Every year, festivals large and small showcase work by many talented new filmmakers and cinematographers. From Cannes and Sundance to Berlin and Toronto, festivals introduce audiences to hundreds of new stories and characters that entertain us as well as shape how we understand the world.
German documentary filmmaker and Canon Ambassador Marcel Mettelsiefen was working on his film, Watani: My Homeland, when he discovered the existence of the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short. Having received a number of TV awards already for documenting the conflict in Syria, Marcel was keen to see if he could replicate this success in the cinema industry.
In order to be eligible for the award, though, swift work was required, as a film needs to have either had a commercial run in a qualifying US cinema or won a qualifying award at one of a list of specific film festivals (or have won a medal in the Academy's student awards). "You either go through festivals or you apply and have a cinema run for a couple of weeks," explains Marcel. "I got shortlisted and from there people started to approach me and to help financially to organise screenings. People come on board in exchange for having a credit as a producer," he adds. "It's a smart thing [for them] to do because then you get an Oscar nomination!" Indeed, Marcel's film about a Syrian family on the frontline in Aleppo would go on to receive an Academy Award nomination in 2016 for Best Documentary (Short Subject).
"It doesn't really matter who you are or your experience, it's all about the story," says Marcel. "If you are thinking about entering a festival, you need to ask yourself if you have picked the right topic. Does it have the potential to become big? If it does, if you have unique access, if the story is universal, then believe in it and persevere."
Six years after his nomination, Marcel's latest labour of love, yet to be named at time of writing, will premiere at Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2022 in the first week of September and is set to hit the global stage on Netflix.
Here, Marcel shares what he learnt navigating the festival circuit with Watani: My Homeland. In particular, he and Aron Randhawa, Product Specialist at Canon Europe, discuss the key practical and technical elements of filmmaking that underpin every story bound for festivals, not least the entry requirements that documentary filmmakers must adhere to.