Film Festival Strategies: What Every Filmmaker Needs to Know

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At a time of year when visions of sugar plums are dancing through the heads of many, filmmakers are making their festival wish lists and checking them twice. In anticipation, we recently held a webinar featuring Independent Lens Executive Producer Lois Vossen and the directors of the acclaimed documentary, Peace Officer, Brad Barber and Scott Christopherson. During this live conversation via our social platform OVEE, the panelists shared their thoughts and tips on how best to strategize and navigate the film festival circuit.

Here are a few of the takeaways that emerged:

Premiere Strategically

Top film festivals stake their reputations on premieres and will not screen your film if it’s already played at another major festival. Plan accordingly as you schedule your post production homestretch. Top U.S. festivals include: Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, True/False, Full Frame, AFI, Camden, and the Los Angeles Film Festival. For international premieres: Toronto Hot Docs, International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), and Sheffield.

Schmooze…You Can’t Lose

Film festival programmers and sales agents are always looking for great content. Attending festivals is the best way to meet these folks and build relationships…but don’t be afraid to cold call someone who might be a strong champion for your film. In following up, don’t be a pest, but be persistent if a contact has expressed genuine interest. Lastly, play nice: the documentary community is small, so don’t burn any bridges if someone says no to you. There may come a time when they could say yes.

(How to) Meet the Press

Public relations (PR) professionals can be key to getting your film on the radar of press. They’re also much better equipped to time press opportunities to support festival premieres, a theatrical release, or a broadcast when you’re in the middle of finishing your film. Once you know who your early fans are, create a list of everyone you meet who loves your film, then make sure to leverage those relationships to reach press and other influencers.

For additional tips on how a festival strategy can support your film, watch the webinar recording, below. And if you’re interested in more filmmaker-focused webinars, follow us on Facebook or Twitter for more info!

 

San Francisco Film Society’s New Doc Stories Series

We’re absolutely thrilled that our friends at the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) have added a new documentary series to their autumn programming. An essential element of the organization’s year-round celebration of contemporary world cinema, the Fall Season spotlights international film cultures and now features Doc Stories, a brand-new showcase exhibiting some of the year’s best nonfiction films.

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With numerous filmmakers in attendance, Doc Stories (November 5-8 at the Vogue Theatre) will give audiences opportunities to see the movies that will likely define this year’s awards season while engaging in in-depth conversations about critical contemporary issues with some of the most talented documentary storytellers. From intensely personal essays to hard-hitting topical investigations into urgent global issues to examinations of some of culture’s most fascinating figures, there is something for everyone with an interest in the world around them in this inaugural festival.

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With films like What Happened, Miss Simone? and Cartel Land — movies already available streaming — the key difference brought to Film Society viewership will be the illuminating and thought-provoking onstage discussions with filmmakers and other special guests in attendance for each screening. SFFS will host directors for nearly every film in the program, putting them in dialogue with key cultural critics.

We’re so excited for this new series to get started. Don’t miss your chance to see the ITVS funded film  Thank You for Playing  on November 8th, and more at: sffs.org/tickets.

ITVS Announces Diversity Development Funded Films

ITVS is pleased to announce 10 projects have been selected for development funding out of 158 submissions through the ITVS Diversity Development Fund. The Diversity Development Fund (DDF) provides up to $15,000 in research and development funding to producers of color to develop single documentary programs for public television. The next round of DDF funding opens October 9th with an application deadline of November 6th. For rules and how to apply click here.

From the strange world of Chinese online showrooms to an exploration of African-American masquerading practices in New Orleans, these films speak to the ITVS mission of tackling complex issues and reflecting the concerns of the diverse society that we live in.

We are proud to welcome the following filmmakers to the ITVS family:

Millennium Island, by Lulu DeBoer, follows a young I-Kiribati woman returning home to her ancestral islands in the south Pacific, only to find that global warming has threatened the existence of her people.

Hail to the Queens, by Brian Nelson, showcases the New Orleans connection to the African diaspora through African-American masquerading practices.

Listen to My Heart Beat, by Nyjia July, explores the cultural currency of Washington, D.C.’s regional music called Go-Go, a blend of funk, rhythm and blues, and early hip-hop, and the politics of poverty and violence that influenced its sound.

My Tiger Mom, by Debbie Lum, follows Asian American mothers and their daughters as they relentlessly pursue their greatest aspiration: getting into an elite American university.

Bound by Blood: Reconciliation and Reparations, by Llewellyn Smith, recounts the brutal massacre of black sharecroppers by white citizens of Elaine, Arkansas in 1919 and shows reverberations lingering through lives of descendant families, white and black, today.

