Why the f**k didn’t those festivals let me know I didn’t get in – ever?

Every festival season I hear the same thing, often from the exact same filmmakers, about how hopping mad they are that Festival A or B didn’t get back to them to let them know that they DID NOT get into that festival.

This brings up a ton of stuff you should maybe know, so you’re not so pissed every year, and so you maybe don’t sound so bitter when this happens.

First of all: Just for reference, I have submitted to hundreds of film festivals over the years. Do you know how many times out of those hundreds I’ve heard that I have NOT gotten in? Maybe 10-15 times. And some of these festivals I was working for at the time.

Just last week I found out I did not get into the Dallas Film Festival by reading the line-up online, not by getting a phone call or an email even, or even spam from the festival where I did panels and was on the jury last year. Am I mad about this? Not in the least! I still love this festival and will continue to want to screen there. I think it is a fantastic venue and the audiences are very knowledgable and supportive, and I met so many people there that I adore, I will always want to bring my films there.

But I also know that this is common, and it’s not as if I GOT IN and I had to read it on-line. I DID NOT get in. AKA, nothing in my life has to change to suddenly get ready for this festival. I read it online exactly like everyone did, and I am not bitter about it because I understand what’s going on at that festival’s headquarters right now.

Right now, they are scrambling to make sure that all the films they DID select will actually be able to make it to the festival. They are trying to get materials from each and every filmmaker, so they can put out press releases and put the program together in time to get it printed for the festival. Have you met any filmmakers? This is like cat-wrangling at its worst. At the same time, the festival is trying to keep the sponsors happy, make sure that the most press possible is coming to the festival, and securing venues and permits and everything else it takes just to throw ONE party, and they are potentially throwing TWO PARTIES A DAY. All of this is really just the tip of the iceberg. There are also schedules, travel planning, hotels, and general filmmaker/jury issues to deal with that never stop.

How can I be upset, when it was super easy just to look online? Big deal, I had to type a couple letters and then click on some links. Why on earth would this make me upset?

This doesn’t just go for festivals, either. If you don’t hear back from producers, agents, managers, press people, distributors, development people, even readers in a certain amount of time, there is NO REASON AT ALL to be angry with them. They are just trying to get through each day like you are, and they are PERPETUALLY BEHIND. It’s ok to check in once or even twice if it takes a while, but after that, just let it go, it’s not that big of a deal, and it happens ALL THE TIME to EVERYONE.

I have a filmmaker friend who is forever angry about this. He has addressed it several times with producers who never got back to him and guess what, they never got back to him again after that. Had he let it go, he might’ve been able to submit another script or project to them that maybe they would’ve gotten to in a quicker manner and even liked. But it certainly doesn’t make people want to read your stuff or even like your stuff if you’re a giant brat about how busy they are.

Hope this helps you feel a little less bad about not hearing back. And I’m off to read about more festivals online that I didn’t get into this week, right along with ya.

See you at the next festival we both actually get into.

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  1. Don R. Lewis says:

    There’s alotta love up in hurrrr!

  2. Heidi Van Lier says:

    Aw, Roberta loves us both, Don.

  3. Yes, I agree with Don.
    As someone who has worked at Sundance and other festivals, small & large, it takes nothing to send a bcc email out to all non selected filmmakers.
    $$ or no, if you had the resources to direct deposit my submission fee into your bank account, then you have the resources to send me a rejection email. *It really is about professional courtesy.*

    We watched your film, we hate to tell you it didn’t get in.

    Yes, for sure there are filmmakers who use an email address that bounces back to the festival for one reason or another but all a filmmaker needs to do is CALL the festival office (if they have one) and ASK.
    What you will probably find out is that the email bounced OR you sent the film in directly to a programmer without filling out a submission form and are therefore NOT in the system.

    Buuuuuut, I am also on the side of Madame Van Lier, because seriously? Filmmakers are whining about festivals not sending them a rejection letter? Publicly on their f*****g blog?
    Knock it off and make a film that doesn’t require one.

  4. Heidi Van Lier says:

    I heart you, Don R. Lewis. 🙂

  5. Don R. Lewis says:

    It’s not a matter of waiting for a rejection letter to know you didn’t get in, it’s just common courtesy in my opinion. You’re right (Mark) that I always know I didn’t get in way way before a program is released, but as Kevin alluded to above- you kind of trust these people and are in their hands. If I pay $50 the least a fest can do is say “thanks but no thanks.”

    I guess it just gets back to wanting to feel like our film is IN the process. You pay money and submit a film and in many cases, never hear a word again. That’s just weird. I think in the back of every filmmakers mind we’re thinking “and…stamp…and mail…and into the trash it goes.” If you never hear a word about your film after you submit, that fear becomes more of a reality.

