Why Independent Filmmakers Should Allocate Budget to Entering Film Festivals
© Nays Baghai. Pictured Kiki Bosch in stills for Descent.
Descent ollows Dutch ice freediver Kiki Bosch, as she dives into the world’s coldest waters without a wetsuit as therapy for the trauma of sexual assault.
Her incredible story took home the DAF Award for Best Australian Documentary at the Sydney Film Festival (SFF) in 2020, securing with it a $10,000 cash prize and Academy Award eligibility.
As a long time fan of SFF since his days at film school, Director Nays Baghai says entering Descent was a no brainer.
“I had a wishlist of film festivals that were on my radar, and SFF was unquestionably at the top. From a practical perspective, the rewards of prize money, Oscar eligibility and exposure were incredibly enticing. However, I also felt that having grown up as a filmmaker in Sydney, I wanted to stay close to my roots and have the film premiere in my home,” he says.
In saying this, with Descent being his first ever feature film as a director, Nays had zero expectations of being accepted into SFF, and says the waiting process definitely tested his resilience to anxiety.
We find out why Nays recommends every independent filmmaker submit to as many film festivals as possible, and his advice to filmmakers when entering.
SUCCESS BRINGS PUBLICITY
Being nominated or taking home a win at a film festival can be a surefire way to kick start a film’s publicity campaign in both local and international markets.
From critic reviews, to direct interviews and press mentions, Descent received great interest from both film and mainstream media publications such as the Australian Geographic, Sydney Morning Herald and ABC.
It was this success that gave Descent the credibility it needed, and Nays had the opportunity to meet with some of the best distribution companies around the globe. He eventually signed with two separate companies that would become like family.
For domestic distribution, Madman Entertainment was at the helm. Within a year, Descent became available on streaming platforms such Amazon Prime ANZ, DocPlay and Garage Entertainment.
TAKE IT INTERNATIONAL
Whilst being incredibly satisfying to have your film premiere in your hometown, you should also look beyond your roots to international platforms to take your film to new audiences.
Entering festivals such as the Raindance Film Festival, International Ocean Film Festival, and Austria International Film Festival allowed Descent to virtually “tour” around the world.
Nays says this opened doors for him to meet a lot of other special filmmakers, film festival contacts, and even Hollywood producers who would become collaborators later on.
“In addition to the obvious networking and financial incentives, I also think the international film festival circuit teaches you to think globally and how your work will resonate with audiences outside of your homeland.
“For instance, when the film premiered in the UK at Raindance, it opened my eyes to another niche audience, which in this case, was the cold water swimming community. However, I also think thematically, a lot of people around the world were looking for stories of hope and inspiration during lockdown, and I feel like Kiki’s hero’s journey story tapped into those feelings.
© Nays Baghai. Pictured Kiki Bosch in stills for Descent.
THE MAGIC OF SEEING YOUR FILM ON THE BIG SCREEN
Along with the financial and networking opportunities that come with success at a film festival, the self satisfaction that comes with seeing your film on the big screen can be a truly rewarding experience.
With Descent being released during the height of Covid, Nays had to wait nearly a year to see it on the big screen during a fundraising screening at the Cremorne Orpheum.
He says it was well worth the wait. “When you see your film on a big screen, the one word that comes to mind is surreal; you blink several times because it feels like a dream.
“It was also quite fun hearing the audience laugh, cry and exclaim throughout, particularly during the beats you least expected.
“When you edit a film for so long and often by yourself, you become so immersed in the work, it’s easy to forget about little moments that elicit emotion in a live audience. Just make sure you don’t drink coffee beforehand because your heart will inevitably be pounding with adrenaline no matter what!”
NAYS’ TOP FIVE TIPS FOR INDIE FILMMAKERS
- During pre production, make sure you allocate a part of your film’s budget for film festival entry fees.
- Enter as many as possible, but be strategic about which ones will be the best fit.
- Don’t waste your hard-earned money with cheap ones that no one goes to, and learn how to spot those ones.
- Make sure your press kit and other assets are ready before submitting.
- Be prepared for the sting of rejection. It is impossible to please everyone, and a rejection letter is no reflection of your merits as a filmmaker whatsoever.
Nays Baghai is an award-winning independent filmmaker and underwater cameraman. A graduate of Australia's national film school, AFTRS, his feature film debut as a director and producer, Descent, won the Oscar-qualifying Sydney Film Festival in 2020, and was also selected for Hot Docs, Raindance and other festivals.
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