Q&A with OWM Judge, Berry Hahn

Highlights from our Instagram Live with OWM Judge, Berry Hahn about how to get your next film into a documentary festival

Q: How can filmmakers, independent filmmakers mainly, plan for festivals and applications? What are the some key factors they should consider when deciding which festival to submit to?

Berry: It comes down to how you prioritise festival strategy. I really don’t believe you should distribute your own film. I think that teamwork makes the dream work. So you should actually hand your film to a distributor that has the network. Unless you have a network, unless you know the programmers and you have a database with deadlines and you know what each festival’s is programming. There is Film Freeway online. But the main point is that you should really match the distributor with your film. You shouldn’t wait for the delivery of your film to be wanting to reach out to a distributor that will take over your world premiere. I would still advise you to reach out to see what’s going on with film festivals. But I would definitely, when it comes to festival strategy to get the documentary into the film festival, reach out to distributors, be part of pitching sessions, to be able to get your distributor jumping onto the project even from production. 


Q: Could you provide some basic insights into the selection process of documentaries in the film?  What criteria do judges typically look for in the documentary?

Berry: I know that when Generation Africa came out, there was a real need to discuss this. The biggest population in the world, the youth in Africa. So I know that Africa, at least at that time, was really pushed to the front of the scene. It’s also technical details like looking at a story, looking at a unique, political, cultural, different perspective. There’s the fact that because of streaming platforms, there is a lack of creative documentaries. I think that what festivals are looking for in films  – what makes your film stand out more than another one is  if you’re being authentic. If it’s your genre, you should move towards a part of the industry that matches with your film.


Q: Do you have any experiences when you were a producer or as a distributor that you wished you had known earlier?

Berry: I wish I could jump like years ago to little Berry that was in film school and tell her festivals are a thing, distribution is a thing, because actually it’s still something that’s not well known. Like most of the people studying, if you were privileged enough to study in film school, you don’t get basic info about festivals in distribution. Working in production, I was thrown in the pool of distribution. I ended up distributing the collection I was working on, which was great because I knew the films like the back of my hand. I knew how to sell them because I was with them from the very beginning. I was very worried about jumping into this big industry because you have to be very social. I wish I knew how safe the documentary space is. It’s a safe space and I’m really so happy to be working in that space. But otherwise, I still learn everyday like everyone. People who say no, they’re lying. Nobody knows everything. I wish I also knew that you cannot distribute your own film.


Q: What do you think are certain ways to stand out from the crowd? What is helpful?

Berry: I think networking. Let’s say you attend a film festival. Networking is my priority and I’m actually quite shy. So to me, going to a networking event, I just really force myself to be networking because very quickly, it turns out that everything is fine. You can meet really nice people, like international film festival programmers. You can meet anyone at a happy hour, which is also amazing. That’s how I met some makers with projects that I wanted to keep an eye on just because they were wearing colourful shirts and they just made it fun. It’s forcing yourself not to be shy so you can go and network. 

And I think also what helped me – I really consume content about the film industry. It’s being very curious about what’s going on in the film industry. When there’s a film festival and someone just got appointed head of industry, you should be aware of that. But standing out, I think it’s more that there are so many people, you should stand out for the right reasons. You do not want to be this person that people are looking at being like, “I don’t want this person in my space.” You want to be the person that you appreciate working with. 

Watch the full session on Instagram.