Last month I shared why filmmakers need film festivals. Now I’d like to talk about how to make the most of your festival experience.

First, you have to be selective about which festivals you submit to. It’s easy to get caught up in festival fever and submit indiscriminately, but if you’re not careful, you’re just throwing away money. To decide if your film is a good fit, check out their website and look at past selections and winners. Then look those films up on IMDb. How do they compare in budget, style, and genre? Do they lean politically one way or the other? Read carefully the festival description for clues to what kind of films they’re looking for. Pay close attention to what they say. Don’t assume that your movie is so good they’ll have to pick it even though they usually screen horror films and yours is a faith-based film. Each festival has a brand and a following. They’re working to attract a specific audience and they know which films will appeal to that audience. Don’t send them something that’s not a good fit.

Select festivals that you can actually attend. This can mean picking ones that are nearby or it can be picking ones that are in places you want to visit. We just went to the Great Lakes Christian Film Festival. It was a long drive, but it was a great excuse to visit Niagara Falls while we were in the area. We’ve also traveled to Los Angeles for Pan Pacific, Texas for Christian Worldview, Michigan for Great Lakes, and Philadelphia for Narrow Way. Many festivals require filmmaker attendance. Others request it. Regardless, everyone benefits when the filmmakers are there.

It’s easy to judge festivals by how many attend, and while it’s nice to have the large crowds to watch your movie, there’s a lot to be said for smaller festivals as well. It’s easy to get lost in the crowd at big festivals, but at smaller events, filmmakers have more opportunity to mix and mingle and get to know each other. I love the sweet spirit of filmmakers learning from each other and encouraging each other in their journeys. Each festival we’ve attended, we’ve left with a handful of new friends. And we all keep up with each other. It’s fun to meet up again promoting new movies at the same festivals.

Great Lakes gave out an award that I’d never heard of before but loved. They recognized three Millenials who were there for the entire event. They showed up on Thursday morning and stayed through Sunday night. Imagine how much they learned, watching all those films, studying them, making note of what they liked or didn’t like, attending the workshops, talking with veteran filmmakers. What a valuable education they received! While I’ve never attended a festival from start to finish, I’ve learned from each film I’ve watched and each filmmaker I’ve met. Festivals are a crash course in filmmaking 1o1. Attending festivals helps make you a stronger filmmaker.


About the Author Sharon Wilharm

Sharon Wilharm is a female filmmaker, blogger, and speaker. Her movies have screened in theaters, festivals, and churches around the globe, aired on multiple television networks, and sold in stores and online outlets throughout English speaking countries. She's accumulated dozens of festival accolades including the “Shibboleth Award for Visionary Leadership in the Field of Christian Film Making”, numerous Best of Fest awards, and 4 ICVM Crown Awards. She's passionate about storytelling and loves entertaining and inspiring audiences with her filmmaking, writing, and speaking.


  1. Great posts, Sharon. I know you will probably get to this later, but if you are going to a festival, you should definitely send press releases and screeners to the local media in the area. Some festivals have specific media partners. In other towns, all of the locals stations might run stories on the festival. It is an excellent opportunity to get some buzz going. They tend to mention and discuss films and filmmakers who have reached out to them. You will probably not get a full review out of it, but every interview and media mention helps!


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