  6. Heidi Van Lier says:

    Couple of extra points:

    1. Often a filmmaker has not been notified because they’re on an alternate list, which means they still have a chance of being selected, so being upset about this is silly, you ranked higher than the masses who were notified.
    2. Often films that aren’t notified are the films that programmers have been fighting the hardest for. Being angry that someone is working hard to fight for you is just unappreciative.
    3. Often films that aren’t notified are the most loved films, and as a result they are recommended to countless other festivals, and will often get into those festivals. No reason to be upset that you weren’t notified if you’re getting more out of it in the end.
    4. Being mad at the festival publicly only makes it harder for a festival to want to screen you in the future or recommend you to others.
    5. Sundance is making more money than anyone as a festival. They might even have a whole team that is paid to notify filmmakers and deal with fall-out. Most festivals barely break even, and often don’t.
    6. Isn’t it better to not be notified than to be notified in your own very public blog that your film did not get into a festival? (Just saying. ;))


  7. Kelly says:

    I have to side with Heidi here. It’s just reality folks. …It’s like asking the potential employer you interviewed for to let you know that you didn’t get the job. Nice if it happens but unlikely. While, an argument could be easily made that nowadays it’s easier than ever to notify a filmmaker by email that he/she didn’t get in, like Mark said, if nearing the announcement date you haven’t gotten a phone call, then you already know what the results are. ‘Nuff said.

  8. Festival Director on the DL says:

    We love you Heidi !! So witty and dead on with your information. This is why you all need to read her book !! (If you don’t know about it, get a clue, and google it) 🙂 Anyways, As a festival director myself, name not disclosed, we try very hard to notify those that were not accepted, and it is a hard and long process. With hundreds of email addresses, some of which get returned as “MAILER-DAEMON”, and submissions coming from all kinds of different places, it is easy to accidentally overlook or misplace contact information. And you are correct, Heidi, we are dealing with hundreds of questions from accepted filmmakers, as well as organizing delivery of screening formats, designing and implementing the printed programs and promotional materials. Dealing with filmmaker World Premiere issues, pulling films from submission, and agents who want dollars for their screenings. Also add to the list, the unpleasant fact that some filmmakers do not take rejection well at all. Threatening and abusive email responses, and YES….even death threats are a response that we deal with every year. Shocking since we are just a small boutique festival, but having talked to other Directors, this does happen yearly for them as well. So, put yourself in our shoes for a moment…..We have to write a filmmaker and tell them that their work, their “Labor or Love” is not accepted and then we face who knows what kind of response. It is always scary when we click that Send button !! This is not an excuse, because we do feel it is important to let you know, especially when you pay to submit.

    What I would also like to share is the fact that the Acceptance of films for festivals should not be a reflection of your work quality. Many great films do not get accepted at festivals. There are many factors that each festival takes in consideration, besides quality of product. Appeal to their audience, local films, etc, as well as the fact that the process is very subjective.

    I feel terrible as I write this, as Heidi submitted her wonderful film to our festival this year, and we just posted our list of accepted films this week and her was not on it, and we failed to let her know. Since she was a dear friend, I was dreading sending the email that the committee did not pick her film this year. And again, I say, the process is very subjective and pertaining to the audience viewing it, and usually has more to do with a lack of hours in the day to show every wonderful film submitted. So that said, WE LOVE YOU HEIDI and can’t wait to see your new films next year!! Remember, we are human. Good Luck to all who pursue your Filmmaking dreams !! Myself Included.

  9. KitKat says:

    I totally agree with Don R Lewis. It literally takes 5 minutes to send a generic “thanks but no thanks” blind cc group email to all those who submitted and weren’t chosen.
    If the average submission costs $50, take $12 of that and pay an intern to draft an email. Done and done. It’s not about being rejected… that’s part of this game; it’s about professional courtesy.

  10. kevin w says:

    I tend to agree with Don here. There’s a big difference between submitting to festivals and producers. I’m not paying a producer to look at my material. There is no implied contract. If they get around to it, it’s a courtesy, but I’m not owed anything. But if a festival wants me to pay for the privilege of submitting, I don’t think it’s too much to ask, especially at a time when information management is so easy, to set up a mass email. Absolutely, organizing a festival is difficult work, but notifying applicants seems to me to be a fairly basic job to cover. If you’ve organized your festival infrastructure properly, an email like that shouldn’t add too many headaches to the rest of the process. And, if I’m running a festival, particularly a smaller one that’s still trying to make its name, I would think there is value in showing filmmakers that modicum of courtesy. So they’ll be inclined to submit again in the future — and will encourage their friends to do the same.

  11. Don R. Lewis says:

    I disagree with you here HVL…it’s RUDE to not tell filmmakers they didn’t get into your festival, especially if you paid to submit. I can totally do without the “we’re so sorry” schpeel in an email and all that, but if you’re paying money to have a festival see your film, they should have the decency to tell you that you didn’t get in. If Sundance can find the time and energy to individually email people and let them know the bad news, any well run festival can as well.

    • Mark Bell says:

      At the same time, Don, you and I have talked about this in the podcast before: if you have to wait to read whether you got in via lineup announcement, you didn’t get in. Most filmmakers know whether they got in 2-3 weeks prior to the lineup announcement. Rejection letter or no, you know.

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