening at Cannes. Cannes also has a student film festival.

How to Leverage Your Festival Screening

As a marketer, if you can’t get in a big festival, there are festivals that strategically use similar names as big festivals that you can still rhetorically get people excited about by seeing it on your film’s poster. For example, the two laurels might have CANNES in bold large letters, but in 6 point font, underneath it finishes the full festival name with Pan African Film Festival which is not part of “the” Cannes Film Festival, but “a” film festival in Cannes. Works like a charm and its not a lie. It’s not your fault if people did not keep reading.

Here are some links to get your started.

Best Film Festivals Overall and for Shorts and Documentaries

Good luck and send me a message every time your film screens at a festival. Be sure to mention me during the director’s Q&A 😉.

Submit your film now to the next Our Vision Caribbean and Latino Film Festival which takes place on April 19, 2025 to share your work, reach your audience, and turn your dreams into reality.

Dr. Christopher C. Odom, MFA, PhD

Dr. Christopher C. Odom, MFA, PhD

Dr. Christopher C. Odom, MFA, PhD, Our Vision Chief Executive Officer 🎞️ earned his PhD in Texts and Technology, Digital Media at the University of Central Florida and his MFA in Film and Television from the University of California, Los Angeles. As a filmmaker, Dr. Odom has produced, directed, written, shot, and/or edited +500 short and long-form creative projects. As a Course Director at Full Sail University, Dr. Odom has supervised and developed an additional +500 student short scripts and films. A published author and domestic and international award-winning filmmaker and voiceover talent, Dr. Odom’s work has appeared in major cities worldwide, including Cannes, Berlin, Tel Aviv, New York, and Los Angeles. Connect with Dr. Odom on LinkedIn.