Submission fees are always a tricky subject for film festivals these days. Filmmakers are told a variety of things by battle-scarred indie filmmakers who think they know the secret to getting your film submitted for free. Some say to never submit a film to any festival that won't grant you a fee waiver. Some say to write a very sweet e-mail to the festival organizers saying that you are broke and that your film is so special it should just get programmed immediately. For free.
We here at DITR do get requests from filmmakers asking to have the fees waived. Mostly from countries in the Middle East saying that because of sanctions (or something) they can't pay us the fee even though they'd really like to.
The video above explains exactly who we waive entry fees for and what those fees are used for but in the spirit of transparency, I will admit that we have solicited and programmed a specific feature film for our festival before. This only happened though at the very end of the submission process when all other films had been watched and judged. Because we want to put on the best festival possible in true indie filmmaking spirit, we didn't want to program a film simply by default. If we do not have enough entries which meet the standard of a Diamond in the Rough, then we will actively curate a movie to program for the festival.
We never have this problem with short films since we always get an excellent amount of fine submissions and pick from the best. But features are more rare for us right now and we will not program a movie simply because it was entered.
So it's ok to go ahead and ask festivals to waive their fees but know that most indie film festivals worth their salt truly needs those submission fees to keep themselves afloat.