This past summer I had the pleasure of working for the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival here in Middlebury. In talking to my coworkers I learned about the festival industry and was quite surprised by how much there was that I did not know. I thought of festivals as these extraordinarily elite institutions that I could only ever get into if I had a film with an absurdly high budget. However the truth is that there are film festivals out there for films made on every budget and some specifically geared towards first time filmmakers as well as students. Having been in the film department for four years now, I can confidently say that I have seen dozens of festival-worthy student films that were never submitted anywhere. Winning entry into these festivals won’t win you a chance at stardom or suddenly lay out a path towards lucrative careers in production, but it will allow you to get your work out there. So with that in mind here are a few highly regarded film festivals with cheap entry fees and an eye for young talent.
Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival
No this is not sponsored content. Like I said above, I did work here this past summer, but the festival is genuinely accessible for Middlebury students. The festival coordinators have a close connection with the college and appreciate the talent that the FMMC department can produce. In fact this past year, Matteo Moretti ’21, won an award for his senior thesis Just Being Here. The festival focuses exclusively on first and second time filmmakers, so you can be assured that you will feel at home. Short submissions sent in before the regular deadline cost $35. The festival also almost always takes place the weekend before move-in at the college, so your chances of being able to attend are quite high.
Trinity Film Festival
Hosted by our fellow NESCAC, Trinity College, Trinity Film Festival is a showcase made exclusively for undergraduates and graduates. The festival is going into its 11th year and has received glowing reviews from young filmmakers. The application fee is not easily available since the fest has not begun to accept its next round of applicants, but considering they exclusively accept college students, I cannot imagine it is ludicrously high.
Reality Bytes is an independent student film festival sponsored by Northern Illinois University’s Department of Communication. The festival offers cash prizes with each major reward and has an entrance fee of only $25. Your entry must be under 30 minutes in length and have been made in the past year.
Ivy Film Festival
The Ivy Film Festival is going into its 21st year, making it the oldest entirely student run film festival. The festival also uses Brown’s connections to draw star-studded speakers as well as industry professionals. Winners are provided accommodations on Brown’s campus, making attending the festival pretty feasible. Entry fees are as low as $10 if done before the early bird deadline.
Rhode Island International Film Festival
Now this one is a little more prestigious. Rhode Island International Film Festival is an Oscar Qualifying, BAFTA Qualifying, and Canadian Screen Award Qualifying Festival. You might think this is a little too extravagant for your, but the festival actually has a student submission process and student pricing ($40). That’s not to say that this is an easy festival to get into, but they are actively on the hunt for student talent. As someone who grew up in the Rhode Island area, I can also tell you that the event is extremely well attended. Even if you open in an early morning slot you will likely still have a sizable crowd.
There are dozens of other festivals I debated putting on this list, but I believe this is a good starting place. I tried my best to limit the range geographically to what is close to Middlebury, but there are tons of other festivals closer to where you may live. All of the festivals listed above and the vast majority of professional festivals use FilmFreeway, a free submission that allows you to search for and submit to a variety of festivals. Have a look and use the advanced search preference to see what festivals meet your criteria. Festivals provide an avenue for young filmmakers to gain recognition for the hard work they’ve put in, earn money towards their next films, and make meaningful connections in the industry that can help their careers later. It’s not a path often talked about amongst film majors here, but it is absolutely one worth exploring.