A D.I.Y. Guide to Distributing Your Short Films

Sending your short film to galleries, festivals, alternative spaces and microcinemas should take very little time and money. The key to this process is organization.

The Package

The package that you send to festivals is important, however, remember that the more you include in your film package the more it is going to cost to ship.  You should read to see what the festival wants you to include and make sure that it is included.  Furthermore, for each of your films you should have all of the following information pre-written and saved since it is reusable and can be copied and pasted into on-line forms and e-mails.   Here are some basic things to include in your film package:

  • Biography
  • Your biography should not be too lengthy and should contain where you are from, what your artistic practice consists of and your contact information.

    Some festivals will ask for a high quality (300 dpi) director photo. I usually do not include this unless it is specifically asked for.  Have it ready just in case.

  • Film Information
  • Include all relevant information like title, length, silent/stereo, colour/black & white, shooting format, screening format, year of production, brief cast/crew list, synopsis and screening history.

    Some festivals will ask for high quality (300 dpi) film stills.  I usually do not include these unless they are specifically asked for.  Have it ready just in case.

  • Preview DVD
  • Set-up your preview DVD so it takes little time to burn.  It should either be a region-free NTSC/PAL DVD or a data disc containing a High Quality .mov file.  The festival will usually specify which they prefer.

    On your DVD write the title of your film, length of your film, your name and your e-mail address.

    Keep your DVD menus simple and easy to navigate.

  • Festival Application Form
  • Make sure it is signed and filled out completely.

The Festivals

There are thousands of festivals/galleries/alternative spaces in the world for you to submit to.  Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Calls for Submissions
  • It is important to do a tiny bit of research about the festival you are submitting to. Why would you want to show at a shitty festival? You want to show at festivals that share a similar philosophy and aesthetic.  Poor website design, bad aesthetics and/or commercial design are instant giveaways. Given that you have an interest in cinema, after all you consider yourself a filmmaker, it should be immediately clear to you which contemporary filmmakers you would like to screen with.  If you are interested in a filmmakers work, look at which festivals they have screened at and submit to them the following year. The odds are that you have common interests.

    If a deadline has passed and you feel you have work that is directly related to the call, send an e-mail expressing how your work is related to the call and ask for an extension.

    Here are some websites that host calls for submissions:


    Directory of International Film & Video Festivals

    Experimental Cinema

    Bad Lit

    snuff box films


  • Artist Fees vs. Submission Fees
  • I personally believe that artists should be paid artists fees and should not be required to pay submission fees.  That being said, I am often willing to waive my artist fee and I am willing to pay a small submission fee to a few festivals. The two festivals in Canada that I will usually pay a submission fee to are Images Festival and Antimatter Film Festival.  Their submission fees are low and both provide quality programming (read: they are both festivals I would be interested in attending due to the quality of programming).

  • Making your work available online
  • I strongly encourage everyone to make their films available on-line.  Furthermore, choose a community that you feel comfortable with.  I personally use Karagarga and Vimeo.  Both of these communities offer support, encouragement and constructive criticism.

    Note that some festivals will not show your work if it is available on-line, however, this seems like a fairly conservative policy. This policy does not acknowledge the differences between watching a low quality version of a film at home, alone on a small computer screen and watching a print of a film in the dark, communally on large screen in its intended screening environment.  This difference needs to be acknowledged and embraced since this difference is cinema’s saving grace.

  • Rejection
  • Be prepared to be rejected, however, do not let this discourage you. Be productive by watching the films that were selected over yours.  Also, keep in mind that it is not always your films’ fault.  Sometimes your films will be rejected since they do not fit the mandate of the festival or they do not fit a specific theme. Other times your films will be rejected due to bad programming decisions. For instance, a film that gets rejected from Winnipeg’s Festival of Film and Video Art (WNDX) may go on to play in Paris at the Festival des Cinémas Différents.  The point is, do not get discouraged!

Have fun distributing your old films, however, more importantly, keep making new films!

– Clint Enns


~ by cineflyer on December 27, 2009.

5 Responses to “A D.I.Y. Guide to Distributing Your Short Films”

  1. Hi all,
    Good article.
    Another tip is to contact the festival and ask if they accept online file transfers like sendit, filecentral, etc. for the previews instead of a DVD. I started doing that last year and very few said no. It’s an old habit to have preview DVDs and in most cases there are a couple of reviewers so digital file of your DVD will be made anyways.

    You save money on the postage and we all save a small part of nature.


    • Wonderful advice Anders.

      It is also nice to hear from you. We will chat in the near year.

      I hope all is well!

  2. That’s some great advice, man. I get asked all the time about submitting films and I think I’ll start pointing them here, first. And thanks for the plug.

    • I hope people find it useful!

      Plugging your site is easy…It is a great read. I think that will be one of the next articles: Places to read about contemporary underground/experimental cinema both on-line and in print!

      Keep up the amazing work. I hope 2010 treats you well!

  3. […] Most Manitoban filmmakers will need an history of exhibition to qualify for grants from the Manitoba Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts, and I believe the Winnipeg Arts Council grant has this provision as well. Basically, if you haven’t made a film and screened it somewhere (preferably a legit festival or curated screening), you’re going back to the story board. This is proof that distribution is key to your practice as a filmmaker, as troublemaker Clint Enns t… […]

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