Film Festivals: Positive Reviews & Deserved Boos: Pt. 39 – Great Lakes International & Vancouver Lift-Off Film Festivals

Film Festivals: Positive Reviews & Deserved Boos


Film Festivals: Positive Reviews & Deserved Boos: Pt. 39 – Great Lakes International & Vancouver Lift-Off Film Festivals

Article by Justin Bowler

It has been THIRTY NINE WEEKS since the inception (conception) of this series. This baby is ready to birth anytime!

For those of you who don’t know, this is an ongoing review series about my film festival submission experience. These festival reviews are not based on WHETHER OR NOT I WAS ACCEPTED TO THEIR FESTIVAL, it is based merely on my interaction with them as a filmmaker inquiring about their festival and if my genre film is the right fit. I send them three questions, and they are “Yes or No”. It’s pretty easy. Yet, for some reason, some fests, despite multiple inquiries, can’t/don’t/won’t respond.

Submit your film

Filmmakers submit their films online to festivals. They can pay upwards of $100 just to be considered. Yet, they never get confirmation that their film was actually watched. They never speak with anyone from the fest. They don’t know who is judging the film. It could be someone well versed in cinematic theory, who has studied film for years, dissected scenes for hidden nuances, and has a few degrees in writing, film studies and art. OR it could be some random guy who “really likes” going to movies, sees a lot of Hollywood blockbusters, and has opinions on which Transformers movie is the best of Michael Bay’s work. Sadly, filmmakers are forced to “trust the system”. It can be very sketchy. Some festivals take the time to make sure it isn’t, whereas others just don’t want and/or care to make it otherwise.

Check out my friend Paul Osborne’s documentary Official Rejection. It will give you some real insight into how unfriendly some fests are to filmmakers. Sadly, it will blow your mind. Some fests only watch the first few minutes of your film, some don’t watch any of your film. Yet, they all accept your submission fee. It is an eye opening and sad realization.

Let me set the scene. I have a short film called OH, THE EFFING HORROR. (That’s right, the title is meant to be shouted.) Check out the trailer HERE.

Oh, the Effing HorrorClearly, it is a genre picture. It’s a horror/comedy, or “Horr-omedy”. In addition to the gore and general subject matter, it contains nudity. Finally, with a run time of almost seventeen minutes, it may be too long for some festivals to program. All three of these points give rise to questions I have for festivals.
– First, do they program horror films? (The majority of the fests out there are NOT horror fests, so I would like to know if they even consider the genre in their short film competition.)
– Second, do they accept films with nudity? (Plenty of festivals have to keep it family friendly. I don’t have a problem with that, but, I would like to know that before I shell out my $45.)
– Third, is a seventeen minute run time too long? (Many fests have time limits for their shorts, but don’t always post that info on or (For you newcomers, these are the two websites used for the majority of festival submissions.)

My journey began by contacting festivals through the informational email they listed on (and in some cases Withoutabox). In my email, I stated who I was, the answers I was seeking and inquired who could answer. Typically, I was referred to the Artistic Director or Programming Director.

Great Lakes International Film Festival

Great Lakes International Film Festival
Submission Price – Up to $65

I originally contacted the festival email listed on on 2/19. I got a response back a single day later, from the entire festival.

All that goes through the Executive Director’s office, and that person is Kelly C. Hecker, she can be reached at ********@******.***

Thank you.
Great Lakes International Film Festival

I thanked them and that same day I sent off my questions to Kelly. Shortly, thereafter, I received a response.

First I would like to thank you very much, Justin, for contacting me, I always look forward to interacting with Filmmakers. Unfortunately, I was out of town the beginning part of this week, so please accept my apologies for taking so long in getting back to you.

It is a bit early for our lineup to even begin to take shape, our submission season has only just begun. What I can tell you, though as with most of the genres of film that we both accept and screen, of course, there are many criteria under which films are selected, though primarily what we look for in a Horror film is a good story line; well-done cinematography and production values; good sound and lighting, and of course quality performances from the cast. 

As far as styles of Horror, we’re open to and interested in all styles of sub-genres of Horror including gore, suspense, and comedy horror. We are also very interested in the sub-genres of Horror Animation and Grindhouse, though unfortunately, we receive very little submissions of those types of films.

