Film Funda: Submitting Your Film To Festivals

Festival screenings are an important distribution avenue for independent filmmakers. The festival circuit can contribute greatly to a film’s success by increasing its worldwide visibility to target audiences, and often opens doors for video on demand distribution and other home video formats,  contributing to a film’s financial success.

IndiEarth sat down with Martijn De Pas of IDFA (International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam) who is on the selection committee for documentary shorts, and is in charge of selecting music documentaries, to get his insights on festival submissions.  Renowned worldwide, the IDFA is a leading festival that showcases the best of of non-fiction storytelling from different corners of the globe. Through the  twenty-odd years of working with the festival, Martijn has seen countless submissions from around the world, and speaks about how he selects films, what makes a submission stand out for him, what not to do when submitting a film to a festival, and tips for Indian filmmakers when submitting their films to international festivals such as the IDFA.

While every festival has a different set of guidelines and rules for submissions, Martijn gives some important pointers filmmakers should keep in mind when applying to festivals.


Martijn Te Pas – IDFA

IndiEarth: Tell us more about your role at the programming department of the IDFA?
I am the coordinator of the program department at the IDFA, and oversee all work processes. Every year we decide about what special programs we do, what the regulations will be with regard to our program sections, to all research activities, selection (process) and programming. I select music films – together with an IDFA colleague and people from the Melkweg. I also select short documentaries and oversee all Dutch submissions.

IE: What is the creative vision behind the IDFA, and the sorts of documentaries it chooses to screen that align with this vision and with IDFA’s selection process?
IDFA looks for documentaries that are interesting from a stylistic point of view, or are particularly innovative, relevant to social issues and successfully manage to communicate with their audiences. We have always focused on global, creative documentaries. This means that IDFA chooses films that have been painstakingly designed and that express the personal vision of the maker. The creative documentary is an art form.

IE: What is it about certain films that normally grab your attention, when you’re viewing film festival entries?
Personally I like films that leave open spaces in the sense that the viewer is not pushed much to feel, think or experience something (in a one dimensional way). Generally speaking I prefer films that work on more than one level and films that do not explain much. Of course, technically speaking, films should also be up to our standard.

IE: What is it about certain films, that would automatically put you off during the selection process? (ie. Poor sound design etc)
Films that just start in the middle of a scene; no proper introduction of characters, no idea about framing, composition and a poor narrative structure. Films that have a thousand talking heads, badly lit or indeed with poor sound or editing. Similarly, films that lack an idea of style. In other words, films that cannot be considered creative.

IE: Does submitting a film earlier as opposed closer to the deadline date improve its chances of getting selected?
The better the premiere status, the better the chance of getting selected. A world premiere is more attractive to the IDFA than a Dutch premiere. There is no relationship with the date of submission and the chances of selection.

IE: Can you recommend what formats are most convenient/preferred for submitting to the IDFA and to film festivals as a whole? Is DVD inevitably the preferred format of choice?
Just for pre-viewing purposes we accept online submissions (that are protected by a password) and DVDs. Our screening format is DCP.

IE: What should filmmakers NOT do and be sure to avoid, when submitting their films to a festival?
Don’t e-mail us on a daily basis and/or continually send us new versions of the film!

IE:  Are there specific pointers a filmmaker can keep in mind during the application/submission process – that improve their chances of getting selected to be screened at a festival?
Not really – it is quite hard to influence our viewers! Of course it is always good to inform us what will still be changed, when it is not yet totally completed (for example – new music, credits, sound mix, color grading, etc).

IE: Advice/tips/pointers to filmmakers from India, when submitting their films to international festivals like IDFA?
Make an intelligent, creative film that is up to current technical standards that is interesting for an international audience. Do your research well and if necessary take your time to really make the best film possible!

IE:  Future plans and visions for the IDFA – in upcoming editions of the festival?
To keep organizing a festival that is appealing to professionals and (inter)national audiences. To show them the great variety of styles and new avenues for screening films (films in combination with music performances, hybrid films and our great Paradocs and DocLab sections!). You can see more info on the DocLab at this link –

The IDFA Forum 2014 will take place from 24 – 26 November. The entry form will be online 1 July 2014 and the deadline for project submission is 1 September 2014. The deadline for accreditation 10 October 2014.
The 2014 deadlines for Docs for Sale are 1 February, 1 March, 1 April, 1 May and 1 August and 15 September.

For more on Martijn, see his Facebook and Twitter page.
For more on the IDFA, visit

Watch the trailer for IDFA 2013 here.


IndiEarth is an online B2B platform that connects India’s non-mainstream independent Musicians and Filmmakers to worldwide Media. The platform features a blog, offers value-added services and wider opportunity networks through its partnerships. IndiEarth is an EarthSync Initiative.

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