I can't imagine I'm the first to figure this out. The FilmFreeway.com advanced search has a feature that allows you to limit your search to a specific range of submission fees!
Here's the problem I had: my film, "The Pirate Captain Toledano," had limited festival funds. With festival submission fees as high as $90, I couldn't submit the film to very many festivals. The film is a short, so festivals are the only chance it has to reach a non-internet audience.
I knew that there are a few festivals out there with $0 submission fees for shorts (Cannes is the most noteworthy) but internet searches yielded less-than-helpful results.
Then, I thought to investigate the advanced search features of the festival submission websites that I had been using. Withoutabox.com allows you to limit searches to festivals with submission fees below $25, but that still leaves a huge range of fests to sort through.
Withoutabox.com has a search filter for submission fees in specific (and not very helpful) ranges
Filmfreeway.com, on the other hand, allows you to limit your search to a price range that you specify, and it's customizable in increments of $1.
The search filter on filmfreeway.com. You can set the slider to any range of submission fees, in $1 increments.
I set the maximum submission fee to "$0" and hit "search". Dozens of festivals turned up on the screen, all with $0 submission fees!
After submitting my film to nearly 50 of them, I decided to try a variation of this search. I set the price range to "$1-$5" and hit "search".
Hundreds of festivals appeared in the list, but this time, the search wasn't as clean. Some of the fests did have submission fees under $5, but only for their earlybird deadlines, or for a specific class of submitter (student, for example, or local filmmaker). That said, I was still able to find roughly 50 festivals with submission fees at or below $5 to which I could submit my film. For less than $200, I submitted my film to nearly 100 film festivals in the last couple of days.
What's interesting to me about these festivals is that they're not all tiny middle-of-nowhere fests. Most are not in the United States, and are funded by tourist boards or film commissions. Some are so well-funded that they can offer cash prizes to winning films.
In some cases the festivals are in countries where a dollar goes a long way - so a $2 submission fee might pay a festival staffer's salary for a week.
Sure, there are some tiny fests, too, but if the goal is to get the film seen, even little middle-of-nowhere film festivals will achieve that goal.
Have you tried this film festival submission method? How did it work for you?