Cracking the film festival code – Short films.

Well, for all those new Indie filmmakers, one great ego booster is getting selected or even better, getting an award in one of those thousands of film festivals that let you showcase your work of art.  And if you are still around reading this then I guess we are getting somewhere.

So far so good.

Now the question is how do you get into these festivals? If you haven’t heard of

  • or

then I guess you are really fresh out of the mint. Well, welcome to the mud drenched, long and convoluted path to recognition – or oblivion.

STEP 1 – Search for Festivals

ZERO BUDGET – Assuming that you are an independent filmmaker, the budget could be a constraint. So start looking for the ones which don’t charge you – yes right! They are free as in free lunch – the downside is NO barrier to entry – so there is a high chance that your “work of art” may die a virgin in the archives of the uploaded repository.

SOME BUDGET – $5-$10 is a sweet spot. But then you better be good because you are getting into the realm of those serious filmmakers whose lives are depending on making films.

RICH AS A LANNISTER – You shouldn’t be even here!

Note: In any case you got to give it to the programmers though. It’s an impossible task to view all the films – so there you go – sliver of a chance.

STEP 2 – Submission

LOGLINE: This is to get the programmer interested in watching your film. Make it brief and interesting.

SYNOPSIS : Here you describe the plot. Highlight the important events in your film which will make a programmer understand the storyline. This is very important as the programmer would then be able to quickly relate to your film. This becomes even more important in case the film is not in English.

OTHER INFORMATIONS: Well, it’s pretty self explanatory – you will do fine.

STEP 3 – Selection

You can bang your head for as long as you want but never be able to figure it out. But in any case – let’s start with the must have things:

  1. Content matters: Are you sure it’s not a home video that you shot of your kid walking for the first time! Well, we all understand your sentiments associated with it but to a festival programmer it won’t cut ice – take it from me.
  2. Presentation: Get to the story fast. We all have seen classic films that indulge in rolling opening credits – they can afford it as you have bought a ticket and inside a  theatre – unlikely you will waste your money by leaving. Well, in most cases your film could be the 100th film the festival programmer would be looking at – so get going with the story from the first frame. Every frame is of essence.
  3. Context: All these festivals have themes and rules. Read them before you submit your film. Also try and look at the archives and see what kind of films they usually select. You don’t want to submit a horror film when the festival has been only selecting drama – genre and the story-line are the key! The other important thing is from which part of the world are you! You see every culture comes with its own nuances in terms of sentiments. What works for the asian world may not necessarily go down well the western palette. So look for festivals which are closer to your native tongue – well it’s code red if you may!
  4. What sells: From the context of third world cinema, no matter what, the films that have made it are those which are laden with overdose of poverty stricken sub-plots that kind of evokes the western sentiments. Third world you see. And if you are not from the third world then sky is the limit – go for it!
  5. Some Technicalities: Well if you think you can still make it then here are some tips
    • Colour Grade: No matter what make sure you colour grade your film. Give it that filmy look!
    • Editing:Make sure you have a well thought out strategy for your cuts – transitions make or break a movie.
    • Blocking: No one wants to see a movie that’s static. Use the location. You see you got to take a leak some time – you can’t just make your actors sit and talk and talk.
    • Music: The less the better. It’s a short film you got to tell your story quickly with as much clarity as possible.
    • Actors: Friends and family works well given the budget constraints but then better get actors – you may get closer to the game.
    • DP: Don’t take a chance with the DP – get a good Director of photography – remember the DP will give life to your vision!
    • Sound: Sync sound works best. But make sure you have a good sound engineer as dubbing will eat into your budget or even drain the film out of emotion.
    • AD: Invest in a good AD – you may be the best director but a good AD is what will make your film shine! You may forget but your AD won’t – to at least get stills!

The Indian Context

If you are from India then do check out these festivals – these you can directly go through or

  • Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival
  • Mumbai Shorts International Film Festival
  • Smita Patil Documentary and Short Film Festival
  • Screen Short Fest
  • Calcutta International Cult Film Festival (CICFF)
  • Virgin Spring Cinefest
  • Kolkata Shorts International Film Festival
  • The Great Indian Film and Literature Festival
  • Goa Shots – International Short Film Festival
  • Jaipur International Film Festival
  • International Film Festivals in Jaipur
  • Kolkata international film festival(KIFF)

Happy festival hunting!

And here is a film (Urmi’s Cat) you could watch – Awards and Laurels:

  1. Official Selection : Calcutta International Cult Film Festival
  2. Best Short Film : Virgin Cinefest International Festival
  3. Official Selection : Screen Short Fest 17


And the trailer of another one called The Last Question: The awards and laurels thus far

  1. Selected – Short Film Corner : Cannes Film Festival
  2. Semi-Finalist : Calcutta International Cult Film Festival
  3. Best Editor – Lake View International Film Festival
  4. Best Short Film – Virgin Cinefest International Festival


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