Although our festival does not consider or screen films that would be considered “Adult” or X-Rated, we have absolutely no problem with nudity, graphic, or explicit content, so long as those scenes are tastefully done and germane to the plot. Moreover, in one form or another I have been associated with this festival for the past 12 years, and never have I seen a film rejected simply because of scenes containing nudity, so long as those scenes were not something you would find at your local Adult video store.

As far as programming short length films go, not only do we regularly accept such films into the festival, but we rather enjoy programming shorts. If you look at our past festivals you’ll find over the years we have screened hundreds of short length films of all genres, including that of horror. 

How Filmmaker friendly we are is a subjective question and is one I feel is left to each individual Filmmaker. That having been said, however, what I can say is that we have always done our best to be open and welcoming to all Filmmakers as possible, and we continue to strive to approve upon a track record in that area that is far above average. To get a better feel how friendly our festival is to Filmmakers, I would suggest that you take a look at both our Testimonials page on our website and the reviews that Filmmakers who have participated in our festival have posted on FilmFreeway, all of which I feel speaks volumes with regards to our friendly factor. 

Finally, I want to thank you once again for contacting me with your questions and I truly hope that I have answered them all to your satisfaction. If you have any other questions please don’t hesitate to contact me, and I will be more than happy to respond to them to the best of my ability.

Take care,

Kelly C. Hecker
Executive Director 

Kelly was thorough and specific. I definitely submitted.

GREAT LAKES INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL gets a POSITIVE REVIEW. Feel free to submit to this festival.

Vancouver Lift-Off FFVancouver Lift-Off Film Festival
Submission Price – Up to $45

I originally contacted the festival email listed on on 10/30. I got a response back that day from James Bradley, Lift-Off Co-Founder and Director.

Hi Justin,

This has been passed over to me. I co-manage all of the Lift-Off’s, how can we be of service? 🙂

James Bradley.
Lift-Off Co-Founder and Director

Not all Co-Founders are this nice, or this prompt. I was impressed right off the bat. I emailed my questions two days later, and he got back to me that day.

Hi Justin,

Firstly, check this out…

Then read the reviews on FilmFreeway. 

Our festival was setup to support filmmakers in their professional journey. We are beyond what you would know as a film festival, as we see it we are a talent introducer, and film market based in ten cities around the world, including Vancouver. 

We don’t block on genre or length of short. The winning short film from Los Angeles Lift-Off was 23mins in length.

I hope this all covers your questions. Keen to chat more but I’m currently at AFM selling our winners from Vancouver Lift-Off on behalf of the filmmakers who can’t afford to attend.

Speak soon!

James 🙂
James Bradley.
Lift-Off Co-Founder and Director
Room 7. SP Block
Pinewood Studios, England.

I loved his responses so much, that I had to respond with praise.

Thank you so much for getting back to me. I appreciate your time. I’m not sure how many other festival creators you talk to, but I can tell you that you are a rare species. For example, when I ask the question regarding filmmaker friendliness, I have received a myriad of answers that are astonishing. “We believe all festivals are filmmaker friendly by definition” or “Over a hundred filmmakers come to our festival every year.” Those answers are lackluster and lazy. They aren’t tailored to the festival nor worthy of a quote for an article. You on the other hand, showed me precisely what you do for filmmakers showcasing 8 specific bullet points. Thank you for that. There is a reason why the Lift Off Festivals are so well known.

I think my response pretty much says it all. I submitted.

VANCOUVER LIFT-OFF FILM FESTIVAL gets a POSITIVE REVIEW. Submit to this festival with confidence.

Vancouver Lift-Off FF

It just that easy to be a filmmaker-friendly festival.

If you would like to see the OPPOSITE OF filmmaker friendly, check out my previous review and interaction with the Woodstock Film Festival. They sure were angry…

Week 33- Film Festivals: Positive Reviews & Deserved Boos: Pt. 33 – Catalina, Woodstock Film Festivals & Artists Forum Festival of the Moving Image

Week 34- Film Festivals: Positive Reviews & Deserved Boos: Pt. 33.5 – Woodstock Film Festival Follow-Up

If you would like to know more about other fantastic fests, check out the past articles for this series with the links below. They are not all like this week. If you would like to find out more info about my genre film, follow it on Instagram @OhTheEffingHorror for instant updates.

