indieWIRE's Top 50 Film Festivals - no surprises here.

Yesterday a scrappy little site called indieWIRE (whose brazen continued use of mixed-case letters in their title makes me think of software titles from the early 90s) released a list of 50 "leading" film festivals, including a look at those they consider to be the top ten. Those events who were included on the list expressed their gratitude. Those who weren't on the list of fifty pondered their exclusion silently or in public. No one likes to be left off of a list of the best of anything (I'd like to be on this list, for example), but I'm sure the organizers of many of those festivals view being left out as a missed opportunity to attract submissions – or just plain attention – to their events. To them I say: you probably shouldn't be as irked as you are. Here's why. We're looking at the usual suspects. To see Cannes and Sundance at the top of the list shocks no one, and even those surprised at the inclusion of South By Southwest at number four did little more than raise their eyebrows. This looks like more of an attempt to collate indieWIRE's past festival coverage than it is to make a serious effort at identifying the best festivals worldwide. Filmmakers who discover this top 50 list already know about these festivals or will find out about them elsewhere. As interesting lists go this is pretty weak sauce.

If you're on the list, you don't need to attract filmmakers to your festival. If you're not, being on the list probably wouldn't help anyway. Every informal poll of filmmakers (usually film school students or filmmakers at festivals) I've ever taken about their reading habits indicates that their knowledge of "the industry" is limited to what they read in Entertainment Weekly. I don't think I've ever encountered a filmmaker who read any of the trades before he started a festival run (and started Googling for the title of his film).To think that your inclusion on a list of top festivals in indieWIRE will affect your submission count is probably a mistake.

Consider the following chart from – indieWIRE's readership (in blue) for the past year (discounting the curious uptick in this last month) barely outstrips the traffic to the Sundance Film Festival alone (in green). (Click the chart to enlarge.) And though it seems to be closing the gap with Variety (orange), that's more Variety's fault for losing nearly half traffic than it is indieWIRE's for picking up readers. The site's readership is passionate. It is vocal. It is important. But it's also small, and probably not a significant driver of new filmmaking talent to your festival.

Compete Chart

If you really want to bump up your submissions, buy one of those ubiquitous email blasts from Withoutabox. Anecdotal evidence points to these tranquilly-designed emails (which someone must read) as a primary generator of submissions activity. The next best thing to that (and with a bonus ego stroke) would be to get the attention of someone on the editorial staff of MovieMaker magazine. Last year they published two "top 25" lists of film festivals ("25 Festivals Worth the Fee" and "25 Coolest Film Festivals"). Are these link bait posts? Yep. Are they "list articles" calculated to move copies of the print edition at Borders stores nationwide? You betcha. But these articles also feature some of the more adventurous and innovative festivals out there – folks who need attention called to the great work they're doing. I like to think that if I were a filmmaker I would be grateful to know about the undiscovered festivals where my film had a better shot at actually being programmed.?

indieWIRE's 50 is a perfectly fine list which appropriately highlights the work of many of the hard-working festival staffers who deserve to be recognized. If you're a filmmaker, these are fests you should know about. Just recognize that every other filmmaker on the planet, whether they read iW or not, knows about them too. Competition for programming slots at these fests will be fierce. Look into the corners of the festival world for those events hungry for your material, and with the capacity to bring an audience to your work.

Related: Film Festival Programmer Profiles, Why Didn't I Get Into Sundance?, Understanding Film Festivals.