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Are You Ignoring The International Film Marketplace?

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act February 14, 2013 at 12:15PM

I could very be wrong, but I just assumed that filmmakers - black filmmakers specifically - with completed films, who see a film festival circuit tour in the future of their films, are submitting them to festivals all over the world, and not just here in the USA, and certainly not just the popular ones.
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Eric Deggans

I could very be wrong, but I just assumed that filmmakers - black filmmakers specifically - with completed films, who see a film festival circuit tour in the future of their films, are submitting them to festivals all over the world, and not just here in the USA, and certainly not just the popular ones.

In a chat with a filmmaker last night, who recently completed a feature film, and was in the process of submitting it to film festivals for consideration, I was a bit surprised when he listed those film festivals he was planning to target with his film, and they were all local - as in, USA-based.

As I repeated to him, I certainly hope that black filmmakers here in the States haven't unconsciously (or even consciously) bought into that silly, though common Hollywood studio belief that black films don't travel.

It is for that very reason that I'd strongly encourage black filmmakers to submit their films to international film festivals! And I'm not referring only to the top-tier, most popular names that we all know of, like Cannes, Toronto, Berlin, Venice, etc.

There are countless film festivals all over the world, on almost every single continent. Some of them may not be as popular but are very well run, and will provide you with an audience that's genuinely interested in what you have to offer, if only, in some cases, because they are located in parts of the world with a less than significant African population, and there's a curiosity there, or, in the case of others, they don't get a lot of submissions from black filmmakers, probably because black filmmakers aren't submitting to those festivals, because they don't believe that there'll be any interest in their films.

There may be an opportunity to build awareness of you and your films in parts of the world that might be more open to your work, than you realize (the joke that you've probably heard is when someone says something like, "well, he's big in China..." But being big in China, even if no one knows who you are in the USA, can be huge for your bottomline. Obviously that's just one example).

And, as we all know very well, having an international presence is key in this business. It can be the leverage you need to help you get your next film financed. More American filmmakers (big names and indies) are seeking funding overseas, whether directly from individual investors, or via co-production markets and the like (we've highlighted many on this site).

How many of you submitted your films to FESPACO? There are several film festivals within the African continent, big and small, and you should consider those as well.

Be sure to take a look at filmmaker labs and workshops also outside the USA. One of the more popular ones is the Berlin Talent Campus, which I got into many years ago. But don't just look to the top-tier brands. Do your research.

Also, consider overseas script competitions.

There are opportunities that exist that you might be missing, because you're too focused on being represented here in the USA. Not that you should ignore building a presence at home. But just be sure to factor into your plans, an overseas effort.

Think of the many black artists who found early 20th century France (viewed by many black people as a welcome change compared to the racism that oppressed them here in the United States) more ready to embrace them and their talents, than they faced at home.

We're not exactly in a similar kind of climate as they were back then, but the sentiment is pretty much the same.

So if you're not already thinking outside this box that we call the US of A, you really need to start doing that. There's a whole world out there that, as I said, you might find will be more interested in your work, for a variety of reasons (obviously it's up to you to decide on what you can stomach) than the profit-hungry executives in Hollywood studio offices.

And that foreign audience might help you build an international presence which could prove to be beneficial for you down the road.

Obviously it's easier said than done; and I know that there are costs to some of these things; but there are those that carry no fees as well. So there's more of a balance than you might realize.

And now that I'm thinking about it, I'm going to have someone compile a list of "under-the-radar" festivals, workshops, labs, etc, all over the world, that you should know about and exploit, which should help.

But just a thought as I was thinking about it...


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