How to deal with the Online Film Festival phenomenon

What are Film Festivals?

If I’ll have to reduce film festivals to their core, then they are nothing but curated art exhibitions.

When one thinks of what film festivals were before the 21th century, then he realises they were mainly a film market with some glamour added to it.

Filmmakers would send their films to the festivals, not only to get audience eyeballs on their film, BUT, also to get a distribution deal.

With a distribution deal the film will have a larger theatrical or DVD / VOD realise.

Now adays, things are far from it, in most cases.

Today, film festivals became more of a gathering. A social event. Where filmmakers and film-lovers mingle. 

Hence, the 10,000 film festivals that exist today (85% of them were only established in the last 15 years). 99% of them do not have Film Markets. As a rule of thumb, there are no Film Markets in film festivals that were established after 2005.

Most of those events, are a social gathering, with little to no benefit to the artist. Usually, they are so small and unthought-through that they offer no financial compensation to the creators of the films that they are screening. Most even charge the filmmakers to even send the film for consideration. When you think about it, it’s twisted.

The sole benefactors from those small film festivals are the organisers. They run an unregulated business where they get free commodity and sell it. Almost unthinkable in other industries.

They get paid from the audience and from the filmmakers. And provide nothing of value for the artists. Sometimes, if they are kind, they offer the filmmakers a taxi ride to the venue. 

 Film Festival Laurels – a Mise en abyme of the film festival problem

In film festivals, films gets “laurels” so that they can flung that they were screened at an official curated event. Making those laurels a “budge of honour”. Most film poster are saturated with those overused symbols. They were created originally as marketing tool for the film and for the festivals, but since the creation of 10,000 film festivals those laurels are more worthless than the Deutsche Mark in the 1920’s.

Audiences and sales agents / distributers don’t give a rat’s ass anymore that a film was screened anywhere (that isn’t one of the big 20 festivals).

Beginning Filmmakers are in-love with them become it gives them an ego trip, that their film was SELECTED for a festival.

Introduction to The Fugazi

Here I get to one of the most import points of the article.

When one think clearly on this situation, it’s hard not to realise that it’s a complete Fugazi.

Filmmakers want their films to get screened AND make a living out of it, or at the minimum, get their invested money back.

BUT, paradoxically, they are wasting their time and money on sending their films to get screened at godforsaken film festivals, with no Film Markets, not audience, no agents, no distributors, no nothing.

I presume that it’s happening because people tend to work automatically.

Just like with the concept of film schools. people think, in general, that in order to make a film, you have to go to a film school. Which is really bogus. especially in today’s world, where you can make a film for nothing, with just yourself or with a crew of 2 people. Common, don’t listen to the haze of the world telling you want you NEED.

The world tells you that you NEED a car, but the truth is, what you really need is to get from point A to point B (and there are multiple ways you can do that).

Filmmakers don’t necessarily need film festivals, and they don’t need 10,000 of them, that’s for sure.

Filmmakers want to brag that their movie was screened at a 100 festivals, but that is just gluttony.

The truth about film festivals is, that career wise, one screening in Berlinale or Cannes is by far better than screening in a 100 local unknown film festivals. But, I guess you already knew that.

If you don’t screen at a major film festival (with a Film Market), you should find a different way of distribution. Having a film screened at a 100 unknown film festivals is unimportant.

What about subversive, underground or “different” films? Ones that don’t have huge festival dedicated to them?

There are smaller festivals dedicated to them. Those festivals are the ultimate example of film festivals as a social event. A film will be screened there, friendships will be made there, but no distribution deal will be made. The way to distribute those kind of films is harder and requires more resourcefulness than for your average film.

Covid-19 quarantine is the prefect time to take it all in

The irony is, that before Covid-19, online festivals were basically considered frauds. Meaning, that they would charge filmmakers for film submission, have a ghost non-participating audience that was paying themselves, and have no costs or obligations from the organisers side. Basically, most of them, were cash-grabs. No value was provided.

Now, most of the mainstream film festivals, the ones that have been running since the 20th century, are doing online versions of themselves.

oh, the irony.

