I am not a huge fan of film festivals, as most of them are really scams to capitalize on desperate filmmakers who so crave to have their work seen, and collect a huge number of entry fees. Unless you can get into one of the big five (ie Sundance, Cannes, Toronto, South by Southwest, Venice), you are in essence wasting your money. That being said, festivals are a necessary evil in the world of indie filmmaking, unless you are fortunate enough to secure an honest distributor to take it on, and unless your indie film happens to have Julia Roberts in it, that’s unlikely to happen. So…with that in mind, I had submitted Rage of Innocence into about five festivals and it has so far been accepted into two: LA Cinefest and the Magwill Film Festival. Still waiting for information on the remaining three.
The big problem I have with festivals is that most of the experiences I’ve had with them have been a big letdown. The biggest letdown was when my 2009 film, “The God Complex” was accepted in several of them. Two in Los Angeles and one in Florida, I believe. The two in Los Angeles: Action on Film and the Burbank International Festival were huge disappointments. We even spent a little money placing a half page ad in the Hollywood Reporter, which did nothing for us.
Most of the films featured at those festivals played to relatively empty houses. Sure, there were filmmakers and their supporters there, but most of them were only interested in their own films, and when their films screened, were pretty much the only ones in the audience. I have seen this happen more than once and it really soured my taste for smaller festivals. Even if you are fortunate enough to get your movie accepted into Sundance, it’s great for bragging rights, but unless you do some serious networking, your film will also play to an empty or near-empty house. I mean, if you have a film playing at Sundance, and around the corner a movie starring Sylvester Stallone is also playing, where do you think the crowd is going to go?
When “The God Complex” was playing at the Burbank Festival in 2010, I met a nice filmmaker who had flown out from Germany because his film was one of the selections. He invited me to come to the screening of his film, and I said I would. When his film screened, I popped my head in to see that he was the only person in the audience. I felt so bad, but didn’t know if I should go in and share his humiliation or just pop out again and let him wallow in shame by himself. I eventually decided to go in, sit next to him, and talk about how some of these festivals are nothing more than scams and cash cows for the organizers. Since we were the only ones in the theatre, we talked throughout the movie and shared experiences. I told him that when my film screened, it was primarily some of the actors in attendance with one or two curious strays, maybe a couple of atheists who were really into the satirical message of the movie. And among all that, I actually was able to enjoy his movie. I think it made that bitter pill of the Burbank festival a little easier for him to swallow.
So, with all that disappointment regarding film festivals, we still submit and we still hope that we’ll get accepted, and better still, featured. We hope that there will be more in attendance than the actors, and we hope that someone will be there to appreciate all the time, effort and in some cases, money we have spent to bring a movie to completion. Why do we bother? Well, because if you’re an indie filmmaker, it’s really a game that we’re forced to play. It’s like an old story once attributed with Clark Gable, who used to like to gamble. He was playing in a casino that was known to be dishonest. Someone said to him, “Clark, why are you playing here? This casino is dishonest.” His reply was, “Yes, but it’s the only game in town.”