So you're going to Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival

Filmmaker-on-the-ground Alexandra Blue offers key advice on making the most of your visit to the flagship French event

11 February 2020


In January I was lucky enough to attend Clermont-Ferrand – the world’s biggest short film festival – to represent a short film that I produced called End-O. Clermont-Ferrand, based at the French city in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, had long been on my dream list of festivals to attend, on account of it being the number one short film market. If you have a film in the international competition, a visit is highly recommended – despite the fact that it takes about a day to get there!

It can be complicated navigating a festival for the first time, so here are a few tips and tricks if you are planning on heading along in future.

How to fund your trip

Clermont-Ferrand is on the British Council list of approved festivals and markets for the short film festival travel grants they run in partnership with BFI NETWORK. You can usually receive up to £150 towards your travel and accommodation if you have a film in the festival, depending on how long you are going for. Applications do take some time to process, so try to apply as soon as you’ve found out about selection.

The festival itself also provides 80 Euros towards travel for each film, alongside the free accommodation for the director. They also provide per diems in the form of meal vouchers for the director only (I would suggest sharing them among the team again), which is three x eight Euro vouchers for each day you are in attendance. These vouchers can only be used at hotels listed in the festivals restaurant booklet, but there are many to choose from.

How to make the trip worth your time

As mentioned, if you have a film in the festival, it’s definitely worth heading along – particularly if you want a sales agent to look after the film’s life once it completes the festival circuit. This is a key festival for short film sales agents and distributors and a great way to get a sense of the market, make connections, and explore deals for your film. Considering the time to travel there and the cost, I’d suggest going for a minimum of three days – five total with travelling.

The festival usually begins on a Friday evening, with the market beginning the following Monday. While sales agents may arrive over the weekend, most of them start taking meetings as of Monday, with many only staying for the first three days of the market (Monday to Wednesday).

If you can’t be there in person, but have a film playing, you are likely to get interest in your film regardless and can manage deals remotely – but it can be easier to get a sense of who is the best partner for your film in person. It’s also a great opportunity to meet festival programmers at networking events and parties.

Getting there

Clermont-Ferrand is accessible by plane or train. Both options involve changing in Paris, and both will take around a day. I opted for the train for a few reasons. Firstly, I love the Eurostar and find train travel much more relaxing. Any chance to avoid travelling to a London airport and waiting in long security queues, and I’ll do it! It’s also more environmentally friendly and actually worked out cheaper.

You will need to do some navigation of the metro to change between Gare du Nord and Paris Bercy, but it’s not too bad with Google Maps by your side. Just don’t pack a heavy suitcase!

The added benefit of the train is that the Clermont-Ferrand train station is very central, and you’ll save 20 Euro in getting a cab from the Airport.

Where to stay

I was fortunate enough to have a hotel room provided by the festival, but only because my director was originally going to be there and I was going to share her room. Sadly, a majority of festivals only offer the director accommodation, but if you are good enough pals, just share the room and save some money.

The hotel provided by the festival was the Premiere Classe which is a 30-minute walk from most of the festival venues and the centre of town, or a 20-25 minute bus ride depending on timetables. If you are arranging your own accommodation I would recommend staying somewhere such as the Holiday Inn, close to Maison Du Culture, which is the festival hub.

How to get accreditation

If you have a film in the festival you get free accreditation and simply need to register online once you receive a link from the festival team. Accreditation will get you into all of the screenings and the majority of the events (some are invite only or require pre-booking).

If you miss the online accreditation cut off you can register when you arrive at the festival, but your name won’t be in the printed list of attendees and you won’t receive the correspondence from the festival as to what is happening during the festival, so be warned!

What to watch

The brilliant thing about Clermont-Ferrand is that audience turnout is excellent, to the point where many people are turned away at the door. Start queueing up around 45 mins before the film to avoid disappointment.

The majority of screenings are subtitled only in French, bar the two theatres in the Maison de la Culture (Cocteau and Vian) that play everything with English subtitles.

The competition programmes are the best place to start and you should definitely try and catch a Lab screening for something a little bit different. The programming is very good, so get to as many screenings as you an!

Events to check out

There are some events which you will need to RSVP to via the website before the festival starts, namely the B2B festival and distributor events. There are two of each, where 30 people are put in a room with the festival programmers or the short film distributors. It’s a great way to get one-on-one time with people that could help to get your work seen, but these events are popular and tend to get booked up very quickly.

There are usually welcome drinks for international filmmakers on Sunday evening that the festival team also attends, which you may like to consider when planning your dates. An invite and drinks vouchers are included in your accreditation pack (do not miss them in the envelope!)

There are, of course, more informal evening events and parties, some of which aren’t always publicised. If you are an international competition filmmaker, your route to hearing about the parties will be through your festival point of contact, who will usually forward you invites to various events. It may also be worth checking in with British Film Council, any BFI staff who are attending, and other Brits (such as shorts festival programmers who may be in attendance), as they usually get invited to all the good stuff! Different countries often have their own parties, but drinks aren’t always included.

The awards are on the final Saturday of the festival, and while I had already left, I imagine this would be a good one to go to.

The Sales & Distribution side

It’s worth taking a stroll through the marketplace where many distributors and sales agents have stands, alongside territories promoting short films from their areas. All of the sales and distribution representatives are usually listed in the market guide which you will receive when you pick up your accreditation, so you can reach out to them to book meetings, or go and chat to them at their stands.

Many of the sales agents will watch films at the video screening area in the marketplace, where they can access any of the shorts at the festival rather than making it to screenings.

It’s wise to start thinking about your film’s life after the festival circuit very early, well before the film will be able to start a broadcast/online run. This allows a sales agent or distributor to have time to promote or distribute your film, so that when you have finished your festival circuit, it can start the next part of its distribution straight away - rather than waiting six months while the film is sold.

If you have interest in your film from a sales agent, some things you might like to consider are:

  • What is their experience like? Check out their website, what short films to they represent, are they high-calibre films, are there a lot of them?
  • What are their deal terms and strategy:
    • What percentage of the net profits will they be taking?
    • Are expenses deducted first? Is there a cap on those expenses?
    • What term are they asking for? The request is usually between three-seven years (personally I always aim to get it as short as possible, so that you can do an online release sooner rather than later)
    • Will they sell your film for SVOD and VOD, and at what point in the term do they think they might do this?
    • Do they have online channels of their own in which they will release the film after broadcast/SVOD/VOD?
    • What pathway do they see for your film? Do they see it doing schools and the educational market? Do they think it will be great for airlines and broadcast?
    • How many markets do they attend?
    • Can you see the promotional material they distribute for their current slate?
    • How many shorts do they have on their slate at a given time?

Where possible, get a few offers and compare them - you don’t need to make a decision during the meeting or during the festival itself. Ask for draft contracts so you can read everything once you are home, before deciding on the best offer for your film.

You may also get a number of offers post -estival, so this allows you to follow up with Skype meetings or phone calls (or simply discuss deals over email) before making a choice on who to partner with.

To conclude:

Clermont-Ferrand is a great way to see first-hand how your film is received by an international audience, and to make some great connections with short film programmers and distributors first hand. Enjoy it!