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Film festival fever is in the air. This week the 12th annual American Black Film Festival (ABFF) kicks off in Los Angeles. And next month the Urbanworld Film Festival in New York celebrates its 12 year. Both festivals promise to present some of the best in black independent cinema. Yet with the glut of independent film product on the market today, for most black independent filmmakers, festivals such as the ABFF and Urbanworld will be the only place their film will see a theatrical audience.
But getting your film accepted into a festival is one thing. Plotting out every detail of your strategy before the festival will help you come across as a professional and will better position you to take advantage of all that a film festival experience has to offer.
For feature film directors and producers, film festivals are excellent opportunities to get your film in front of acquisitions executives from studios, television networks, or direct-to-video entities who have the power to license the film for distribution. With the abundance of film festivals and around the world, it is crucial for filmmakers to carefully assess the merits and attributes of various festivals before applying.
“Do your homework to find out what distributors attended the festival in the past and what films sold there,” advises New York director Pete Chatmon, whose feature film debut Premium screened at a number of festivals across the country, including ABFF and the Miami International Film Festival. Chatmon’s film generated buzz on the festival circuit and eventually landed a distribution deal with Sherman Oaks, CA-based Codeblack Entertainment, resulting in a limited 2007 release in theaters and a television debut on Showtime.
Filmmakers, who are commonly more at ease in their artistic mode, must quickly adjust to the business culture of entertainment. Chatmon underscores the importance of having basic promotional elements in place such as a Website, business cards, and postcards. He also urges filmmakers to use creative ways to draw attention to their film. “It’s important that you let people know that this particular film stands out,” Chatmon says.
Getting people to actually show up to see your movie is also a challenge, particularly if you’re a first-time filmmaker who doesn’t have the brand recognition or a bankable cast. “Come up with a list of 100 people you want to invite to your screening and send them complimentary tickets,” says Tanya Kersey, founder and executive director of the Hollywood Black Film Festival. She also recommends getting a copy of the Hollywood Creative Directory, which lists studio and production company executives, to come up with the list. Follow up with a phone call after sending public relations materials to executives, she adds.
Kersey also encourages filmmakers to budget for a publicist and a reception. “You want to keep people engaged,” says Kersey, who suggests filmmakers place a sign-in book at the door of the theater to keep track of attendees. “You can then do proper follow-up,” she adds.