How to Get Your Film Into a World Renowned Film Festival


An excerpt from Adobe. View the full panel here

For many aspiring and independent filmmakers, getting a film into Sundance is the ultimate dream. Adobe hosted a panel with Sundance veterans Christopher Makoto Yogi (I Was A Simple Man), Sam Feder and Amy Scholder (Disclosure), and Sundance programmer Dilcia Barrera to break down the process of getting a film into the festival.

Tip: Don’t overthink it

Film and Series Programmer, Dilcia Barrera: “A lot of people are curious and think of Sundance as a mystery…in the way that we choose films. But honestly, we make decisions based on the content of the film. Together, we go into a room to talk about these films extensively for months where we have conversations about why it’s the right time now and what works. It really comes down to the story, what they are trying to say, and the passion, authenticity and honesty that these filmmakers bring to the table.” 

Tip: Supplemental materials are not as important as you might think 

Film and Series Programmer, Dilcia Barrera: “Leading up to your submission, you should focus on the film you’re making and what you’re trying to say inside of the film…You don’t have to write an extensive cover letter – if we’re not seeing it on screen and you have to explain it, then that’s something you should be revisiting.  

Tip: On experiencing rejection

Director, Sam Feder: “What I do try to say to filmmakers all the time, it’s a “both and”, you have to hold space for both [acceptance and rejection]. Yes, it’s great if you get in [to Sundance] and yes there are these real things that happen if you get in, and it does not have any implications on who you are and your work…and the future of your other projects [if you don’t get in]. 

Director, Christopher Makoto Yogi: “When I think back, it’s persistence and having resilience in the face of all the challenges and all the ‘no’s’. It has to be bigger than movies or bigger than a successful film, it has to be about something that drives you inside to keep going everyday.” 

Tip: Make art that YOU care about

Film and Series Programmer, Dilcia Barrera: “You will never be able to guess what a specific programmer’s taste will be like and that’s why we don’t give feedback because you shouldn’t be trying to get our opinion. You should care about what you feel about the art you’re creating. 

Director, Sam Feder: “There were two things that a grad school professor shared with me that I kept close. One was to always be working and making work…always be engaged with your process and always be engaged with your practice.”

Director, Christopher Makoto Yogi: “As a filmmaker, over the years I had to come to this Zen state where you have to let go. The only thing I would concentrate on is ‘Do I like this movie? Am I proud of this? Do I like it?’ If I started thinking about if the Sundance programmers like it, I would start making decisions that go against my gut and if you start listening to those voices you start to get off track.”

Tip: Identify and use the resources out there for aspiring filmmakers 

Film and Series Programmer, Dilcia Barrera: “Passion is something that I encourage and I also believe in taking advantage of some of the resources, such as applying to different grants and fellowships to help guide you once you’re ready to make films.” 

Tip: Find your people. Build a support system.

Director, Sam Feder: “The other thing that I’ve learned now is that you have to build a team…you need to find your people. It’s finding people who are like-minded, have the same ethics and values you have, and the same passion for telling stories.”  

Tip: Stay organized and create a system to keep track of your ideas

Film and Series Programmer, Dilcia Barrera: “I have notebooks with me all the time. It’s not a diary, it’s a way to keep a memory going as ideas come in. To me, it’s a way to keep track of emotions and things you hear. 

Tip: Show your interest, proactivity, and passion when you’re trying to get onto a film set. 

Director, Christopher Makoto Yogi: “When I’m putting together a crew, we don’t look too much at a person’s resume. We look to see if they have the spirit of this project…do they have the right energy. Even if you don’t have experience or a super impressive resume or don’t know people, just try to meet people who work film sets and put it out there that you’re interested in this.” 

Producer, Amy Scholder: “It’s all about relationships…Reach out. Tell the person who may be in charge of hiring or maybe a creative on that project why you’re so passionate about being a part of it…make clear what your values are and you’re ready to work.” 


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