How to handle festival rejection

It’s been a busy week, we are fast approaching our festival notification date. Having experienced both sides as a filmmaker and a festival programmer – rejections are definitely one of the least enjoyable aspects of the whole festival experience.

I feel especially for filmmakers! You pour love, time, effort, energy and money into getting the film made, only to be greeted at the other side by festival submissions. When a submission goes well – it feels wonderful! When rejection happens it feels like a long-term partner breaking up with you by text message. It would be easy to feel resentful, but this is the perfect opportunity to connect back with the festival to ask an important question:

Why was my film rejected?

It is completely justified to get back in contact with the festival to ask why your submission hasn’t been selected, yet so many filmmakers don’t bother to take this important step. Any reasonable festival will give you a couple of words in response, a good one might give you a more detailed response. 

The most common causes are likely to be:

1. The story didn’t click with the programmers
2. There were quality or technical issues
3. Time is limited and there just wasn’t space
4. There were too many similar entries
5. Your film doesn’t fit with this year’s themes
6. Your film didn’t match the criteria or regulations

The reality is that many of these factors can be beyond your control but you can improve the odds with a bit of research and targeting.

There are a number of reasons why you might submit to a film festival. Every festival is unique with it’s own personality and style. Some festivals are notoriously difficult to get in, the quality threshold might also differ depending on the number of entries they receive. Did you research the festival before submitting? Have you attended the festival in person before? This is becoming easier than ever with so many festivals running online. Have you looked through the previous programme to see if your film is likely to fit? What are your actual odds of getting in? An established festival is going to receive thousands of entries each year – but how many films do they actually select? By targeting the right festivals, networking and adapting your festival strategy as you go along – you will be able to improve your chances of festival success.