For many years I was extremely embarrassed to send my work to festivals. I considered the awards to be useless, predictable and rigged trophies that only those with a vibrant ego needed.
A priori, I produced with a certain regularity and did not need recognition. That was my case, until two things happened that changed my focus.
The first was that I began to attend several festivals as a spectator. There I discovered a faithful, dedicated audience, capable of getting up early to secure a pass or to share with an author the ins and outs of creation. At that time I thought with melancholy that cinema in theatres was in decline until I started to frequent the festivals where cinephiles pack out theatres.
The second reason came after attending, now as a filmmaker, documentary markets where I could meet other filmmakers, share experiences, discover how much we were united despite the distance, culture or economy.
What is the point then of participating in festivals?
The most rewarding is to put a face to your audience. People who are interested in your film and without knowing you pay an entrance fee deserve all my interest. Very often “our audience” is really people who are more or less known and who find it difficult to give us an objective opinion because they know us and are afraid of disliking us.
Meeting an unknown audience has made me learn enormously about my work, understand the processes of understanding and emotion of my stories as well as validate it and encourage me to continue working to the fullest.
Secondly, festivals are a place to get to know that particular family of filmmakers who today dedicate their lives to creating films from the magic of the real and the perilous. The contacts you make there are of great human and professional value and can lead to collaborations and co-productions with other colleagues in the sector.
Thirdly, festivals are a privileged place to get to know the films that are being made today, especially the riskier proposals that are unlikely to make it to theatres, televisions or VOD platforms.
Moreover, festivals are an almost exclusive setting for watching documentaries on the big screen. The difficulties of showing documentaries in theatres make festivals almost exclusive places to enjoy the best conditions for watching a film.
Obviously, if your film is awarded a prize, it may open up better prospects for your next projects and, if there is also a cash prize, the financial peace of mind to devote a little more time to development.
If you’ve decided to go for it, you have two options: self-distribution, which will take a lot of time and mistakes, but will save you money and experience, or hire a festival distribution agency that will make a suitable strategy for your film.