A Woman’s Work, by Yu Gu, chronicles the fight of NFL cheerleaders to receive fair wages.

Triad of Us, by Angela Chen, follows the filmmaker’s journey to piece together her estranged family ultimately shattered by an assassination of an alleged triple spy.

Wisdom Gone Wild, by Rea Tajiri, at 93, Rose Tajiri has dementia. Guided by her mother’s “crazy wisdom”, Rea and her mother Rose journey together to find meaning at the end of life.

Por La Situación, by Nina Alvarez, shows Salvadorans fleeing military and death squad persecution during El Salvador’s civil war as they fight the U.S. government for recognition of their rights as political refugees.

People’s Republic of Desires, by Hao Wu, journeys into a uniquely Chinese internet phenomenon—an exploding virtual entertainment world where performers earn as much as $50,000 a night singing karaoke or doing talk shows for tens of thousands of people.

ITVS at SXSW 2015

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By Elisabeth Copper, @eacopper

Social Media Manager

It’s that time again! We’ve packed our bags and are heading out for the craziness that is SxSW. We’ll be running around town participating in panels, attending screenings, and meeting with filmmakers, storytellers, and innovators. Will you be joining us in Austin? If so, here are some of the places we’ll be.

Film Screenings

We couldn’t be more thrilled that three ITVS-support documentaries will be showing at the film festival this year. If you have a Film, Gold, or Platinum badge, here’s your chance to preview the documentaries before they appear next season on our Emmy Award-winning series Independent Lens.

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ITVS Heads to the Sundance Film Festival

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By Elisabeth Copper

ITVS Social Media Manager, @eacopper

With parkas, scarves, and boots in tow, we’ve hit the road for what’s going to be an incredible week in Park City, Utah! A couple of us have already arrived at Sundance to meet with storytellers and directors, participate in panels, and preview some of the year’s most buzzed about films, which includes five ITVS supported documentaries. If you’re in town, you definitely don’t want to miss the following screenings:

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William F. Buckley & Gore Vidal in the film Best of Enemies. (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute; ABC Photo Archives)

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Help Bring ITVS to SXSW!

Public voting for SXSW 2015 is officially underway. Check out ITVS’s three panel proposals and vote for your favorites – hurry, voting closes September 5th!

btb_panelpickerITVS is proud to be part of three proposed panel discussions for next year’s SXSW festival in Austin. Highlighting topics ranging from navigating the digital terrain to the ins and outs of webseries funding, ITVS is eager to share the insight of industry experts and veteran filmmakers. We may be biased but we think all three of our panels are very worthy of inclusion in SXSW programming and we could use your vote. So sign up and give us a thumb’s up!

First off we ask, “What’s the Value of Your Digital Rights?” In this panel, industry experts will provide insight into how much digital rights are worth to filmmakers and distributors launching titles on outlets such as iTunes, Amazon, and Netflix. Attendees will walk away from this session with insight into which platforms are winning in the battle for viewer attention, while attaining a greater understanding of the deal structures and windowing strategies negotiated as part of these licensing deals.

What sets PBS apart from all of the other broadcasters and distribution outlets? Why do award-winning filmmakers continue to choose PBS as the home for their films? Our second panel, “Doc Distribution: Get Up to Speed with PBS Indies,” highlights the benefits of distributing your film through public television. With access to 98% of American households and the opportunity to be a part of national engagement programs, public media is a great fit for producers looking to expand cultural awareness, spark dialogue, and evoke civil participation. Attendees will be able to hear directly from filmmakers who have chosen this distribution route and how it affected the reach, revenue, and impact of their project. Continue reading

#ITVSSXSW: A Preview

By Elisabeth Copper
ITVS Social Media Manager, @eacopper

altthumbITVS is packing up and heading out to Austin for what is going to be our busiest and most memorable SXSW yet! We’ll be in the Lone Star state on Thursday to meet with filmmakers, innovators, and storytellers, as well as eat some BBQ… lots and lots of BBQ.

If you have a film or interactive badge, you won’t want to miss the first of our Saturday panels, “New Narratives: Building an Interactive Storyworld.”  ITVS, Murmur, Storycode, and Ted Hope will be on hand to discuss the emerging genre of interactive narrative film, as well as provide attendees with ways to create immersive storyworlds.

Our second Saturday session, “Meet the Insiders: Funding and Special Organizations,” will provide independent filmmakers with a plan of action to help get their passion projects funded. Expert panelists – featuring Independent Lens Series Producer Lois Vossen and ITVS Senior VP of Content Jim Sommers – will present best practices when trying to get your project off the ground, review funding options, and shed light on what makes a funding proposal really stand out.

