These days, there's a film festival for every topic under the sun. How do you make yours stand out? Filmmaker and Ideas Fund Shorts alumnus Olivia Humphreys presents her guide to setting up your very own festival...
Stand out from the crowd
There are a lot of festivals out there now, so there needs to be a reason for yours to exist. Branchage specialises in site-specific live sound-tracking and unusual venues; Quadrangle, the new documentary festival in Kent, will feature a Bring Your Own strand, where participants can bring along DVDs and arrange their own small-scale screenings; and the organisers of Cinematique! focus on creating the casual, friendly atmosphere they found was often missing at other festivals.
It’s a good idea to volunteer at a festival to learn how they work – almost all festivals offer volunteer positions, often in different teams. Seeing how a variety of established festivals work is really invaluable when planning your own.
Develop your festival’s identity
Philip Ilson (read our interview with him), who programmes Branchage and the BFI London Film Festival’s shorts strands, and directs the London Short Film Festival, comments, “Just as a band has a look, style, and image in both its music and public persona, a film festival can have the same, with its design, branding, decision on what venues to use, and finally the sort of films it shows.”
Programming an entire festival is daunting, but Philip advises, “Because of the sheer amount of films, the only way of approaching this is just to choose for yourself – you have to be a bit arrogant about it.” Juliette Joffe, who programmes Quadrangle, agrees: “It’s best to just go with films you love and want people to see; you have to trust your judgement.”
Assemble the right team
Jessie Teggin from the Open City Documentary Festival, which starts on Thursday 16 June, thinks two crucial roles are “an experienced press officer and a print traffic controller who knows their stuff about formats and technical requirements”.
Most importantly, make sure the people you start the festival with share your vision for it and your taste in films. “Curating a festival is a collaboration,” says Juliette Joffe, “it’s like writing a screenplay together, so you really need to have similar sensibilities.”
Start getting others involved
“Shooting People is always great to have on board,” says Jessie Teggin, and “having filmmakers or industry people on the panel really helps give filmmakers confidence to submit their film and take the festival seriously.”
Joe Bateman, director of Rushes Soho Shorts Festival, recommends “building relationships with local organisations who work in the media/film/tv/commercials field – they may offer events or seminars as part of your programme, but will also have memberships and databases that they may be willing to promote you to.”
Finally, love your festival
Remember why you organised it in the first place, says Philip Ilson: “The best festivals are those that are run by enthusiasts and in many ways look like they don’t care if anyone comes, like Flatpack in Birmingham. A film festival can never make its organisers rich, so it’s better to have that passion [for film], and hopefully the festival will become respected and successful.”
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Image: Columbia by Thomas Gehrke, available under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.