For most indie filmmakers, festivals are a key step in marketing and promoting the movie. Having a film screen at festivals can provide new audiences, press opportunities, and even distribution. Winning awards provides validation that the movie is worth checking out.

But what does it take to impress festival programmers and judges? That’s what I asked the directors of Christian Worldview Film Festival, Christian Youth Film Festival, Winnipeg Reel to Reel Film Festival, and the I Will Tell International Film Festival. Here’s what they had to say:

While there are many variables involved when it comes to making a film and all of them come into play when experiencing the final product, there are some things that can make your film stand out from the mix.

Story is still king.

Without this, it really doesn’t matter how good the technical side is, how well the story flows or how good the performances are. From the judging perspective it is important that they be able to follow the story, that the pacing works well, and while you want to know where things are going, a little surprise as to how you get there never hurts! Having something memorable, or a story that someone would really want to share with others is going to be a plus.

Understand the vision of the particular festival you want to submit to.

If you are submitting to festivals, it is also important to understand the vision of each festival and their area of focus. With the Christian Worldview Film Festival, there is a scoring factor for a Christian Worldview! So a film that has this is going to be a stronger candidate than one that is lighter in this area. Each festival out there usually has an area of interest. If you have difficulty finding this articulated, you can also look at the kind of films that have won in the past and get a feel for what typically is favored.

Technical does matter!

A film that is not distracting due to dialogue that is hard to hear, visual effects shots that are not complete, or production elements that stand out by being less refined than other areas of production is going to have an edge as well. It is sometimes better to wait and submit your film the following year rather than submit it before it is complete. This can be hard sometimes if you have a release window, so you will have to decide what is right for you!

When it comes to deciding between projects that are close, it is sometimes a specific area that can decide. The music score, acting, or even something as small as the creative credit sequence!

David Cook, Event Coordinator
Christian Worldview Film Festival

Don’t lose sight of who you are.

Sometimes, you get so much good advice from so many good people that you lose sight of who you really are. Your movie might convey the hearts of many advisors, but no one can see or recognize your heart. So my advice would be to make sure your movie reflects your passion and style clearly. I don’t mean to suggest you should disregard good advice. Simply keep your own passion as the center of your project. If your movie is rejected because it’s too personal or passionate, be thankful! At least it won’t be screened in another bland, run-of-the-mill festival. The best festivals want great movies with a clear and undeniable message and personality. Make it yours and it will stand out from the crowd of entries!

To get the most out of your festival experience try these tips:

  • Attend or participate in every screening, party, discussion, seminar, and panel.
  • Going alone forces you to meet new people and listen to new ideas.
  • Exchange business cards with everyone.
  • Carry a swag bag and selectively give away promo items; flash drives, posters, shirts, etc.
  • Don’t be disappointed if only a handful of people attend your screening.
  • Answer questions at the end of your screening and thank people for watching.
  • As soon as you get home, send a brief email to everyone you met saying it was nice to meet them and you hope to see them again sometime. Add them to your contact list and invite them to your next movie event.
  • Send a hand-written thank you note to the festival organizers.
  • Much of your festival experience will depend on your attitude. Determine to be a blessing to others and God will bless you as well.

Joe Brown, Executive Director/Founder
Christian Youth Film Festival

The best art is inspired art.

If you are looking to make a film, the only place to start is on your knees surrendering the whole project to God and to lean on his wisdom and creativity. Practically, that works itself out in a desire to touch the audience by exploring a story in an honest way.

A great film has a great hook.

It needs a unique take on a familiar theme. What is fresh and different about your story? Next, every single scene has to be compelling and has to drive the story forward. Less is always more Last, what is the theme of the story? What did the main character learn on this journey? And to borrow from Steven Spielberg, the first five minutes and the last five minutes must be absolutely incredible. You really have to challenge the audience to say ‘wow’.

Paul H. Boge, Festival Coordinator
Winnipeg Real To Reel Film Festival

Tell great stories from a unique perspective.

We want films that tell great stories from a unique perspective, that immerse us into a new world and that remain true to the story being told. It’s important that the film is consistent with the ethos of the festival so take the time to research the festival before submitting. An insightfully written synopsis could convince a programmer to take a closer look at a film that might otherwise be relegated to the ‘also viewed’ file. A very good film may still not be selected simply because it is not the right fit for the festival. If that happens, keep going! With the thousands of festivals available to filmmakers today and the ease of online submission to almost anywhere in the world, it’s no longer so much a matter of whether you would be selected, but which ones are the best fit for you.

Include a press packet.

An excellent script and the quality of the film are the most important attributes for helping a submission to stand out, but a good press pack giving more insight into the film, why it was made and interesting stories that show clear alignment with the festival ethos can be a game-changer. The festival wants to promote your film, perhaps almost as much as you do, so easy availability of marketing assets such as involvement of a well-known personality, a published book, good film stills, link with a significant event, a good trailer etc are strong incentives for being included in the festival programme. Some festivals are open to you sending in an email with questions before submitting. If your film is a good fit, they are more likely to remember you when considering the shortlist, and if it’s not a good fit you would have saved yourself a submission fee. At the end of the day, however, we are all in the business of creating and promoting great films and your best bet for standing out from the crowd is to do just that.

Jenny Lee, Director
I Will Tell International Film Festival

What great advice from these film festival folks. What’s your best advice on how to stand out when submitting to festivals and how to make the most of the festival experience?


Sharon Wilharm, is a ministry leader, keynote speaker, podcast host, and female filmmaker whose stories have impacted audiences around the globe. An accomplished storyteller, Sharon draws the audience in with humor, engages them with stories, then ties everything together to bring to light spiritual truths. Her heart’s desire is to encourage women in their walk with the Lord, showing them how to find God’s will for their life through prayer and scripture. Sharon has enjoyed a lifelong fascination with women of the Bible and loves applying the biblical stories to modern situations. She especially enjoys delving into lesser known women and discovering encouraging truths for women of today. As host of All God's Women podcast, she's working her way through the Bible one woman at a time, bringing to light the stories of ancient women and applying them to modern day living.

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