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By Admin | May 20, 2011

What are some artistic festivals that don’t suck that are worth submitting to?

Now that the festival year is slowing down for the summer a bit after LAFF next month, doesn’t mean you should slow down submitting to festivals. You’ve probably already submitted to the big “shopping” festivals, and now you’re looking for the good slightly smaller “artistic” ones to spend your time meeting filmmakers and getting to know your community and finally getting to see some good films.

There are tons of great little festivals, but a couple I would suggest just right off the bat, where you’ll have the best shot at seeing great films, meeting other great filmmakers, and having a damn good time doing it:

IndieMemphis in Memphis, Tennessee
Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, Alabama
Maryland Film Festival in Baltimore, Maryland
BendFilm Festival in Bend, Oregon
Oxford Film Festival in Oxford Mississippi
Dallas International Film Festival in Dallas, Texas
Chicago Underground Film Festival in Chicago, Illinois
Dances with Films in Los Angeles, California

Some of the above have past their deadlines already, but some haven’t. IndieMemphis is still taking submissions, and so is BendFilm. And the rest of them are creeping up for next year already. If you’re in Chicago, you should get to Chicago Underground and the same goes for Sidewalk.

I had a text conversation with Orit Schwartz from BendFilm, just to give you an idea, here is that convo:

Hi, Orit, so first of all, can you explain your job and what the mission of your festival is? (Be as brief as possible but however long it takes is fine.)
Good morning! I’m the artistic director at BendFilm. An 8th year festival in central Oregon. Our mission is to bring awesome films to our town, and we hope that lots of filmmakers attend because they’re a blast.

Do you want to list some of prominent films and filmmakers who have attended? (The word “the” was supposed to be in there somewhere.)
Oscar winners BORN INTO BROTHELS and WEST BANK STORY played BF. We’ve had Gus Van Sant, John Waters, and David Dinerstein join us, to name a few. A big list of incredibly talented filmmakers have come through BF though the years. Way too long to list in a text *including Heidi Van Lier, not to name drop!

(Har) How many films do you accept each year, in each category, and out of how many average submissions?
We try to program about 80. 15 NF, 15 Docs, 50 shorts, which include student, conservation, animation. We get about 400 submissions.

I’ve screened at Bend and been on the jury and panels there and I have to say, what I liked most about the festival was the ability to really meet other filmmakers and spend time with them, helping form my filmmaking community over the years. What do you think it is that sets you apart from other small festivals around the country?
Bend is such a great town for a festival. The community really welcomes the filmmakers. Having been a filmmaker in the festival in 2006, I have experienced this first hand. Being so fortunate & getting to be part of BF now, planning the festival, is awesome!!

Why do you think it’s important for filmmakers to also do smaller festivals on the circuit?
Smaller film festivals are a great way to get feedback on your film from a non-industry audience, which is cool. Also when you go to smaller festivals it seems more relaxed & you really get to know other filmmakers. I made friends back in 2006 who still play an important role for me!

One thing I really love about Bend is that you give out a lot of awards and they all seem to have cash prizes. Indie filmmakers are usually so poor that even a dollar is helpful. Do you want to talk about some of the notable prizes you’ve given away in the past? (And then I have to take a nap because this hives things is wearing me out.) (Will finish up after nap. :))
We do award cash prizes. We’re working on sponsorships now. One filmmaker last year was so happy he could stop having peanut butter & honey sandwiches for a few weeks after winning. Must have been one of our wealthier filmmakers who could afford honey over jam.

(K, back from nap.)

When you get submissions what are you looking for mostly…wait, and when exactly is your fest and when is the deadline?!
We look for a well-told story. It all starts with a strong script. Films that are tight score high. Our festival is October 6th-9th. Our late deadline is June 12th & extended is July 15th through WAB

Is there anything that you want to tell filmmakers who haven’t submitted or been to Bend before, before we wrap this up?
BendFilm’s motto has always been we put our focus on filmmakers, catering to their every need. I can stand behind that 100% since I got to experience that first hand & now I am lucky enough to be able to carry that tradition on.

So they’re still taking films, people! Get on WAB now and get your films in there quick and I hope to see you all up there this year. Fingers crossed!

Oh! And I’ll see you all at Dances with Films in about a week!

Heidi Van Lier is a filmmaker living in Los Angeles. She has directed 3 feature films, with another one on the way. Her first film, Chi Girl, won the Slamdance Film Festival in 1999. She has written a film school textbook called The Indie Film Rule Book, available on She has been a programmer for the Slamdance Film Festival, and on juries and panels at countless festivals around the country. She has an expensive 8-year-old daughter, send help.

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  1. Jason Victor Everett says:

    Lake Arrowhead Film Festival was awesome. Intimate beautiful setting, great scheduling, big names, and great films. It was my favorite of all the fests we played at last year, big or small.

  2. Mark Ebner says:

    Dunno if you’d count the Austin Film Festival and Screenwriters Conference as “small,” but compared to SXSW it is – and it has the filmmaker community access and spirit that Heidi enjoys.

  3. Roberta Munroe says:

    Can I add a couple?

    Ashland Film Festival
    (was on the jury this year and loved them!)

    Hollyshorts –
    Great organizers and awesome opportunity for shorties to screen their work and hobnob with industry folk. (I host a short film distro panel there every year).

    Love you Heidi – keep the amazing info coming!
    p.s. when I finally figure out how to link blogs to mine I will link this one!

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