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Reel Opportunities

Film Festival Programmer

Also known as: Programmer

What does a Film Festival Programmer do?

Film Festival Programmers select the films to be shown in festivals, whether in theaters, online or on TV.

Film festivals, like Cannes or the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), are where film professionals see unreleased films and network with their peers in the film world. They also function as markets where Sales Agents, Distributors, and Theater Programmers go to do deals over the rights of movies they are interested in buying.

Film Festival Programmers select the films that will make their festival successful. Diversity is key. They create a balance of tone and form and aim to start a conversation with the audience or to draw attention to lesser-known films.

Film Festival Programmers can’t just pick the films they like the best. An understanding of the audience is essential so they often carry out audience research. They use box office data, focus groups and surveys for this.

What's a Film Festival Programmer good at?
  • Knowledge of film

    Have a passionate interest and extensive knowledge of film, enjoy watching a wide range of content (even the bad stuff) and understand various film formats (digital cinema prints, 35mm, IMAX)

  • Audience awareness

    Know audiences, be able to research audiences to understand how they watch films or TV dramas

  • Judgment

    Spot films or TV dramas that will be popular, be able to create a balanced programme appropriate to the venue or TV channel

  • Negotiation

    Communicate with distributors, other programmers and local or regional organizations to achieve an effective programme, get the best deal, understand contractual obligations

  • Finance

    Manage a budget, know what funding sources are available

Who does a Film Festival Programmer work with?

Film Festival programmers will work with other programmers and members of their festival. They could be working with filmmakers, producers and production companies to gain films for the festival. Sometimes festivals or venues will hire a team of programmers who work together to select films. They also work closely with Distributors, marketing teams, and technical staff.

How do I become a Film Festival Programmer?

Many programmers progress to their role from administrative or technical roles in cinemas or exhibition venues. A passion for theater and knowledge of the market is the most important thing. Any marketing or business experience will also be useful in this area.

Volunteer: See if any film festivals near you need volunteers. This will be a great way to network and understand more about how the exhibition side of the industry works.

Start your own channel: Set up a review blogging site or content channel. This is the marketing version of having a portfolio. You can send a link with your channel to show your writing and online skills, and, equally importantly, your interest in film and TV drama.

Host your own screenings: Set up your own events locally to screen films. Try to find your own alternative niche and do something different. The film community is a small one, and getting known as tasteful and knowledgeable, as well as communicative, about film can lead to great opportunities.

Watch a lot of films: The most important thing to do if you want to be a programmer is to watch as much as you can. You need to get a sense of what’s out there across a range of genres.

More tips

For more tips on finding job opportunities, lists of training programmes, and other great resources, check out our Career Resources page.

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