Rejection, reward … remorse? A filmmaker’s film festival reality

Kiwi filmmaker Emma Keeling says: while making your short is one thing, the real work is getting it on screens.

This article was originally published on The Big Idea.

Were there too many dildos?  Was it funny enough? 

These are the kinds of questions a new filmmaker (me) asks themselves as they wait impatiently to be selected for international short film festivals. 

It’s not quite a year since I wrote for The Big Idea about my first foray into filmmaking after 20 years in broadcast TV. My friend and colleague Makez Rikweda convinced me to write the queer comedy Late to the Party, about a straight bride-to-be coming face to face with her secret ex-girlfriend at her hen do.

Hence the sex toys.

Halfway through the list of festivals entered, LTTP has been accepted into one. Did the selection of silicon make it too niche or is it just not very good?  Why on earth did I decide to enter into a world that is so subjective?

Makez had warned me. Rejection is a big part of the short film festival circuit. 

This is my first film. Even 5% acceptance is great. Maybe it didn’t align with the festival’s themes or one of the selection panel marked it down? Even beautifully written and produced films miss out. And some films find an audience years later.  That’s art.

Mak had written two shorts during lockdown (because she is an over-achiever) and we agreed to direct our own films and co-produce. She’s had more experience and success with short documentaries in festivals so I just tried to keep up. We make a great team, even though she gives eye-watering ‘constructive criticism’ when dissecting my scripts. 

One thing that did go my way was being accepted onto the slate of Festival Formula, a company that has a wide knowledge of the festival circuit. Other clients include Ricky Gervais and UK comedian Joe Lycett. They accept you if they think your film can make an impact and then come up with a festival strategy. 

This is invaluable because there are around 2500 festivals worldwide and it’s easy to spend a lot of money in the wrong places. The aim is to build momentum, as festivals will keep an eye on what is being selected. If the stars align you might make a BAFTA or Oscar qualifying festival. 

But it’s not the acceptances, laurels or awards you’re really chasing; this is about your work being noticed, making contacts and accessing funding so you can make bigger and better films.

Makez’s short Fat Girl had also been accepted onto Festival Formula’s slate a few months before mine. It focuses on a teenage girl’s obsession with an influencer that has shocking consequences. 

For a while, there was nothing. Then Fat Girl got into Manchester. Then it got into FastNet in Cork in Ireland which we attended. 

Emma Keeling (left) and Makez Rikweda (right) attending film festival debut of their short, Fat Girl, in Cork. Photo: Supplied.

Meanwhile, red marks kept appearing alongside my schedule of film entries. 

Apart from these two, the UK wasn’t interested. But the US opened its film-loving arms: New York, Vermont, Texas and more. So far it’s got into 11 festivals in total.  As a co-producer I was enormously proud and excited.  

As a writer/director, I checked my email for good news about LTTP.  I had hoped for a bit of Kiwi bias from New Zealand’s Show Me Shorts but they play by the rules. Good for them, bad for me.

And then, mind-blowing news about Fat Girl. Oscar-qualifying festival HollyShorts said yes!!  

This is a big deal considering how tiny the budget was for our Indie film and how much cash and big producer backing other films had. Makez headed to LA recently to make the most of the networking opportunity (below).

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She’s come back loaded up with insight and ideas about our next steps. We both have to write and write some more.

And what of my baby LTTP

On 26 August, it will make its international debut at No Coast Film Fest in Kansas, USA.  On my Instagram, they said it was ‘hilarious’ but also ‘refreshing’ to see the moment of coming out from an adult’s perspective.  


Finally, I had been seen and Kansas got me! Oh, and one other thing….HollyShorts have selected LTTP to be shown at their monthly screenings in LA after their festival. 

The learning curve has been huge and I’m fully committed to continuing this creative journey.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my next script.

This article was originally published on The Big Idea. Republished with thanks. View the original article.