For a quarter-century now, MovieMaker has been the leading publication for working independent filmmakers. MM’s editorial coverage of the festival circuit recaps events around the globe, ranks top choices for submissions, and catalogues hundreds of fests annually that craft unforgettable experiences for attendees. And yet, just how all these festivals make their selections and curate their programs remains a mystery to most moviemakers trying to get their project into the circuit.
Most reputable festivals have a rigorous process for how they judge films coming in via submissions, and the first line of defense are the staff members known as the “submissions screeners.” These are people who watch lots of films in a short period of time and judge them based on a criteria specific to that festival’s mission. Festival programmers choose their screening team using a variety of methods, often recruiting former interns or gathering recommendations from trusted industry friends and colleagues.
The more you understand how this all works and what these programmers and screeners are prioritizing in their work, the better served you’ll be able to put together a smart, cost-effective submissions strategy. To demystify this process, we’ve invited some insiders to participate in an extensive survey, on condition of anonymity and total honesty. The insights from experts—a range of festival directors (many with 10-plus years of experience), programmers, and of course, screeners—are sure to give you a leg up before your next submissions drive.