Premiering at IDFA was my dream. When my film received the invitation I was over the moon. Now I’m asked: Was it all it was cracked up to be? Without a doubt, yes. What valuable tips can I share with other filmmakers who are headed for the IDFA experience? First and foremost, know that your film will be in the company of over four-hundred films from around the world. This is wonderful, but also poses a real challenge for a filmmaker. How do you manage to get your film noticed?
Start with strong marketing materials. This might seem like a no-brainer, albeit not eco-prudent, but it is necessary. Our graphic designer and I worked like a fiends getting posters, postcards, and sell sheets designed and printed. And there was the quickie Vista business card with all of my films’ screenings printed on the back. (Hint: Don’t go crazy with DVD’s. Most distributors and buyers will have access to your film via IDFA’s website, in the video library, or will request a Vimeo link from you directly.) I received our marketing materials from the printer the day before I was leaving for Amsterdam. And I still had to pack for the 10-day trip…
That left little time for other preparation. But I urge you to somehow make time to familiarize yourself with the city if you have never been to Amsterdam. Take more than a passing glance at a map. Study it. IDFA is in the central part of the city — with canals and streets forming a half-circle pattern. If you rely on a typical city grid, Amsterdam’s layout can prove difficult. I got lost more than once. In fact, I was almost late for my first screening — despite heading to the theatre 1/2 hour early for what should have been a 5-minute walk.
GOOD PEOPLE GO TO HELL, SAVED PEOPLE
GO TO HEAVEN
-a documentary about American Rapture culture along
the Gulf Coast
Email an announcement to other festivals, broadcasters and buyers ahead of time, and again while you are there. Invite everyone to your screening. It doesn’t mean they’ll have time to go, but they will be aware of your film. Don’t worry (easier said than done); your screenings will be well-attended. Amsterdam is a full of documentary aficionados. Host an event or reception if possible. We had a Louisiana-style reception at a bar near the theatre before our Friday night screening. We served small-bites and Hurricane cocktails. It was festive and fun, and helped keep my anxiety level in check. I was focused less on how many people might be there for the screening, and more on making sure the guests had drinks and Mardi Gras beads.
IDFA is a world unto itself. The air is electric with a kind of documentary tribal fever. Everyone seems to understand each other. You share a sense of knowing why you do what you do and an unspoken acknowledgment of the importance of documentaries. You are with your peers. And it feels wonderful. There are so many superb documentaries at the festival, and there are lectures, labs, meetings, luncheons, congresses and symposia, including the IDFA Forum, the festival’s highly competitive, tense round of pitch meetings. You might feel as though you should be going to EVERYTHING. Attend what you can. But don’t get sidetracked. Unless you are a highly established filmmaker, remember why you are there — to shepherd your film through the morass of activity and find a place for it in the world-at-large.
Talk. Communicate with people. IDFA has boisterous, networking-friendly meet-and-greets every evening. Go! Become a regular. Everyone else is. Held in the IDFA tent or across the street at Cafe Schiller at 6 every evening, the soirees are convivial and supportive. And do not miss the first-Saturday Annual Bash. Everyone is still in fresh, and in high spirits. At IDFA 2012 filmmakers Jeff Howlett and Mark Covino (A Band Called Death) brought the members of the eponymous band to play. It was the one night I stayed up till the very, very wee hours of the morning. There are also very civilized afternoon Hi-Teas with festival director Ally Derks and doc guru Peter Wintonick. It’s a chance to hear behind-the-scenes stories and discussions about film theory and changing forms with esteemed filmmakers. This year Victor Kossakovsky and Julien Temple were among the luminaries conducting discussion at Hi-Tea.
Do IDFA’s market, Docs for Sale. Find a good sales agent for your film before you go. Top sales agents will be contacting you as soon as the IDFA lineup is announced. Establish a plan for outreach with your sales agent/distributor. Help them help you. It’s a busy scene. Make sure to spend some time at the market at least once a day, if only for a half hour. Get your marketing materials and your face out there. Assert yourself.
Lastly, don’t overstay your welcome. Even if your film is premiering there, one week is plenty of time to do what you need to do. Then get out before a certain festival ennui sets in. I mean, you have been going from early morning till late at night, right? Leave heavily burned out. I highly recommend it.
Note: Don’t worry about learning Dutch. Everyone speaks English. And
every other language under the sun. It is truly an international festival, a
remarkable and sublime experience.
Holly Hardman has been involved in film and entertainment media since the 1980’s. Before she started making films, Hardman worked as a researcher for Rolling Stone, PBS, and Twentieth Century Fox by day, while writing and performing in the underground art worlds of New York and Los Angeles by night. Hardman formed Holy Sin Prods. in the early 1990’s and began writing, directing, and producing short films. Her films were distributed by New Day, insound and M/W/F Video. Timea Spitkova of The Prague Post wrote: “Hardman’s films illustrate why you should never turn up your nose at underground films.” Her film Seaschell Beach won Best of Filmcore (New York Underground Film Festival, 1998). Her first feature Besotted, an experimental dark comedy, was released theatrically in the United States by Artistic License Films in 2002. Good People Go to Hell, Saved People Go to Heaven, an in-depth exploration of Christian Rapture culture along America’s Gulf Coast, breaks from her underground past. It is Hardman’s first documentary effort. The film had its World Premiere at IDFA 2012.
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