Films Screengrabs CREDITS: Gandhara Independent Film Festival

What you get out of them really depends on what you want to put in.

We’ve all been there. And by “there” I mean as a struggling independent filmmaker trying to shoot a short film (or perhaps a feature) trying to break into the filmmaking industry. On weekends, we’ve shot with friends, on small budgets or no budgets, with DSLRs and mirrorless cameras and DIY camera rigs and makeshift equipment.

Once completed, the goal for any project is to get it in front of people. And while you can upload your short online, for many the best avenue to getting eyes on your film is having it featured at a film festival. Ideally at a major film festival like Sundance, BIFF, or TIFF.

However, taking a recent visit to an ongoing indie film festival that might not be on everyone’s radar, the Gandhara Independent Film Festival in Pakistan for example, there are plenty of reasons why submitting and/or attending the smaller, indie film festivals can be advantageous.

If you’re willing to put in the work to get the most out of your experience.

Don’t Just Watch Movies!

Ostentatiously, film festivals are meant to show films. And to be fair, festivals are a great place to see up-and-coming films which usually aren’t available on your traditional streaming services. You can glean all sorts of insights from watching some of the latest and most on-the-edge films making their rounds as many festivals act as a sort of “circuit” for the best and brightest films of the year.

At the Gandhara Independent Film Festival, for example, standouts from Sundance and TIFF like the special screening of We Don’t Need Your KindA Deer Falling Into The Sea and Madinay Wala Jahaaz were featured along with some interesting and famous indie documentaries.

However, if you’re really serious about growing your craft and “making it” in the industry, you’ll need to be prepared to do more than just watch some films. You can do that at home.

Build Your Support Network

I’ve been to festivals both big and small in my time, and while the GIFF is unique because of Digital Editions, it does share many similarities with other mid-major indie festivals around Pakistan and the rest of the world. They’re very much designed for filmmakers, critics, writers, directors, producers, journalists, and film fans professional and casual alike to intermingle, mix and connect.

It takes some work, but take advantage of any workshops (the GIFF upcoming workshops on filmmaking for all passionate filmmakers and beginners for example). There are often tons of other parties, talks, and online community events to dive into and make new connections.

Depending on where you live, there may be one (or perhaps several) film festivals unique to your city, town, or region which can be great places for you to network and meet other filmmakers. You never know what connections you might make, or who you might end up being able to work with in the future.

Find Your Niche and Dive Into It

There are some great resources for batch submitting your films to multiple festivals across the globe. However, not every film festival under the sun might be right for you and your project. I’d suggest making a budget, then do your research into which festivals might be the best fit.

Consider things like your location (and how much it would cost to attend with travel and accommodations) as well as what niche your film might be. These could be genre-specific film festivals for horror, sci-fi, or perhaps festivals specifically for web shorts, episodic content, or even festivals for films shot exclusively on smartphones…

Whatever your niche, find one that resonates with you.

Are Indie Film Festivals Worth it?

In my opinion, I’d say yes. Taking the GIFF – Ghandhara Independent Film Festival as an example, I’ve attended this specific one several times and even had a short film selected to play there in the past. It was also my hometown festival so it was great for networking and watching tons of films from fellow filmmakers, collaborators, and friends.

Even their 3rd Edition (Online/Digital) is ongoing and they are taking the submissions of all genres i.e Fiction Films, Documentary Films, Animation Films, and even Music Videos with the deadline of 15th July. One of the biggest things I personally like and appreciate about this festival is that it’s also Digital/Online and there is no submission fee.

At the end of the day, any film festival big or small is going to only be as beneficial to you as the amount of effort you put into attending one. Even if you’re showing a film, if you just show up for your screening and leave, you’re probably not going to get too much out of the experience besides some applause and some laurels for your poster.

We’re in a new age of indie filmmaking where the big blockbusters are weighing out the top end, but yet a new burgeoning scene of indie filmmakers and DIY content is starting to make waves on new digital platforms. If you’re serious about “making it”, finding the right festival for you and diving in can be totally worth it.