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Festival Strategy Workshop


A very small number of film festivals seem to hold an enormous amount of sway over a film’s sales and distribution prospects, as well as the filmmakers’ chances at creating a sustainable living through filmmaking. This perception drives many filmmakers to pin their hopes on just a handful of market-driven festivals that are most important in their region, whether it’s North America (where Sundance looms large), Europe (Cannes, which accepts very few documentaries), or elsewhere. In reality, there is a vast ecosystem of film festivals that can all contribute to the healthy life of a documentary film project, and distribution that doesn’t rely on the catalyst of perceived film festival success. 

In this workshop, IDA’s Director of Artist Programs Abby Sun will walk filmmakers through the process of developing a film festival strategy that takes the particular expectations, needs, and prospects of your individual film into account. Guest speaker Chase Whiteside (América, co-directed with Erick Stoll) will provide a case study drawing on his own experiences navigating the film festival circuit with and without a sales agent.

Filmmakers with projects at any stage are encouraged to attend. This event will include a 30-minute workshop of several audience members’ projects, to model what festival strategizing could look like. In order to be considered for this portion of the event, please fill out this additional form. 

CART captioning and ASL interpretation will be provided for this event. For all other access requests, please email

This seminar will cover:

  • Evaluating one’s expectations and desires from a film festival run
  • Festival strategy before a film is finished
  • Researching film festivals and finding comps
  • Researching, networking, and maintaining contact with festival programmers
  • Sales/festival agents pros and cons
  • Waivers, deadline extensions, and other negotiable items with film festivals
  • Tradeoffs between different types of festivals (niche, regional, documentary-only, established market or not)
  • Film festival markets (such as IDFA’s Docs for Sale)
  • Festival screening fees and travel stipends
  • A case study featuring América (2018), with the film’s co-director Chase Whiteside, providing details about the film’s broadcast (POV), sales (Dogwoof), and successful festival run (close to 100 film festivals) after a world premiere outside of a market festival
  • 30 minutes dedicated to workshopping audience projects, with IDA’s Director of Artist Programs Abby Sun and guest speaker Chase Whiteside

The first hour of this seminar, which will include the case study, will be recorded and posted online after the live event. The audience workshop portion will not be recorded.

Facilitator: Abby Sun

Abby Sun is the Director of Artist Programs at IDA. As a graduate researcher in the MIT Open Documentary Lab, she edited Immerse. Abby has bylines in Film Comment, Filmmaker, Film Quarterly, Notebook, Hyperallergic, and other publications. She has served on festival juries for Hot Docs, Dokufest, Cleveland, Palm Springs, New Orleans, and CAAMfest, as well as nominating committees for the Gotham Awards and Cinema Eye. Abby has reviewed proposals for IDFA Forum, BGDM, NEA, SFFILM, LEF Foundation, Sundance Catalyst, and spoken on and facilitated panels at TIFF, NYFF, IFFR, Locarno, and other film festivals. Her latest short film, “Cuba Scalds His Hand” (co-directed with Daniel Garber), premiered at Maryland Film Festival in 2019.

Guest Speaker: Chase Whiteside

Chase Whiteside is a filmmaker and designer based in Brooklyn, NY.