You made your film. You got into a festival. Great! Now get the most out of the experience.
You'll spend a lot of money (which hopefully you budgeted). You bust a gut getting your film mastered to tape or film. What do you get out of it? That depends on you. Fight for a good festival experience. Here's a few pointers:
1. REALIZE THAT THE FESTIVAL CAN'T HELP YOU
Festival organizations are well-meaning entities (most of them, anyway). But the staff will be stretched very thin. So they simply can't devote too much time to your movie, unless it has some publicity value for them (like, say, a name in the cast). Don't squander their time with things you can look up yourself.
2. FIGHT FOR QUALITY CONTROL CHECKS
Nothing is more depressing than watching your film in a theater with a badly focused, color-imbalanced projector, in reversed stereo. Get the the floor managers or projectionists to let you into the theater at least a half-hour ahead of showtime to screen a few minutes of your film, and see if they can make adjustments. Do this for each screening.
3. FIND YOUR RABBI
Do you know someone who works at the festival or who screened last year? Ask them for the inside scoop. Who's the go-to guy? Who's the biggest obstacle to getting things done?
4. TALK TO THE WEB TEAM
These folks have a preferred codec, framesize, bitrate and file size for the trailers and stills that are going on the website. This is the first contact people will have with your film, so output your media to whatever specs they need. Don't make them convert your work; they'll be too swamped to do much more than transcode it with the default settings.
5. ASK FOR VENDING SPACE/TIME
Connect with your fans and beat the pirates - sell DVDs, t-shirts, and any other merchandise you can think of. Ask the organizers for a table in the lobby to man after the screenings.
6. ASK FOR FINANCIAL HELP
Can the festival give you some help with travel and/or lodging expenses?
7. RESEARCH THE INDUSTRY DIRECTORY
In some festivals, you'll get a directory of press/industry/festival attendees. At others, you'll have to ask for it. Try to get a hold of one, and study it carefully. Are there any distributors, agents, programmers, etc. who were involved in projects similar to yours? Try to reach out to them. Don't stalk them at their hotel; send an email instead or talk to them at a party.
8. PARTIES OVER FILMS
Your primary mission is to sell your film - to distributors, press, agents, other festival programmers, fellow filmmakers, even the audience. You should see other movies, but don't lose the chance to schmooze. Go to panel discussions and parties. Hang out in the industry lounge (if they have one).
9. DON'T BE A SCHMUCK
You can be insistent with the staff without being a jerk. The festival world is small enough that if you treat them badly or don't deliver your materials on time, it'll get around to others. Even more importantly, festivals are a nexus, where you can make long-lasting relationships and even start new projects. Contribute positively to that flow, and you'll be rewarded.