As a filmmaker, there was never a time better to step back and examine this industry.

Are film festivals needed anymore? Or have they lost their part in today’s world?

When they just started out, they were about glamor and industry power. Later, they were about showcasing new talent, discovering filmmakers and films. Afterwords, they helped the creation of independent cinema.

Today, what are they doing?

Are they, like most things, got into the point of being an “OBVIOUS” thing?

I think they do. The tsunami of them, show that they do.

Film Festivals as an Obvious thing

For audiences

Audiences still buy tickets, because they are curated. All other reasons are secondary.

People buy film festival passes, because they know that the organisers curated films to showcase. Just like a gallery is showcasing curated paintings.

They get a feeling of security. The feel they are not gonna waste their time. They also go to the festivals because they have a limited time frame (FOMO) and the festivals promise to show NEW things (so the audience can have that self indulgent feeling of discovering something).

For filmmakers

Filmmaker still go to them (To 9,880 of them) because it’s an obvious thing to do.

They NEED to get their film into a film festival. They NEED approval. But, it’s time for a realisation.

Except for the 20-30 film festival markets / festivals that distributers and film aggregators go to, all the rest are almost uncalled for (in the eyes of a filmmaker trying to sell his film).

They exist to keep the dream alive. The dream of making it as a filmmaker. They exist so you can tell your friends that your film was in Chattanooga local diner film festival.

But, as a filmmaker, you gain nothing (career wise). You just diffuse your hunger by enjoying a 8th place trophy. You think you have accomplished something, but in the end, you accomplished nothing. You tricked yourself into happiness. Wake up. 99% of film festivals are killers of dreams.

You won’t sell your film, you won’t show it to more than 100 people, and you’re not gonna get any money. What you are gonna get is a pat on your ego and a foreclosure letter from the bank. 


Like I’ve written before, the main power of huge film festivals is through their film markets.

Where films are presented to sales agents and distributors and deals are made for the distribution of films.

In the days of Corona, that activity is shrinking. The uncertainly of cinemas everywhere is jeopardising any distribution deal. And deals with large VOD are much trickier to get, since most large VOD services such as Netflix and Hulu are focusing on self sufficiency by production their own content.

So, what film festivals are doing to make it better?

Becoming a VOD service themselves. brilliant. Not!

Film festivals are actually hurting the future distribution of films by putting them online.

Since theatres are not going to be open soon in their regular fashion, independent filmmakers have no choice but to sell their movie online in different VOD platforms (usually with self distributing services like Vimeo on demand).

Putting a film in an online film festival fundamentally hurts it’s numbers. Since the filmmaker won’t be able to sell it online, while his film is still playing online in different festival platforms, he loses profit and momentum (The more online festivals screen your film, the less likely you will be able to put it on VOD platforms yourself and make a profit).

Film festivals are still trying to figure it out

What about those huge film festivals, Those that can offer so much, and still have a role, power and influence in today’s film market?

Like anyone in today’s world, they are trying to figure things out. The fast instinctive decision that they’ve made: of becoming online, is a momentarily reaction. They know, like we know, that it’s a temporary solution. If the situation would come back again, they would have to show more ingenuity.

The questions online film festivals brings is: 

What added value are they’re bringing to the film industry?

People who are in the inner circle of the film festival world know the absurdity of the situation and their own incompetence. Jokes about the low online attendees, their short attention span and the overall misplaced feeling those festivals have in the online world, are common. (Memes about it are all over the industry’s favourite instagram page: @shortmemecorner)

They know, that nobody needs an online museum, because an online museum, is no museum. We can just use google pictures.

The Future

This article won’t stop those thousands of obsolete film festivals from making millions off the back of fresh-out-of-film-school kids, Or even stop the lazy online film festival phenomenon. Things won’t change UNTIL an alternative would be created.

As Buckminster Fuller said:

        “You never change things by fighting the existing reality.

         To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Although, I might sound bitter at times, I’m incredibly optimistic. I believe the hungriest filmmakers  will always find the resourcefulness needed to create their own opportunities. And audiences, will benefit from it.

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