Ready to submit your film? Film programmer Sarah Harris (’05) on researching festivals. Tip: make plans before you shoot your next film.

Thinking about getting your film onto the big screen? According to Sarah Harris, professional film programmer for five festivals, your chances of getting accepted to film festivals go up when you research them before you submit your film. Not all festivals are the same, she says, and their differences matter. Does the festival specialize in horror, family, LGBTQ or other genre-specific topics? 

SMU alumni festival advice“You can see patterns of what is programmed by learning about the festival, the programmers who work there, their specific taste in curating and the location/audience of the festival,” she advises. “Audiences are diverse. What plays well in Dallas may not work in Seattle. Know what categories the festival typically programs and how your film fits into the festival’s artistic vision.”

It helps to have a plan for your film from the start, she says. What goals do you have, and what results are you aiming for? Harris urges filmmakers to think about various factors before production begins:

  • What is the end goal for the film and how will a particular festival help achieve that?
  • Do you want theatrical distribution, network distribution, or streaming?
  • Do you want to win awards?
  • Do you want the community networking that regional festivals provide?

SMU alums Lauren Harper (B.B.A. Finance ’12) and Ryan Hawkins (B.A. Cinema-Television ’10) with Best of Fest award for "The Wedding Party," written and directed by Meadows film alum Thane Economou (’10).“The more you know about what your film is and what kind of festival you’re submitting to, the more it helps,” says Harris. “While not guaranteeing acceptance, it will at least give you the proper expectations for the process.”

Most films are submitted online. Check out the details on or

Sarah Harris received her B.A. in Cinema-Television from SMU Meadows School of the Arts in 2005. She has been senior programmer for the annual Dallas International Film Festival since its inception in 2006, and is also a programming associate for the Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Documentaries Competition; shorts curator for the Denver Film Festival; programmer for the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF); and programmer for the EARTHxFilm Festival.

NEXT in the series: The Big Screen: Getting Accepted to Film Festivals, Part 3: VP of Production for Cinestate and Director of Operations for the Oak Cliff Film Festival Amanda Presmyk (B.A. Film and Media Arts and B.A. Journalism ’14) on film festival do’s and don’ts.

Read more about SMU Meadows Division of Film & Media Arts undergraduate and graduate programs and the Summer Film Production program, in which students produce feature-length films during a two-year cycle. Many go on to win festival awards in the U.S. and abroad.

Want more? Four festival-savvy Meadows film alums with extensive experience offer advice in the article “It’s a Wrap! Now What?”