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Yulia Travnikova – Festival Promotion is Like a Minefield

Hi Yulia! You are the Head Of Film Festival Distribution Department at Festagent. Can you please tell us more about it? What is Festagent, and what exactly are you doing there?

Festagent is the biggest Russian film promotion agency —founded in 2011, Moscow-based. The agency has already worked with more than 600 films, and its clients have taken part in more than 3000 festivals and were awarded almost 1000 prizes. Moreover, at the website, we provided a moderated festival catalog aiming at those that have a free submission or low entry fee.

If someone trusts his film to the agency, he can sit back because we help him with translating and subtitling, creating the poster, film editing and making a trailer. And we can also convert the film into DCP format.

I lead the film promotion department — together with my team, we manage unique promotion strategies for each film and then put them into action.

Let’s speak about the Film Festival Distribution and Consultancy. How exactly do you help the filmmakers in their pursuit to showcase their films?

Usually, the filmmakers reach out to us with the new, premiere films or even rough cuts. We go with the film authors’ goals and then suggest a certain promotion strategy, which will be the most effective for each film.  At the very beginning, it is important to consider which premier is desired and where it is possible. Along with the suitable festivals to work with in continuing — what type and in what countries. We help the filmmakers to decide it.  After the strategy is agreed upon, some films stay in the agency for further promotion. That means that we deal with submitting the film to the festivals and communicate with them. Our main goal has always been the same — free the authors from the routine work and provide them with time for the next shootings and good news from the festivals.

What are the three biggest mistakes indie film Producers & Directors make in their festival distribution efforts? How does your team avoid these mistakes?

Festival promotion is like a minefield. The main mistake is not doing any promotion at all. Short films go a long way to find their audience. The festivals serve as a bridge between the film and the audience. There are many films on the web, and without the festival support, any film can easily be lost. There is one more important detail —feedback from the professional industry, along with the audience’s feedback. The festivals are also responsible for it.

One more mistake is the lack of strategy while working on the film premiere. The biggest festivals have certain premiere requirements. If not, considering them, the film may be deprived of any chances for screenings at the top festivals.

The third mistake is the rapid loss of enthusiasm while working with the festivals. Each film’s way through the film industry is a unique one. In some cases, you can wait for the invitation for several months. Many authors lose interest quite fast after making several submissions and not receiving any positive feedback. They just do not have enough patience to receive that very desired piece of news.

The inverse situation also happens when the filmmakers struggle only for the top festivals and do not pay any attention to the other venues, some local competitions in their region or country, for example.

What is your strategy for acquisitions? What do you look for when acquiring short films?

Festagent is the biggest agency on the territory of Russia and CIS. We have saved up the unique experience of working with the various films —student ones, expensive blockbusters, kids animation series and music clips. We stand for films of various genres. That’s why the criterion depends on the project’s specifics; the main rule is the following —if there is the right audience for such a film at the festivals, If this way of promotion suits this film. Except for the Russian films, we have some projects in our catalog from the USA, Germany, China, Ireland, Portugal, Austria, Kazakhstan, and other countries.

Given the popularity of media streaming on mobile platforms and computers, there are many more resources for filmmakers to use today than there were 10 or 15 years ago. What advice do you have for filmmakers to better promote their works in this area?

Streaming service is a great platform for short films. Nowadays, such platforms actively support film festivals, which decided to switch to the online format or some hybrid format because of the pandemic situation. This hybrid format will probably continue in the future —it has a lot of advantages, and it opens additional opportunities for everyone: for the festivals, audience, and filmmakers. The advice is very simple — read the agreements and do not block further film’s opportunities when publishing the film on the platforms, not in time, or selling the exclusive film rights accidentally or by carelessness. 

What if one of our readers has a film that’s older? Maybe it’s already gone through the distribution markets, maybe not. Can they come to you? What if the film is 5 or 10 years old? Is it still worth it?

If the film was not shown anywhere, then usually we can make up something. But each case has its own difficulties. And if the film was released several years ago, then it becomes interesting only for the retrospective screenings and special programs for the festivals. The most important thing is the film’s destiny in the first stages of its promotion, and the fact whether the author is well-known. An average film’s festival circuit takes 1-3 years, and the first year is the most important, as the big festivals show only new films in the competition program. That’s why planned and strategic work on promotion is very important. It is not right when the filmmakers think about the festivals once in a blue moon – the time is running out, and the film’s relevance is declining.

How would you describe your strategy for finding the best campaign for a short film?

It is very important for us to be prepared both for the best and the worst scenario. Success doesn’t come alone. New challenges come after, which should be resolved quickly. Before the premiere at the top festival and right after, the most important thing is working with mass media and social networks. It is also important to adjust the promotion strategy. And the failures… they are not failures at all; these are the stages and thresholds which can be overcome and bring some new experience. It is important not to give up. The success rarely waits at the door.

What was the most successful campaign for a short film that you had in the past? What would you say was the secret ingredient?

It is very difficult to choose a special case — different films had various festival routes, successful in many ways. It’s a big deal for us to provide new opportunities for the authors whom we work with. And sometimes, behind the seemingly humble festival stories, life-changing acquaintances hide, and new projects appear. The secret ingredient is patience. Among the films we work with, there are the cases when the very first application sent the film to the red carpet of the Cannes festival. And sometimes for several months, we work with only refuses and only long after the film received the desired invitation to the festival. It also happened so that we convinced the filmmakers to participate in the new festivals that are not in the public eye.  Finally, they received awards and prizes of several thousand euros and got nice reviews in the media.

What about VOD? Is it a growing market? Do short films have a place inside this market?

VOD platforms rapidly grow in recent years and pay more attention to the short films and web-series. So far, the deals on short films are not usual; many platforms try out special programs, collections of short films, and distribution of short films festivals. Market shaping takes time.

We’ve learned that you have other lines of work apart from film festival distribution. Can you tell us more about these services?

Yes, surely. We can prepare the film to release it on the big festival journey.  We make the subtitles and translate it into different languages, make DCP, posters, and trailers. For Russian films, we have all the services to communicate with the Ministry of Culture (receiving the screening certificate, national film certificate, applying for the subsidies).

In addition, we have a film catalog on our website; many filmmakers use it to work on their own promotion.

We also collaborate with the platform Zippy Frames / Scheriaa that promote animation.

In the end, tell us where our readers can find you online?

Our website has the English version — check it out Enjoy our articles ( ), use our festival catalog (, feel free to contact us to discuss your film (!