Festivals are dead.
This probably doesn't come as much of a surprise to you. A lot of them are struggling to stay in business and filmmaker discord is growing by the day, and for good reason.
Here's the model. See if this makes sense to you.
Step 1: A person spends several thousand dollars and months, if not years, making a product.
Step 2: That product is then sent to some other body which, for a fee in the range of $30-$100, will consider it for inclusion. They get a lot of them, though, so there's a good chance they won't give it a full consideration. They might not even look at it. Either way, they keep the money. They will show something like 5% of them to their audience.
Step 3: Repeat the process 50-100 times.
Step 4: Congratulations! You've made the cut! What do you get? Money? No. Fame? Probably not. A chance to sell your product at the event? Maybe. Access to valuable lists of audience members? Not really.
How fucking stupid is that? Would any business in the world do that? No, of course not. But for the longest time, filmmakers really had no choice. It was a gatekeeper system and that was the only way in.
Now? Not so much.
Kickstarter has changed the way in which we fund our films and, honestly, it's been something of a godsend to a lot of people. We're interacting with audiences directly, which was really where the big value add-on was for festivals. We needed them to find an audience.
We don't need them for that anymore.
Sure, they can help us find a bigger audience, but that's not guaranteed. It certainly isn't worth $50. For the cost of a submission fee, I could find someone in that city, ship them a box of screeners, and have them give them away in front of the festival venue. That would probably be as helpful. Plus, it'd be kind of bad-ass.
Again, we don't need festivals.
But festivals need us. Man, do they need us. They can barely stay in business as it is. Take away our submission fees and they're fucked. If we were to all suddenly get a Marxian itch and stop paying submission fees, the festival circuit would stop. Just like that.
They can't survive without us.
I'm not calling for the end of festivals. I have friends who run festivals. They lose money and work a ridiculous number of hours and do some really nice things. But you know what? So do filmmakers. We're losing money on these films and we're subsidizing their losses. That's just bad business.
But festivals, if you want to stay in business, you need to re-think your business model. Yours is broken. It's always been broken, but now it's starting to become obsolete. Thing is, I like you. I like meeting festival directors and people at festivals and wearing your t-shirts while I work on my next film. They're a lot of fun. But your submission process just isn't worth my time and money.
If you want to consider my film, I'll gladly mail you a screener. If you want to program my film, awesome. I'll roll into town with a box of DVDs and do all the press you want me to do and shake hands and everything. Hell, I'll even buy you a beer. I will do everything in my power to help you make your festival successful. But don't expect me to keep paying $50 for the honor of maybe being considered. I'm over it. I have other options.
And I know what you're going to say, that you need my submission fees to stay in business. Too bad. Raise your own money. I did.
You can always start a Kickstarter campaign.