Want to increase your film's chances to be accepted in a festival -- or even win an award? Then try to figure out what other filmmakers are doing -- and do something different.
Every year certain styles and subgenres dominate festival entries. Ten years ago everyone was making zombie films. Film festivals were deluged with the walking dead. Torture porn was prevalent after Saw and Hostel were released. Twilight produced a flood of vampire clones. And they're still making found footage films, often about ghosthunters, shot in the unusual green nightvision.
Film festival directors like to program for variety. If they receive five great slasher film entries, and one mediocre ghost film -- and they only have screening time for five films -- they'll take the mediocre ghost over one of the great slashers. They still have four more of those.
At least six excellent actresses were considered for Best Actress in the 2013 Tabloid Witch Awards. Five had turned in excellent dramatic performances, playing similar sorts of characters (strong, but long-suffering, women). The remaining actress gave an excellent comedic performance, playing an entirely different sort of character (a gonzo mad scientist). As against the five long-suffering women, the mad scientist stood out -- thus Guenia Lemos won that year. Had it been five excellent comedic performances and one excellent dramatic performance, the dramatic performance might have won.
To win it helps to have both talent and luck. The luck that all the other contestants coincidentally arrived in blue dresses, whereas you happened to wear a red dress. The judges couldn't help but notice you.
You can't guarantee luck. But you can watch for trends so as to not follow them. What's currently hot in horror? Are there many ghost films out there featuring strong, but long-suffering, women? Chances are other filmmakers are already "taking inspiration" from those films. If ghosts and slashers are hot, consider doing a mad scientist or alien abduction film. Or better yet, stretch your imagination and scare us with something no one's seen before.
Film festivals are competitive. It helps to produce an excellent film. Even better if your excellent film stands apart from all the other excellent films