×

How pix get a fix on the best fest fit

Event size doesn't always matter

HOLLYWOOD — Finding the right fest for a film is not always as simple as running down the list of most prestigious events. Festivals serve many purposes: Some offer enticing awards, others boast the best press, and still others are havens for domestic and international buyers. How can a filmmaker or producers rep determine the best platform to introduce a film to the world?

Most fest vets would say the first stops are Sundance, Toronto, New York and Cannes. For many filmmakers, producers and distributors, these top-tier film festivals offer the best attributes all the way around, with heavy hitters from the press, highly regarded awards, enthusiastic audiences and the concentrated attendance of buyers from all over the world.

After these, the planning gets much more involved as producers and distributors assess the pros and cons of regional fests and the smaller festivals abroad.

According to Emily Russo, founder of N.Y.-based distrib Zeitgeist, “Domestic festivals have become a big part of our distribution. They’re either promotional opportunities that help get a jumpstart in a particular market or they may be the only audience a film will have in a market.”

Russo explains that for the recent release of “Lumumba,” Raoul Peck’s film about the legendary African leader Patrice Emery Lumumba, she opted to screen the film at Filmfest DC, a Washington-based fest.

“It’s a good festival and has been around a long time. Raoul Peck went and did a lot of press, and then when we opened the film two weeks later, it broke house records. The festival helped get the press and good word of mouth, so when we opened, it was primed.”

While most festival awards usually don’t do much but honor the director, in the case of “Lumumba,” a kudo from the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles worked well.

“It was good because it’s a nice distinction,” she explains, adding, “But we didn’t go to the festival in hopes of winning an award. Instead, we wanted to link the film to that context and audience.”

But not everybody shoots for the top-tier fests.

“Many people think it’s Sundance or die,” says Scott Macaulay of Forensic Films. “But for Jesse Peretz’s ‘The Chateau,’ we chose Rotterdam for several reasons: Jesse had a history with the festival already, and the film had been shot in Europe with a half-European cast so we knew that there would be a good base of support there.”

The film fared well at Rotterdam, snagging two domestic and several European deals before moving on to the market in Berlin.

“Those sales helped tag the film as a success,” explains Macualay, “and we were able to work off the film’s momentum after that.

“The thing about festivals,” he continues, “is that so many people are seeing the film, from buyers to publicists to sales agents that the key is take any positive response you have and use it to continue your momentum forward.”

Cassian Elwes, senior VP and co-head of William Morris Independent, took Tom DiCillo’s “Doubly Whammy” to Sundance earlier this year and played on the director’s existing relationship to the festival.

“Thanks to his earlier films, Tom is a well-known Sundance director, so we targeted Sundance as the festival to start with,” Elwes says.

“Before we went, we deliberately didn’t hype the film, though — I’ve seen so many films that were great movies not get picked up because expectations had been built way too high.” The cast and director attended, but spoke only after the film screened.

“We also decided to play outside of competition — we felt the movie should live and die on its own merits and not be compared to others,” Elwes says. “Finally, we had the director talk to distributors prior to the screening so they could see where he thought the marketing should go. Once you arrive at a festival it’s a mad house, so it’s important for the director to talk about the film in an unpressured atmosphere.”

“Double Whammy” was eventually sold to Lions Gate.

Many filmmakers hope to find that kind of unpressured environment at the smaller festivals, and distributors and reps acknowledge the significance of Seattle, San Francisco and Chicago, and point to the growing importance of the Los Angeles Film Festival and the Santa Barbara and Hamptons fests.

Russo also highlights the significance of niche festivals, noting, “With ‘Aimee and Jaguar’ we hit the jackpot. Between the gay and lesbian festivals and the Jewish festivals, the film played at least 50 times.”

For most, however, still dreams of that Cannes screening.

“Many filmmakers will be bombarded by smaller festivals as they’re finishing their films, but they should wait,” explains Macaulay. “I will always try my top-choice festivals first — it can be hard to premiere at a small regional festival.”

Macaulay acknowledges how wonderful a smaller fest can be for a filmmaker, mainly in terms of screening for an appreciative audience, but reality prevails.

“When you’re an independent producer trying to get a film out there in the best way possible, you really have to think about the marketplace first.”

More Film

  • Lisa Borders Time's Up

    Time's Up President Lisa Borders Resigns

    Lisa Borders has resigned as president of Time’s Up, she and the organization announced on Monday. Borders is resigning due to family issues, she said in a statement. Time’s Up COO Rebecca Goldman will now serve as interim CEO. “As Time’s Up continues to grow, I am proud of the work I have done to [...]

  • Keira Knightly as "Rachael Morgan" in

    Film Review: Keira Knightley in 'The Aftermath'

    Less widely seen (and acclaimed) than it deserved to be, James Kent’s debut feature “Testament of Youth” was one of the great recent love-in-wartime dramas, translating the intimate romance and sprawling human tragedy of Vera Brittain’s WWI memoir with a grace and heft worthy of its David Lean allusions. Four years on, it’s not hard [...]

  • Inside Amazon's New Feature Film Strategy

    Amazon's New Film Strategy: Straight-to-Service Titles and Starry Sundance Buys

    It was close to midnight when Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke got the text. The company had failed in its quest to acquire “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” a body image dramedy that captivated Salke when she saw it at Sundance. A sales agent on the project messaged her to say that a competitor offered a [...]

  • Alfonso Cuaron71st Annual Writers Guild Awards,

    Alfonso Cuarón on Academy's 'Inevitable' Reversal on Televised Oscar Categories

    Alfonso Cuarón isn’t exactly surprised that the Academy reversed its decision and will now air all the Oscar categories during the live show on Sunday. Feb. 24. Calling the decision “inevitable,”Cuarón tells Variety that he thinks the Academy should take things even further. “Let’s stop calling them technical categories!” he told Variety on Sunday night [...]

  • TorinoFilmLab Announces Selections for 2019 ScriptLab

    TorinoFilmLab Announces Selections for 2019 ScriptLab (EXCLUSIVE)

    The TorinoFilmLab has announced the 20 feature projects and five story editor trainees who have been selected to take part in the 2019 edition of ScriptLab, an initiative focused on the development of fiction feature film scripts in early development stage. Beginning in March, this year’s participants will team up with filmmakers from around the [...]

  • Alita Battle Angel

    North American Box Office Declines From Last Year With Weak Presidents Day Weekend

    “Alita: Battle Angel” easily won a tepid Presidents Day weekend with a $34.2 million at 3,790 North American locations, estimates showed Monday. Overall domestic moviegoing for 2019 has plunged 22.1% to $1.24 billion as of Monday, according to Comscore. That’s $350 million below the same date a year ago and the lowest figure at this [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content