The worst part of both the filmmaking and the film programming process is dealing with rejection. As filmmakers, we must accept that not everyone is going to love our work. As film programmers, we must accept that not everyone is going to agree with our decisions. And as professionals (and adults), we must all find a way to process this unfavorable news in a manner that allows us to work together (and maintain our respective dignity) in the future.
Which brings us to: Dealing with Rejection.
Each year around this time, the SIFF programming staff undertakes two distinct tasks that couldn’t result in more disparate outcomes for all involved parties. The first involves informing a filmmaker that their film has been accepted to screen as an official SIFF selection. This is a joyous moment and one that we like to do over the phone, if possible. The unfiltered elation in the voice of the filmmaker on the other end of the line makes much of our usually thankless work worth every minute of it.
On the other end of the spectrum, we also have to deliver a significantly larger number of emails containing bad news to hopeful filmmakers, most of whom seem to take the news in stride. There are a few, though, who let their displeasure with our decision be known, both to us and via very public channels. And that’s not cool.
Obviously, there are many more films that we like than we actually have room for in the festival, so films of merit often fall by the wayside for reasons that aren’t directly related to their intrinsic worth or overall quality. And believe me, I know how difficult a rejection from a film festival can be for a filmmaker. I’ve been on the receiving end of many more rejections than acceptances and am here to tell you: whatever you do, don’t take it personally.
To shed some additional light on the delicate process of dealing with rejection, I asked SIFF’s Director of Programming, Beth Barrett, to share some tips and insights she’s gleaned from years of delivering bad news to hopeful filmmakers:
“I think the key to handling rejection is to do it with grace, no matter if you are seething inside. Refrain from sending a scathing email to the festival that passed on your film, and for god’s sake, check the auto-populate of your response email to your team and make sure the festival is NOT on that email. There are so many reasons why a festival may pass on your film, so try not to take a rejection personally or as an indictment of your skills or worth as a filmmaker.”
Sage advice from a true professional.
There are a lot of reasons why a specific film might not be the right fit for a specific festival. It’s a wholly subjective process and it isn’t perfect, especially considering the sheer volume of films submitted for consideration each year. When those inevitable rejection emails arrive, take a deep breath and try to keep the big picture in mind. The film festival circuit is a marathon, not a sprint, and we’re all in this together.
Next time: preparing for your festival premiere!