How to Organize a Film Festival

Lights, camera, action! Have you ever wanted to be in the movies or go behind the scenes to see how a film is actually put together? Share your passion for movies by planning a film festival for your community.

Give yourself at least a year to put the festival together. Given that you will need to secure a venue (possibly several), contact a wide range of film makers and arrange for viewings, one year is a realistic target for a small film festival.

Assemble a planning committee (see 373 Plan an Organizational Meeting). Narrow the focus of your event. Will you showcase a particular genre? Is the festival a fund-raiser, for profit or for fun?

Create a budget. Continually monitor costs to ensure that your budget remains in line with expenses. See 2 Set Priorities.

Secure a venue depending on anticipated attendance. Will this be a large event that will take place in a movie theater or a smaller event that will take place in several cozier venues?

Solicit sponsors. Donations can take the form of corporate gifts, small business donations and in-kind donations. Gifts-in-kind are a great way to acquire food, beverages, printing, supplies and more in exchange for publicity. See 372 Publicize an Event.

Consider the timeline of the event and which days and/or nights supporting events may occur. How long will the festival run? Will you have a gala event for major donors, a meet-and-greet with directors and stars, or an awards ceremony?

Decide how many films you plan to show and if you are going to have a call for entry. If so, be sure to request two copies of each film in case one gets damaged during shipping.

Invite directors, writers and producers to introduce their films. Showcase their involvement in the program guide to draw eager devotees. Plan a welcome reception for your VIPs.

Set the programming for the festival. Once you receive the films, create a method to judge them. Ask committee members to watch a few of the films and provide their feedback. Multiple judges will provide a more diverse score.

Secure volunteers, including an audio/visual crew, for the festival to keep things running smoothly during film showings and parties. Designate a leader to coordinate and manage all volunteers.

Feature movie descriptions, director and writer profiles, sponsor and in-kind donor listings, logos and ads, and special event information in the festival guide. List the committee and all volunteers.

Assign walkie-talkie headsets to all project leads so they can stay in communication. Keep check on all special guests and be sure they are certain of their movie introduction schedule.


  • See 226 Set Up a Budget and 381 Plan a Fund-Raising Event. To find out more about calling for entries, contact festival coordinators from other film festivals. They should be able to provide you with insight and resources, and perhaps even sample letters. Honoring an established actor or a director can be a great draw, adding glitz and glamour to the festival. Producing the event is where the bulk of the money goes: buying, renting or previewing films, shipping fees, office supplies, postage, festival gifts, and graphic design and printing costs for invitations, posters and brochures. Make sure all VIPs have hotel rooms, welcome packages and speaking schedules.


  • Don't panic if something is not going as planned. Take a deep breath, collect your thoughts and make a quick yet thoughtful plan of action. Remember that generally, most people will not recognize the difference. Write thank-you notes to all sponsors, in-kind donors, large ticket purchasers, VIPs, committee members and volunteers promptly after the event.

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