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5 Reasons You Should Consider Volunteering at Film Festivals

Jourdan Aldredge

Interested in screening your films at film festivals? Here are five reasons why you should consider volunteering before you start making submissions.

When you look at the huge number of submissions and all the competition to get into major film festivals, the odds of getting your project in can seem nearly impossible. However, if you’re eager enough, one great way to really learn how to get into your ideal film festival is simply to volunteer.

Volunteering is much less competitive, and it can be a good way to make connections, see some great films and panels, and even support the filmmaking community.

Let’s look at five of the best reasons to volunteer at film festivals — and how to maximize your time and personal investment.


1. Free Access

While film festivals are forces of good for filmmakers and film fans alike, one downside is that they can become pretty pricey to attend. Your major festivals like Sundance and SXSW can cost upwards of $1,000 if you’re looking for a full badge or pass. So, if for no other reason, you should consider volunteering to get into festivals for free. Yes, you have to work, but many festivals reward their volunteers with passes that they can use on off days — or other opportunities to check out screenings, panels, and events.


2. Get to Know the Programming Staff

5 Reasons You Should Consider Volunteering at Film Festivals — Meet Programming Staff

Image via Life and Times.

Having covered festivals for several years (and even having been lucky enough to attend as a filmmaker), I will tell you that it’s the best way to meet the staff, programmers, and founders — or organizers. Festivals are really immersive environments, and you can easily find yourself spending 16-hour days with the same people over the course of a weekend — or sometimes a full week. It’s in those times that you can really get to know the key people involved and understand how they work.


3. See the Movies (And What Makes Them Successful)

If there’s one piece of advice that I would share with anyone trying to get a film into a film festival, it’s that it’s important to match the right film with the right festival. There are more film festivals in the world today than at any point in the past, and new ones are springing up by the week. Chances are there is a sub-genre, niche, or local festival that is the best fit for you — you just have to do the legwork to find it.

Volunteering at festivals is great because it gives you a glimpse into what types of films a given festival shows (features, shorts, or other episodic/series). From there, you can tell if your projects are a good fit — or if you need to look for recommendations for other places more in line with your brand.

Here’s an in-depth report on what types of movies get into SXSW (including genres and the cameras they used).


4. Make Friends and Connections

5 Reasons You Should Consider Volunteering at Film Festivals — Networking

Image via Jacob Lund.

Having volunteered at festivals in the past, I would absolutely say it’s a great way to make new friends and connections — especially if you’ve just moved to a new town or university (as I had). Festivals are usually a good mix of locals and traveling filmmakers, so it’s easy to find people intermingling and introducing themselves as everyone gets to know one another.


5. Move Up Next Year

Without stats or figures on this, I still feel safe saying that just about everyone who works in any capacity with a film festival started as a volunteer. Whether it was part time or helping out in some small capacity, everyone has to start somewhere. I’ve seen volunteers become programmers and even festival directors in under five years. It’s about showing up, having a good attitude, and coming back year after year. Once you’re a part of the system — and enjoying your time — volunteering can quickly turn into a bigger role, if not a full-time career.


Cover image by Nick Starichenko.

For more film festival insights and filmmaking advice, check out some of these articles.

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