Chris Gore writes a book called "The Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide". In the first 10 pages of the book he talks about going to Film Festivals all over the world and enjoying each and every one of them. I don't know about you, but this sounds like heaven to me. Whether you are a film aficionado or a filmmaker with a film entered, a film festival is an exciting experience and one you will want to repeat as often as possible.
There was a time when film festivals were far and few between. Studios controlled every aspect to filmmaking and there was not much of an independent spirit to be found anywhere. It seems however, with the rise of Indie films that every state in the country has it's own film festival. In California alone there must be twenty or more film festivals.
There was a time when films did not happen at all unless they were under the auspices of the studios. There was no real chance of the little guy getting his or her film out there. But now it is a whole different ballgame. The little guy likes to show his films anywhere he can, hence the rise of independent film festivals all over the country.
Sundance, Tribeca, and the Toronto Film Festival are the first and foremost festivals to submit your film to. However there are at least a hundred other film festivals that you can submit your film to. This is rather like the lottery; if you don't play you can't win. If you don't enter your film you can't get it shown. You must continue to submit your film as many times as you can until you finally get acceptance into a festival.
You might get quite a few rejection letters until you get your first acceptance letter. There are a few things that might help you out though. You must remember that a film festival board may have 800 submissions and only 40 spots for a film to be shown. Many a rejection letter has given the reason that they had far too many submissions to even view them all. My advice to you is that once you have your film done and you have the very first date they are opening for submissions then submit your film. Don't wait until the last minute.
Make sure your film is entered into the right festival for instance, you would not enter a children's film into an adult alternative film festival. I am not sure there is even the latter category, but you get the general drift. Also, read your application carefully. It may require your entry to be mailed, done online, or even in person.
In the category of short film, be very careful you adhere to any time requirements for your piece. If it is a little too long then do some more trimming. Just to be on the safe side if the film is to be 10 minutes long, make it for 9 minutes. Don't give them any reason to kick back a rejection letter.
Rejection is a funny thing with Film Festivals; there is art even in rejection. The Slamdance film festival came about as an answer to the rejections from Sundance. The Sundance Festival shows in Park City, Utah. At the same time in Park City, Utah Slamdance runs. This is a deliberate attempt to show the films that have been over looked by Sundance. I'll bet there's a lot of action in that town during the combined running of both festivals.
If you get a chance to visit the Pacific Northwest during the end of May and beginning of June, the Seattle International Film Festival runs for almost a month sometimes showing as many as 300 films. They have great filmmaker's forums and there is their original "Fly Filmmaking Challenge" that they hold every year. Theirs is the longest running and shows the most films of any other film festival in the country.
I encourage you to do your own search of film festivals and check out their application processes. Do this research sooner rather than later. Don't wait until the last minute.