For queer filmmakers, LGBT film festivals provide a great place for their work to be shown or appreciated. But that doesn’t mean that the doors are as wide open as the atmosphere. Festivals have gotten bigger and more competitive over the years, and it’s no longer possible to just put out average work and expect that it’ll be shown. Busy selection committees screen thousands of films in order to whittle the torrent down to a more manageable size.
However, any filmmaker with her own creative voice and the right combination of skill, perseverance and savvy can still break in and get their work noticed. AfterEllen.com recently spoke to a number of successful film directors and festival coordinators to compile this list of advice for new filmmakers eager to get their films onto the LGBT festival circuit.
Make a film that matters to you.
First and foremost, it’s key to have a film that you’re truly passionate about — something that showcases your own singular voice as a filmmaker. Filmmaker and Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project executive director Madeleine Lim advised, "If you make your film as personal to you as possible, then it becomes unique and original rather than being something that’s been done by 20,000 other people."
Outfest’s associate director of programming Kimberly Yutani, who also programs for Fusion and Sundance, agreed. "Your sensitivity and commitment to your subject and characters are vital, and how you present that information is the key to your project’s authenticity," she said. "You really have to be passionate about your film and know why you’re making it."
Know your audience, but don’t obsess about it.
Lim warned against making movies that are too focused on what you think viewers want. "You kind of have to make the film you want to make, and leave the audience out of it on some level," she offered.
Though ignoring your following isn’t the goal here at all, as she explained: "If you can tell your story from your very unique, original perspective, then other people will relate to it on their own level." The more honest — and well-made — the film is, the more people will gravitate to its universal themes, so don’t stress too much about having mass appeal.
If your film is a short, keep it tight.
Think of a festival as a competition for a very limited resource: time. The longer your film is, the less time it leaves for others, which means that yours has to be that much stronger to even have a chance.
"Programs are put together with running time in mind," said director Hilary Goldberg, the director of several successful shorts, including the upcoming In the Spotlight (featured at this year’s Frameline and Outfest) starring Michelle Tea and Guinevere Turner. "So the shorter the short, the better the chance it has to get in a festival," she explained.
Basil Tsiokos, artistic director of programming at Newfest, New York City’s premiere LGBT film festival, warned that being too lengthy could actually endanger your film’s chances of being selected at all. "While certain films need an extended running time to properly tell their story, we have seen far too many films in recent years that are just unnecessarily long — especially among shorts," he said. "If it takes too long to get to the point of your film, it can be wearing on a screening committee, and the film can be judged more harshly."
Programmers are looking for films that are made with economy and creativity, not long, meandering plotlines and loose ends. Keeping it tight and to the point works in your favor.