Gaining Festival Momentum: How to Find Success Without Sundance, by Kyle Patrick Alvarez

4. Be Social. The independent film world isn’t as huge as it might seem. There are a lot of festivals, but you might be surprised by the overlap; you end up seeing the same people over and over again—from San Francisco to Prague. So, get to know the folks in the community as well as you can. Intimidated? Don’t be. Just because one of your fellow indie denizens won the Tiger Award at Rotterdam doesn’t mean she won’t share her festival expertise with you. But she definitely won’t if you don’t ask.

Also, make sure to follow up with your new connections! You don’t need to know someone at a festival in order to get your film in, but getting people familiar with your movie before it arrives is never a bad thing. Also, once your film plays at a festival, be sure to use the premiere as a networking opportunity. Meet other filmmakers and potential collaborators. Also, get ready to fight for your film and stand by it as long as you can. Your first feature is where you starting learning the strategic ropes of the festival circuit. You’ll never have another “first” opportunity to make an impression.

5. Make deeply personal work. In between my two films I was given the opportunity to program for a festival. It was enlightening to be on the other side. I saw so many films, and the truth is, many just didn’t feel like they had their own individual voice or identity. It was disheartening.

In all sincerity, it’s not about how much money you have or how big your stars are. Your voice and personality are the most important tools you have. And that’s what festivals are looking for. People always ask me during Q&As, “What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to someone trying to make a first film?” I want to give everyone 30 pieces of advice, but the foremost tip I have is: Make sure your film reflects who you are. Don’t make something you think people will like, or festivals might like, or something that’ll make a ton of money. Tell a story that you think only you can tell. If you do, your festival future is bright. MM

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