Once again, I’d like to hear your stories about festival submitting. If you think there is more to be said about any of the festivals I have reviewed, then I would love to hear it.

Thanks for joining me,
Justin Bowler
IG @IndyFilmTwittic and @OhTheEffingHorror
Twitter @JustinTBowler

Read More of Justin’s Friday Film Festival Friendliness reviews:

PART THIRTY-EIGHT – DC Shorts, Gasparilla International & FirstGlance Film Festivals
PART THIRTY-SEVEN – Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival
PART THIRTY-SIX – Shriekfest and Tulsa American Film Festivals
PART THIRTY-FIVE – Et Cultura and Molins Horror Film Festivals
PART THIRTY-FOUR – Woodstock Film Festival Follow-Up
PART THIRTY-THREE – Catalina, Woodstock Film Festivals & Artists Forum Festival of the Moving Image
PART THIRTY-TWO – Killer Valley Horror, Los Angeles Reel & Halloween International Film Festivals
PART THIRTY-ONE – Sidewalk, Nightmares and HorrorHaus Film Festivals
PART THIRTY – Austin, Monmouth & Atlanta Horror Film Festivals
PART TWENTY-NINE – Cinema at the Edge, Amsterdam International Filmmaker Festival & London Independent and Los Angeles Thriller Film Festivals
PART TWENTY-EIGHT – Crested Butte, NEPA Horror and Norwich Film Festivals
PART TWENTY-SEVEN.5 – Breckenridge Film Festival Follow-Up
PART TWENTY-SEVEN – Hell’s Half Mile Film & Music Festival, Idaho Horror and Kansas City Film Festivals
PART TWENTY-SIX – Sick ‘N’ Wrong, Woods Hole & CayFilm International Film Festivals
PART TWENTY-FIVE – Overlook, Milledgeville and Provincetown Film Festivals
PART TWENTY-FOUR – Breckenridge Film Festival
PART TWENTY-THREE – Indie Horror, FAMEUS Int’l & Atlanta Underground Film Festivals
PART TWENTY-TWO – Brooklyn Short Film, Buddha Int’l & Sun Valley Film Festivals
PART TWENTY-ONE – Festival Reviews REVIEW!
PART TWENTY – Lake George Film Festival and Lisbon, NY State & Illinios Int’l Film Festivals
PART NINETEEN – Hoboken Int’l, NYC Downtown & Love Horror Short Film Festivals
PART EIGHTEEN – West Chester, Oaxaca and Crimson Screen Horror Film Fests
PART SEVENTEEN – Nashville, Minneapolis/St. Paul Int’l & FirstGlance L.A. Film Festivals
PART SIXTEEN – Dances With Films & Southside Film Festival
PART FIFTEEN – Int’l Filmmaker Festival of World Cinema & Maryland Int’l Film Festival
PART FOURTEEN – Big Easy Int’l & Omaha Film Festivals and Pacific Coast Premiere
PART THIRTEEN – Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema & Dallas Int’l Film Festival
PART TWELVE – Chhatrapati Shivaji Int’l, Columbus Int’l Film + Video & Newport Beach Film Fests
PART ELEVEN – Northeast Film Festival Horror Fest + Depth of Field Int’l, DC & NYC Independent Film Fests
PART TEN – Dawson City & San Louis Obispo Int’l Film Festivals + Zed & Short. Sweet. Film Fests
PART NINE – CISF, Cinemagic London, Atlanta & Liverpool Independent Film Festivals
PART EIGHT – Julien Dubuque, IHSFF, Atlanta Shortsfest, Austin Revolution & Media Film Fests
PART SEVEN – Dam Short, ICE & River Run International Film Festivals
PART SIX – Tampa Bay Underground, CinePlay Film Awards and more
PART FIVE – Fic Autor, Long Beach Int’l & Green Bay Film Festivals
PART FOUR – Los Angeles Film & Script, Fantastic Planet & Tally Shorts Festivals
PART THREE – Die Laughing Film Festival, Slamdance & SIFF
PART TWO – Cheyenne ZombieFest & MiSciFi
PART ONE – SoCal Clips Indie Fest & Brightside Tavern

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