Top tips for becoming a judge at film festivals

Photo by Adam Sheridan-Taylor
Xiao Sun, photo by Adam Sheridan-Taylor

Film Festivals are outstanding opportunities for filmmakers around the world to share their work and network. Getting your film into a festival is an honour and winning an award and being recognized for your work is the height of prestige for anyone in the industry.


However, what many overlook when it comes to festivals is actually judging them. Being a panelist on a festival is an ideal opportunity to meet other professionals in the industry and learn what they are doing, and maybe you will be inspired by what you see.

That being said, how does one become a panelist at a film festival? I sat down with Xiao Sun, an industry Chinese Canadian actress hailing from Montreal, who has starred in films alongside Charlize Theron, Jennifer Lawrence, and Seth Rogan, to name a few. Xiao was recently a jury member at the Toronto Korean Film Festival, which ran from July 11-15 in Toronto. Here are her tips at not only becoming a panelist, but also on what to do while judging the films.

Tips on getting into festivals

  1. Stay in the know

Get to know as many film festivals as possible and stay updated on entertainment news. Toronto, for example has this great website to always be up-to-date on festivals in the area

  1. Attend festivals

Once you find out when and where the festivals are, attend them yourself and submit your work to them. Get to know their programmers when they have mixers. For my local Toronto people, TIFF is an amazing place to be. Start to prepare early, get an early bird priced badge, go to as many network events as you can find, and get your account on Cinando – you’ll see which company and which person is coming to a festival and their contact information. Get access on IMDB pro, educate yourself with top production companies, agencies and filmmakers in the industry and keep updated on their recent work.

  1. Network

Get info about the festivals from your friends whose work has entered/won awards at the festivals before, get involved with your local Industry community, get connected on festivals’ Facebook group. Also, remember to consult your local ACTRA representative for on-camera and behind-the-scenes workshops.

Tips on Judging at festivals

  1. Don’t research

Watch every film thoroughly as if you know nothing about it. I prefer not to read the synopsis, or the director/actors work before watching, so I don’t prejudge the work.

  1. Take Breaks

Take a breather and get some fresh air between watching each film, even if they’re short films, as you would cleanse your palette before tasting a new dish.

  1. Follow your heart

Let the film touch you, don’t use it to judge or to pick on their imperfections, and see which story/performance tugs at your heartstrings.


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