Why do US film festivals have such massive entry fees?

Ok I just had my first screening of my 23 min film TAKING OVER THE KING’S LAND, at the funky venue Dalston Social in East London. It was a kind of cast and crew screening though since it was a doc there was not a cast as such, but many of the folks who were involved in the film came and also friends and colleagues. It was good fun and I got great honest feedback on the film. My good friend Rodney Victor Williams brought his band Lion Tribe and they played a blistering set of exactly the kind of music I like – which was a huge bonus!



I’m now in the not quite so enjoyable or enviable position of getting the film out there to a wider audience. Aside from a few more London screenings that are being set up, this normally means festivals. There are literally millions of festivals! You really have to do your research. I have had films in festivals a lot but in the past these were fairly experimental kinds of films, something more like video art – atmospheric silent documentaries using experimental visual or sonic forms. TAKING OVER THE KING’S LAND is a much more traditional form doc, though people did tell me it’s immediately recognizable as my style which is good – I was not after a whole career change into a total other person!

So I am seeking festivals which take docs and are genuinely interested in docs (instead of just shoving them off to a wan screening on a toilet door or something). At the same time, I’m very aware that my film – which in the end is about the power of art to transform the world (ok, tall order) –  does not fit with the ethnographic or sociological direction that docs usually go in. So, not an easy fit. Still with the help of the wonderful Tracy Miller-Robbins and her blog http://noentryfeefestivals.com/ I am slowly but surely finding directions.

However I am also signed up to several other film submission and festival info sites, which tell you what deadlines are coming up and some of them have direct entry facilities, like Withoutabox and Reelport. However, it’s become clear that – despite my film being in English and probably a good cultural fit –  I will not be submitting my film to many US based festivals. There are billions of them, some in big cities like LA some in hamlets, but one thing they have i common is astronomical submission fees. While a European festival might charge ten euros at most, a UK one up to £20, the US fees are routinely $60 to $100 a pop. This is really expensive! Aside from the fact that i cannot possibly afford to roll out fees like that, I do wonder why it is so expensive. So I did a bit of research.

One thing I found was that a huge number of US festivals with massive fees listed on the submission sites, are so obscure that it’s not clear what the benefit of being i the festival actually is. May of them have opaque websites with no details of previous films, winners or anything. Some are calling for films, but with no venue booked. It’s difficult to see who is behind the festivals and therefore to know their credentials. In short, there is a  distinct whiff of dodginess about the enterprise.

It’s not just the US though – I even found listings for festivals in the UK – where I live and practice as a film make and film lecturer – festivals IN LONDON that I have never heard of, charging upwards of £50 to submit. With no venue specified. Now., I am not saying these “festivals” don’t take place but to be honest it would be very easy for me to shell out a few hundred quid, to book a screening room for the night and to mount a so-called festival and take £50 a pop from about 100 people – suddenly I have £5000 in my hand.

I HAVE created screening events and selected for festivals before, and i can attest that huge numbers of submissions arrive. In my case I didn’t charge a fee. Now,  I am not against fees per se, if they reflect the true requirements of the festival. But I thinking too many cases it’s just a gig for people to make some easy £ from film makers dying to get their work out there.

So, I’m soldiering on, seeking screenings and festival opps that don’t rip me off and all i hope really is that this little film will find its audience – an audience that cares about art, cares about human relationships and wants to see something a bit different and – not my words, but those of one of the attendees at the last screening – something  ‘inspirational.’


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