Starting a Film Festival – By James Dubbeldam

As a filmmaker of over 10 years, I’m very familiar with film productions and what goes into making an independent movie. As I grew frustrated trying to earn recognition from industry professionals and submitting to film festivals, I decided that I needed to do something about it. As a result, I decided to start my own film festival to do something a little bit different. And immediately I began to see the similarities between putting together a film festival and making an independent movie.

There are so many common elements between the two ventures, sharing similarities with most start-up businesses. With both a film production and a film festival being part of the same industry, you’re dealing with like-minded people with a passion for film. It was clear early on that I was in familiar waters on my new journey.

You can write the screenplay and manage the entire pre-production for a film on your own if you so choose, but it’s not the easiest way to go about things. In the same way, you can create a film festival alone, but only up to a certain point. Inevitably you’ll need assistance (and assistants!) as it’s impossible for one person to be good at everything. You learn quickly to surround yourself with a team who have strengths in the areas you are lacking in. And finding them can be very entertaining.

I’ve hired crew members who have shown up six hours late to call, still drunk from the night before (or perhaps that morning’s adventures?) and smelling of alcohol so badly that the location manager complained afterwards. I’ve had numerous crew members quit right before the shoot, most likely having found higher paying jobs. I’ve had a crew member try to bribe me during the shoot- for more money. I’ve dealt with illness throughout a crew; incompetence and outright laziness. But hiring a team of volunteers for an emerging festival has been the most entertaining.

Because films appeal to people from all walks of life, you truly encounter some interesting characters when hiring. From “wanna-be” actors to those with no film experience, every volunteer has one thing in common; either a love for film or a desire to be in the movie industry. From my experience so far, I would say the latter. And some people have no idea how the industry works.
For example, I was dealing with a gentleman who thought that in return for volunteering with the festival that he should star in my next film, and that my project after that one should be based on a story he had written. When I read the story (out of curiosity) it was one of the most outrageous and entertaining short stories (if that’s what you would call it) I have ever read. I think the gentleman had forgotten to take his medication.

Some elements of a film festival are easily comparable to a film production; the renting of equipment and gear is virtually the same as securing a location for the event. Drumming up press and doing promotional work for the event itself is similar to pitching your idea to financiers and crew. Soliciting submissions to the festival is similar to raising money for the shoot; finding event sponsorship is just like pounding the pavement looking for distribution for your production. And recruiting festival judges? I would compare them to the post-production team. It takes a team to put the finishing touches on the entire project. A network of professionals with specialties, a team you respect and who will give you an outsider’s perspective and input. Then there’s trying to promote the event with the aim of getting people out to the show. It’s very much like getting people to see your film. The event itself is like a premiere/screening. There’s no turning back at that stage!

When it’s all finished, for both ventures alike it comes down to the press and feedback. And learning from your mistakes for the next one!

The Toronto International Film and Video Awards (TIFVA) was created by a filmmaker and a film lover, for filmmakers. I started it because I believed I could do things a little bit different in order to assist fellow artists in their journey. As if making a film (or writing a screenplay) come to life isn’t difficult enough, trying to gain recognition amongst industry professionals afterwards can be the greatest challenge. I had always believed that film festivals were there to help shape, mould and guide filmmakers. But after submitting 5 projects to over 90 film festivals and international competitions, I haven’t received a single piece of feedback on a project other then winning awards and having projects chosen as official selections.

TIFVA’s mission is to support, guide, promote and encourage filmmakers. Not only does TIFVA provide feedback to all submitters not receiving an award, we post trailers on our website for all submissions in order to create as much exposure for independent artists as we can. TIFVA accepts all genres of films in 12 categories (including a screenplay category) offering a number of awards and honourable mentions for each category.

At this stage in the process, we’re currently connecting filmmakers with their community and to charitable causes, trying to create awareness for both. Additionally, TIFVA is proud to announce that we will be donating 100% of the profits from the inaugural event in November to our partner organization, 10,000 Trees.

Please visit for more info or to get involved with the organization. And we hope to see you at the award ceremony in November!