NYWIFT Event Spotlight: An Inside Look at Film Festival Programming


An Inside Look At Film Festival Programming Panel photo via Joanne Belbey

On September 25, NYWIFT brought together an amazing panel of programmers who curate leading festivals in the United States – Marian Masone from the New York Film Festival (NYFF), Thom Powers from The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Ashley Havey from Tribeca Film Festival, Isa Cucinotta from The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s New Directors/New Films, Milton Tabbot from IFP, and David Nugent from The Hamptons Film Festival. Moderated by film critic, Lisa Rosman (NY1’s Talking Pictures) the panel offered invaluable advice to NYWIFT members and those attending on how to submit to a film festival and how programmers select films for their festivals.

Two big takeaways from the panel were: know your film’s audience and think about your goals for your film. Powers, who programs for several festivals, reminded us to remember each festival’s unique audience, “Audience is important. For the Miami Film Festival Latin American films are very important but for the Montclair Film Festival African-American films are.” Masone added, “We  (NYFF) look at international films, but we are really looking for New York premieres and getting a film out to a smart New York audience who want something new and different. We are looking for the best, most intriguing films with a new vision and good storytelling.” Nugent (HIFF) said he was primarily interested in getting films for an East End audience.

In submitting films, steer away from cookie cutter applications to festivals,  “Remember to pay attention to the basics, research the festivals you are applying to and target your film to the right film festival,” said Cucinotta (NDNF). She added that polite persistence in following up with your film submission via email was important as well as having an established filmmaker advocating for your film on your behalf. When it comes to selecting films, the panel was unanimous that programming selection committee members have to all like a film for it to be included in a festival.

For filmmakers submitting shorts, Powers advised, “Make your film as long as it needs to be; but 8-13 minute short films are easier to program than 40 minute films.”

Once films are selected for a festival, the panel agreed a filmmaker need to take the extra step to ask veterans of the particular film festival for advice on best practices to navigate the festival. Powers pointed out, “There has been a paradigm shift from a couple of years ago, and it’s important to have a robust social media campaign and a great still image to promote the film.” Masone suggested, “if you can afford it, have someone do your social media campaign.”

Finally, all the panelists agreed one of their goals is to assist filmmakers to get their films seen and that placing first time filmmakers is a special accomplishment.

– M.A ST JOHN (@theReelScoop)



nywift New York Women in Film & Television supports women calling the shots in film, television and digital media.

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