Register Tuesday | January 21 | 2020

The Sting of Rejection

I will remain silently pissed off

I'm writing to you in a state of shock and awe. I just learned that a local South Asian film festival has rejected our short film. I can't believe it. Of all the festivals to which we submitted, this was the one I figured was the closest to a "sure thing." The only rejection that would have surprised me more is if my own family had a film festival and turned down the film. To make matters worse, the festival had asked to see my previous film (which they had rejected two years ago, a fact I decided not to remind them of) and rejected that film AGAIN!

I've been around the film festival circuit long enough at this point to know that you should never assume anything when it comes to being accepted or rejected by a film festival. It's a complete crap shoot, really. You can go to a "prestigious" festival and see a terrible film or find a gem of a film at some rinky dink festival in a small rural town. But damn, I'm still surprised. I can only comfort myself with the knowledge that the festival season has just begun, four festivals have already picked the film, and it will go on to be seen by at least a dozen other good festivals, if not more.

My partners in the film, M and S, were equally, if not more, pissed. M took it particularly hard, as he is a rookie to the film festival business and, as an actor, was probably really counting on getting some good exposure at that festival. I don't blame him a bit for being upset. I emailed him the bad news and he called me a few minutes later. I ranted and raved, called the festival people "brainless assholes" and tried to assure him that our film is, in fact, good. It's their loss, I said. He listened quietly. When I was finished, he just sighed. I felt like shit. Like I, as the director, had not only let him down, but had filled him with false hopes over the past few months. "S" called a half hour later, screaming expletives into the phone. He was even louder than I was. His wife was in the background and I could tell she was pissed off too. I think we all thought this festival would take the film and since it is local (and we know the people who run it), the rejection stung even more.

I spent the next hour thinking up ways to respond to the rejection email. I thought of responding by ridiculing their standard rejection letter, but turning it around on them:

"Dear Festival, thank you for asking me to buy tickets to attend your film screenings and parties. It is going to be a busy year and I have received requests from over three hundred other festivals. Unfortunately, your festival was not chosen as one which I will attend or support in any way."

Oh, that would be good. But they probably wouldn't get it. Then I considered the more friendly, innocent route:

"Dear Programmer, I was surprised and disappointed by your decision. Can you please tell me why you didn't like the film? Please tell me why. Why?!"

But it was too pathetic. Then I thought I would respond thusly:

"Dear Festival: Wow. I'm really stunned by your decision. All I can say is... YOUR LOSS."

But that still sounded weak. Like one of those contestants on "Elimidate" who gets turned down in the early rounds and tells the camera "they didn't like that guy anyway and he's the one missing out." The best I could come up with was...

"Dear Festival Programmer: Thank you for rejecting my film. Now I know that it is actually good."

That one made me feel better. But I knew I couldn't send it. I decided I shouldn't respond at all. Nothing I could write would come off as anything but petty, bitter, sour grapes. And the last thing I would want is for anyone to think I care. Not to mention the danger of "burning bridges" when you're a filmmaker who will likely have other films under consideration by that same festival in the future. It's one thing to be silently bitter. It's another thing to bring the animosity. There's just not enough of an upside to being an asshole.

So I will remain silently pissed off. Lament with my other shocked friends. Needless to say, I won't be attending that festival or hanging out at their parties. Or telling my friends to go to their festival. I'll just make another film and maybe submit it to their festival next year. But maybe not.