I have officially embraced the realm of experimental filmmaking, and have totally fallen in love with the process. In 2022 I shot one narrative short film called Stuffer, and two different experimental short films—Dear Kevin, and TBD, in post-production now. The processes are so different being narrative and experimental that they kind of feel like different art forms entirely. Of course, they have similarities—there’s the structure, the camera, the pitch deck—but there are also so many differences.
Where my narrative project Stuffer included a full cast, cinematographer shooting on 4k, colorist, and heaps of time spent perfecting an edit (among other things), my experimental films are mostly just me—save for the actor on screen. I shot mine on Super 8 film, then edited and did all of the production myself. In Dear Kevin, I had one actress on screen, then recorded the non-linear voice-over myself at my kitchen table. I did all of the sound design, then had someone make the final mix.
There are infinite ways to make an experimental film, and in fact, there is no wrong way, which I think is partly what makes it very appealing to me. That’s also why I wasn’t sure if Dear Kevin was the type of project that I could submit to film festivals. I mean sure I love it, I wrote it, and it means something to me. I got into the magic creative flow while making it and I’m proud of how it turned out. But would anyone else want to watch it?
I decided to find out by first sharing it with friends and family and next submitting it to some film festivals that specifically focus on or have categories for experimental filmmaking. Here are some of the experimental film festivals that I found.
Crossroads is San Francisco Cinematheque’s annual film festival, which has been running since 2010. But the San Francisco Cinematheque itself was founded back in 1961 by filmmaker Bruce Baillie. It’s still considered the Bay Area’s premier venue for “avant-garde/experimental, underground and personally expressive film, video and performance work.”
As far as I know, you can only submit to Crossroads on their actual website as opposed to sites like FilmFreeway.
Experimental Forum is a festival based in Los Angeles featuring “moving image[s] from auteur filmmakers and innovative video artists from around the globe.”
They welcome experimental cinema (abstract, narrative or documentary), video art works, essay films, artists’ moving image and media art, and documentary and narrative films that “seek to expand, redefine or reconfigure the means and ends of their respective fields.” The festival has been running for seven years.
Blow-Up Arthouse Film Fest
Chicago’s Blow-Up Arthouse Film Fest was named after the Michelangelo Antonioni’s film “Blow-Up”. They feature chosen works in categories like narrative, documentary films, shorts, animations, experimental films, and student work.
Their goal: to introduce more people to the arthouse film.
The Vast Lab is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit creative collaboration. It’s a creative incubator run by artists in: Visual, Audio, Story, and Technology Arts. They hold a weekend of experimental films once a year, and accept submissions via FilmFreeway.
Short Film Factory
The Short Film Factory is an experimental film festival that is held in Romania. They have a monthly contest, where awarded projects are then shown live at Foto Summer Garden, an open-air cinema in Transylvania. (So cool.)
This is the first festival I heard back from during my own submission process. My short film Dear Kevin was awarded “Best Imagination.”
Torino Underground Cinefest
The Torino Underground Cinefest has a category for experimental film, as well as slow (ambient) content, which seems to be rising in popularity. (At least in the sense of being identified as an art form in a more mainstream fashion. Is that the same thing as rising in popularity? I don’t know. Anyway.)
Torino is of course in Italy, so if you get into the festival you have a really great excuse to go.
Boundless Film Festival
The London-based Boundless Film Festival isn’t specifically focused on experimental film, but they accept short film content of any type, including experimental film. This is an online-only festival “dedicated to celebrating bold, original, provocative and thought-provoking shorts.”
Video Hackers—another Italy-based film festival—has no genre requirements for their multi-days showcase of cinema and multimedia arts. In addition to short films, they accept animation, and micro shorts, which are categorized as under 90 seconds long.
FENDA-Experimental Festival of Film Arts
FENDA is “an international encounter dedicated to experimental film arts.” It’s held yearly in Brazil. This is a newer festival. From their website:
“FENDA is interested in experimental and avant-garde audiovisual work in a broad sense. We can adopt a definition made by experimental pioneer Germaine Dulac in 1932: ‘any film whose technique, used for a renewed expressiveness of image and sound, breaks with established traditions to search out, in the strictly visual and auditory domain, new emotional chords’. We want works that other people might consider ‘too weird’, ‘too small’, or ‘too difficult’. We especially want those works that might raise the question: ‘Is this cinema?’.
I will keep you updated on my own progress, and feel free to loop me in on yours too! Do you have other experimental film festivals that you would suggest submitting to? Let me know!