For filmmakers in town on Monday, don’t miss the chance to join Vossen at the “Meet the Mentors: Distribution, Documentary” event. She will be on hand to give advice and answer your questions about distribution for documentary films.

The ITVS crew will be around for the duration of the festival, so if you see us at the SXSW Film Opening Party or chowing down at Stubbs, make sure you stop by and join in on the fun. We’ll be sharing all things Austin on Instagram and Twitter, so if you aren’t already, be sure to give us a follow!

Celebrate Women’s History Month with #SheDocs!

March kicks off the second annual #SheDocs, an online film festival showcasing 12 documentaries highlighting extraordinary women and their accomplishments in celebration of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. The festival is presented by ITVS’s Women and Girls Lead campaign and sponsored by Eileen Fisher, Inc.

Female protagonists in film are few and far between. According to the Annenberg Public Policy Center, women have been consistently underrepresented as main characters for at least six decades. In 2013, females accounted for only 33% of all characters in the top 100 grossing films and only 11% featured women in leadership positions.

Women and Girls Lead is proud to combat these gender stereotypes and misrepresentations with the second annual #SheDocs online film festival, a collection of 12 documentaries highlighting extraordinary women working to close the gender gap and fight inequality. This month-long, free event presents films by prominent independent filmmakers and shines a spotlight on women who are working to transform their lives, their communities, and the world. Continue reading

Fundraising in a New Media Landscape: Three Lessons From Sundance

This year, three ITVS-supported films premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris showcased both his feature film and transmedia project as a part of New Frontier, a program that showcases multi-media storytelling. These projects inspired ITVS to create a panel focusing on the challenges of fundraising for documentary and transmedia projects.

Kamal Sinclair, Sr. Manager Sundance New Frontier Story Lab; Jim Sommers, Sr. Vice President of Content at ITVS; N'Jeri Eaton, Programming Manager at ITVS; Thomas Allen Harris, Through A Lens Darkly and Digital Diaspora Family Reunion; Shukree Tilghman, More Than A Month and More Than A Mapp app; Kay Shaw, Director of Public Media Corps at NBPC

Pictured (L-R): Kamal Sinclair, Sr. Manager Sundance New Frontier Story Lab; Jim Sommers, Senior Vice President of Content at ITVS; N’Jeri Eaton, Programming Manager at ITVS; Thomas Allen Harris, Through A Lens Darkly and Digital Diaspora Family Reunion; Shukree Tilghman, More Than A Month and More Than A Mapp app; Kay Shaw, Director of Public Media Corps at NBPC

The panel marked ITVS’s first event with the Blackhouse Foundation. For the last seven years, Blackhouse has held a venue at the Sundance Film Festival as a place that both celebrates Black cinema and provides networking opportunities for filmmakers.

The panel was packed with experts in the field who could speak specifically to the challenges facing filmmakers. Panelists included Director of Public Media Corps Kay Shaw from the National Black Programming Consortia; Senior Manager Kamal Sinclair from the Sundance New Frontier Story Lab; filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris of Through a Lens Darkly and its transmedia component Digital Diaspora Family  Reunion, and myself.  The panel was moderated by filmmaker Shukree Tilghman, who also went through the film/transmedia funding gauntlet with his film More Than A Month and the related phone app More Than A Mapp. Continue reading

Vote for ITVS with the SXSW Panel Picker!

Public voting for SXSW Interactive 2014 is well underway. Check out ITVS’s two panel proposals and vote for your favorites – hurry, voting closes September 6th!

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ITVS is proud to to be part of two proposed panel discussions for next year’s SXSW festival in Austin. We may be biased but we think both our panels are very worthy of inclusion in SXSW programming, and we could use your vote. So sign up and give us a thumb’s up!

First off is the “New Narratives: Building An Interactive Storyworld” panel that ITVS and some of our partners (Storycode, San Francisco Film Society) are doing around interactive fiction film (e.g. the new Futurestates, some upcoming hackathons, etc.), its emergence as a new and untapped genre, and why it’s important for feature makers.

“This is such an exciting time to be working in digital content – interactive documentaries are everywhere, changing people’s notions of how to tell a story,” says Karim Ahmad, Senior Programming Manager at ITVS. “But when you think about the implications of these new platforms for fictional storyworlds, the possibilities are literally limitless. What does an interactive fictional film or web series look like? How do you build one? Why would you even want to build one? These are all the things we’re going to explore in our panel.” Continue reading