'Tis the season of rejection. Independent filmmakers spent the fall pushing through the post process to get their projects ready for Sundance, SXSW, Berlin, Rotterdam, Tribeca, and on and on. And as those festivals come and go, they leave in their wake many, many broken dreams for those who didn't make the cut.
I have been on the downside of this equation and yes, it sucks. Films are personal. If you did your job right there's a little of your soul in them. When your film is rejected, it's basically impossible to be objective about it. You want the very best life for this thing you've brought into the universe. And despite the advances in DIY distribution you really just can't beat the power of a good festival premiere, and the associated publicity, to register on your audience's radar.
I have had films premiere at Sundance, Toronto, SXSW and Tribeca. I have also been rejected by those same festivals (and others) many, many times over. Did those rejections sting? Definitely. Some of them hit me really hard. But now that a few years have passed and I can view the situation from a slightly more removed vantage point, I find I am actually grateful. No, seriously, I am.
I'm grateful for the humility those rejections instilled, the pragmatism they inspired, the way they stripped away any sense of entitlement I might have felt for success. Because I'm not entitled to it. No one is.
I'm not usually one for sports references, but accepting defeat and then heading back on the field is the only way anyone has ever won a championship. And let me tell you, getting seven consecutive rejection letters from Sundance has a way of making you really appreciate it when suddenly the phone rings on the eighth. My touchdown dance was a sight to see.
But with all due respect and gratitude to the festivals that eventually did accept my films, I also know this: Experts are wrong all the time. People who program film festivals are generally smart, savvy people with highly attuned taste, but they'd be the first to tell you that they make mistakes. They allow great films to slip through their fingers. They have bad days where they watch films with less patience or get bullied by the marketplace to give precious slots to less deserving films that might have more draw. They are gatekeepers and they are needed in this world, but they aren't perfect.
Ultimately, as filmmakers we will face rejection. Honestly, the rejection we face at the festival level is great training for the rejection we will continue to face consistently throughout our careers. It's a tough and competitive business and you've got to keep your heart, your wits, and your humility intact.
And at the end of the day if you have made a film that speaks to something authentic, that connects with even one other person, it can get rejected from every festival in the world and you've still accomplished something pretty magical.