In the Venice 2014 issue of World of Shorts, the director of Tampere Film Festival, Jukka-Pekka Laakso unveiled some of the mysteries behind the selection process and shed light on the reasons for some things that often puzzle filmmakers.

The selection process of film festivals is always a mystery to filmmakers. Surely the selected films are not the best ones of those submitted to a festival: that is SO obvious. Why is the same film selected for dozens of festivals? Is that proof of its quality? Why do festivals need several months between the submission deadline  and the start of the festival?  Why do festival people not give straight answers when a film is not selected? Why is there no good feedback? Why can the curators (or programmers as they are also called) not be clear about what kind of films they want?

These are valid questions, and they should be answered. Some of them can even be answered.  The answers might not be satisfactory, but  more exchange of ideas between filmmakers and festivals is definitely  good for both parties. Of course, in addition to the above-mentioned questions, what any filmmaker would like to know is how to increase their chances of getting selected. I, and we at Tampere Film Festival do believe that we should explain what the selection process looks like from our perspective. I do not think it makes the disappointment of not being selected less  painful, but maybe it can make filmmakers think more about how and where to submit . This way they might be more successful with their applications, and maybe our work will also be made easier.

The following is my personal point of view. Some of my thoughts might be common knowledge to everyone involved in selection processes, but they definitely represent first and foremost my opinions and guidelines. The first thing for filmmakers to know is that when you hear that your film was good enough for the festival, but just did not get selected, it is, or at least it can be true. And if we knew precisely what we want, we would make the damned  film ourselves. We need filmmakers to surprise us, that is why we are so vague.

There are a lot of good films around and for a festival the pool of ”good enough” films is usually a lot bigger than the amount of films and film minutes one can fit in a competition. A competition at a film festival  is not just  a collection of the best films and it is not the best 40 50 or 60 films from those submitted. When one puts together a festival, the combination of films expresses something that is important for the festival. Our idea in Tampere is to show the whole world of filmmaking in one competition programme of about 60 films. We also want to look into the world we live in through the films. In practical terms, we try to find interesting, good films from all corners of the world, different genres and films that show new ways to use cinema. That also means that well made fictions, even about important issues, made in the western world do not always make it, because there are just too many of them.  It is no secret, just mathematics, that a documentary film, especially from a country with small output of films has a better chance to make it to our competition than a European fiction.

But still there are more fiction and  European films in total,, because the output of ”good” European fiction films is so big.

Filmmakers sometimes wonder why there is so much time between the submission deadline and the announcement of the results. The reason is numbers. A typical short film festival like Tampere gets about 5,000 films every year, and many of them arrive close to deadline. If an average film is 15 minutes long, one can do the sums and figure out how much time is needed to watch all the films and make a decision.

Numbers also is the main reason why the filmmakers don’t often get feedback on their films. Surely it would be easy to tell why a film has not been selected, what was wrong in it, was it the script or directing, or the actors?  Again to give good, honest feedback even about one film takes quite a lot of time  and if you start giving feedback, there is no time for anything else.

Actually the sheer number of films is the cause for many of the issues that irritate filmmakers – including the matter of entry fees. Many festivals, Tampere included, have introduced an entry fee recently. We understand that filmmakers do not have budgets to pay a lot to festivals (although they have done so for a long time for festivals in the USA). For us at Tampere, the entry fee is a reaction to the development of submitting through online platforms..

It is definitely good that submitting is easier and cheaper now than it was few years ago, but it means that film festivals carry the cost of handling the vast numbers. It does not console the filmmakers today that our fee  (€8) for submission is still way less than the postage costs and the price of a videocassette, which they would have spent a few years ago. But we need more people to work on the submissions.  We do watch  every film and  want to treat them fairly,  and want people with expertise to do the selection.

I have tried to explain a few irritations from our side. But to finish, a little advice to filmmakers on how to increase the possibility of getting selected:

  • Do not wait until the deadline, submit as early as possible. Don’t get caught in the last  days’ rush.
  • After submission, check that the whole film is there and it looks and sounds like it should.
  • Do not send an e-mail explaining that we can have your film if it is not taken by Cannes/Berlin or some other festival that requires premieres. You have to decide between festivals, a submission is a commitment.
  • Do not send Vimeo links of trailers of the film, submit the film as required.
  • Do not put a lot of effort in accompanying material (making-of docs,  praise from other festivals etc.) It’s the film that counts.
  • If you see me at a festival and give me a DVD of the film, and I show interest, you still have to submit the film.

And first and foremost: do not get disappointed if your film is not selected. There are so many film festivals with so many curators or programmers with individual tastes and idiosyncrasies, that if your film is really good, someone will pick it up and after one festival it will be noted by the others. There is no international conspiracy of curators (at least not in the world of cinema) who decide what is a ”good”  film.

Read this, and other articles in the Venice issue, here: