Organising your own Film Festival
Have you ever thought about starting a student film festival at your local college/university? As part of our core aims, the NSFA is aims to offer some insight into how this can be achieved. Hopefully by reading about our experiences in running festivals we can help you to get your own student film festival up and running within a year or even less! Many members on the council have started or are running their own festivals and together, we can offer you a great support network.
Festivals are a fantastic thing to organise; yet, of course they require a lot of patience, hard work and above all commitment. Each festival is unique and rooted in its sense of occasion, fun and celebration of filmmaking. So if you have an idea and the determination to make it happen then go for it because the event you have at the end is both rewarding and great fun!
There is no definitive way of organising a film festival, similar to how there is no definitive way of making a film; good film festivals are creative, they are unique; they require a careful balance between creative flair and rigorous organisation; of painstakingly making sure everyone on your team knows what the deal is. It is important to understand that a festival can be organised despite limited budget and resources. All you really need is a venue, a festival programme and an audience.
First of all a venue
Your union is the obvious place to start as it is likely to have the resources required. Maybe it has a cinema, lecture theatre or a suitable room in which you can create a cinema with a projector and a screen. Screentest has taken place at several Universities over the last 10 years; this required careful collaboration with the University and Union staff. It is a good idea to give your union plenty of notice if you are thinking about using one or some of their key function rooms for your festival. We try to get our room booking requests in at least six months in before our event, as it is more likely to run smoothly the more notice we give them. This also gives you the necessary preparation to work out what you are going to do with those rooms and how you are going to transform the place for your festival.
You can also look further afield for venues for your festival. If you are doing a film course then maybe your department can support you or even a local independent cinema may support a screening or two.
This is the creative aspect of festival organisation; what you decide to put in it. You can decide exactly what kind of films you want to screen at your festival. Maybe you want to screen everything, maybe just the best ones or maybe you want to tie everything together with a theme or genre. For example the Southwest Comedy Film Festival or the first London Student Film Festival, which focused on the topic of sex on film and also included professional films of the same theme.
Screentest calls for submissions from students from across the country, but your festival does not need to be this big. It could be a festival of films from your University or College, town or even within your region. Film festivals are great way to network with other student filmmakers in your area, watch each other's work and share knowledge and experience of making a student film. If you want your festival to include a wider collection of student filmmakers it's really easy to find contact details here on the NSFA page for film societies or union student reps at other universities in your area. Meeting other student filmmakers in your area could open up opportunities for filmmakers at your uni to collaborate with filmmakers at another uni on future projects; another great outcome of film festivals.
You could also offer talks or workshops given by professionals from the film and television industry. This is something Screentest tries to do every year; find out if there any production companies in your area who might be willing to support you. It is a good idea to find somebody local because it is more likely that they are able to take the time off work if they don't have to travel far.
Finally... an audience
When I have organised anything in the past it is always terrifying to wonder whether anyone is actually going to turn up. However, when people actually do turn up it is completely amazing, to know that all the work you had put in over the previous few weeks or months was not a total waste of time, that it was being noticed by some people somewhere. So how do you find an audience? Publicity. Printing posters and flyers can be expensive but if you have got the money then they are a means of publicising to the local area. Online publicity is another good method; email around your department and the film or media societies in your union. Obviously facebook is a great tool for letting a lot of people know what is going on. Send invitations and publicity emails or flyers to the local colleges and schools and other universities in your area especially if you festival has films submitted from those places.
Obviously this is only a very basic and straightforward guide of the organisation of a film festival. But the three basic components of a venue, a programme and an audience are a good place to start. After that it is up to you as to how to make your festival yours. Organising a festival is difficult; people may tell you that you can't do it, or your union doesn't want to do it, you may have to climb obstacle after obstacle to keep it going but don't be discouraged if this is the case - the drinks will only taste sweeter at the wrap party when you are done.