30 Best Film Festivals You Need to Go To
Just over six years ago, Ryan Coogler premiered small-budget film Fruitvale Station at the Sundance Film Festival, and just this year, he won big with major film success Black Panther. Film festivals are one of the best ways to connect with other creatives in the entertainment industry. You never know who you’ll meet, and how you might come up with a great idea for a new project. With inspiration abound and artists in every corner, there’s a film festival for everyone. Whether you’re submitting a film or just attending, embed yourself in a network full of talent. A character actor might meet a director with an idea perfect for the work they do, a composer might start chatting with a well-matched screenwriter, or a well-curated selection of shorts might cure a director’s creative block. At We the Project, we know the importance of networking in order to build your perfect film production team. To help you figure out which film festivals to send your work and attend this year, we’ve arranged the best film festivals by category.
The following film festivals come to the forefront of any film lover’s mind when they’re thinking about what entertainment events to attend. They’ve produced larger budget favorites and well-known art house movies.
Sundance Film Festival
The Sundance Film Festival was founded by film giant Robert Redford of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Held in Park City, Utah in late spring, this film festival caters to notable independent filmmakers and newcomers whose films are exceedingly high in quality. Everyone covets a premiere spot at this famous event. In addition to Fruitvale Station (2013), other notable films that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival are The Farewell (2019), Little Miss Sunshine (2006), 500 Days of Summer (2009), Get Out (2016), and Hereditary (2018).
Tribeca Film Festival
Founded by Robert de Niro to uplift Manhattan spirits, the Tribeca Film Festival is undoubtedly a city standby cultural event. They accept applications until the end of October and screen the winning films during April. With a focus on international, narrative voices and storytelling, this year’s highlights include The Apollo about Harlem’s eponymous theatre as well as Inna de Yard: The Soul of Jamaica. In addition to its film screenings, they offer talks, games, and virtual reality experiences.
Telluride Film Festival
Unlike the Sundance Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival, the Telluride Film Festival occurs from late August until early September. With the likes of Barry Jenkins, David Fincher and Tilda Swinton in attendance, this festival is esteemed to say the least. It’s known for in-depth discussions and providing great opportunities for students.
South by Southwest
Held in mid-March, South by Southwest is a festival bonanza with film, media, and music festivals. Its events take place in Austin, Texas, and in addition to a limitless array of screenings and performances, it hosts meetups and parties where creatives from all walks of life can hang out and even spark collaboration.
Some of the most famous festivals require you to jump on a plane. Overseas travel might just be the little push you need to get your film to the next level.
Cannes Film Festival
The Cannes Film Festival takes place in May and celebrates film at an esteemed, international level. It’s a well-publicized, but lucrative event, and only invited professionals can attend. Many Cannes winners go on to win prizes at the Oscars. Some of these films include Apocalypse Now (1979), Pulp Fiction (1994), and The Pianist (2002).
Berlin International Film Festival
Often called the Berlinale, the Berlin International Film Festival specializes in European films and offers a range of world cinema. Each year, the festival screens over 400 films and always stays true to its vision of a diverse, cinematic culture.
Venice Film Festival
The Edinburgh International Film Festival accepts regular submissions by January 19th, and takes place in late June. While originally founded by John Grierson to raise the visibility of documentary films, it now offers categories in all genres. It premieres UK favorites like Alien and Taxi Driver, and even helped establish the career of auteur Ingmar Bergman.
Iconic City Film Festivals
For filmmakers and film industry folks who prefer to stay in the States, there are plenty of high profile film festivals to attend in the most famous American cities.
New York Film Festival
The Chicago International FIlm Festival is the longest running competitive and international film festival in North America. With a goal of fostering communication through art and culture, they’ve furthered the careers of notable filmmakers like Martin Scorcese, Wim Wenders, and Susan Seidelman. With submission deadlines in April and screenings in late October, special categories cater to new filmmakers and diverse perspectives.
Atlanta Film Festival
Well-known for premiering popular films in the horror and sci-fi genres, the Atlanta Film Festival takes place in early May and accepts submissions until the end of September. They are one of only about two dozen Academy Award qualifying festivals in the United States.
WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival
The WorldFest Film Festival was first founded as an International Film Society and continues to honor a different country each year. The festival is known for helping to discover Ang Lee, The Coen brothers, and David Lynch, among other notable arthouse filmmakers. Submission deadlines run from August until November and the festival shows in late April.
Seattle Film Festival
With offerings in pretty much every film genre, the Seattle Film Festival is somewhat newer to the scene and therefore boasts a contemporary edge. Submission deadlines are in March and the festival begins in May.
Festivals for Experimental Film
With cheaper equipment and crowdsourcing options available, the world of narrative feature films can feel oversaturated. Turn to experimental films for something a little different, whether it’s cinematic abstractions or unique stop-motion shorts.
Ann Arbor Film Festival
Running in late March with a submission period ending in September, the Ann Arbor Film Festival is home to the avant garde. They separate film into three categories (narrative, animation, and experimental), and in addition to festival week screenings, host film showings throughout the year.
Mill Valley Film Festival
Held in Canada, the Images Festival hopes to resist mainstream culture by engaging in subversive creativity and forms of expression. Submission deadlines are in mid-October and the festival itself takes place in April.
Boston Underground Film Festival
The Boston Underground Film Festival helps bring alternative cinematic visions to a larger audience. Submission deadlines are in September and the festival takes place in March.
Film Festivals in Rural Areas
For a bucolic treat, check out these film festivals where the scenery is as beautiful as the cinematography.
Nantucket Film Festival
The Nantucket Film Festival, in a beautiful New England setting, focuses on screenwriting. The regular submission deadline ends in March and the festival takes place in June.
Napa Valley Film Festival
Taking place in beautiful California wine country, the Napa Valley Film Festival showcases both film and wine. In addition to its November screenings, it offers year long programming. Submissions run until April.
Sonoma International Film Festival
Another film festival in wine country, the Sonoma International Film Festival takes place in April with offerings of intimate screening venues and artisanal fare. Submission deadlines end in late March.
Woodstock Film Festival
The Woodstock Film Festival accepts submissions in June and takes place in early March. The film festival is known for its maverick spirit and casual environment despite hosting prominent attendees like Natalie Portman and Darren Aronofsky.
Film Festivals for Newcomers
While many film festivals have open submissions, there are other film festivals geared towards bringing audiences to filmmakers who are new to the scene and may not have won as many awards yet.
Held in Bend, Oregon, the BendFilm Festival accepts submissions until May and takes place in October. They also hold year-round events and an artist-in-residency program.
Dumbo Film Festival
The Dumbo Film Festival is itself a newcomer, with submissions closing in September with screenings to be held the following year. They also host monthly competitions, which are great for increasing your chances of winning.
Santa Barbara International Film Festival
With a focus on learning and a robust education program, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival is another great option for budding filmmakers. The regular deadline for submission is in August and the festival is held in the following January.
Film Festivals for Social Causes
When making a film, it’s important to consider the importance of sharing diverse voices. To bring attention to newer voices and less heard stories, consider attending or submitting films to the following.
Out on Film Festival
Held in Atlanta, the Out on Film Festival is one of the most prominent film festivals dedicated to celebrating LGBTQ voices. It is held from late September to early October and submission deadlines are in July.
Brooklyn Women’s Film Festival
The Brooklyn Women’s Film Festival celebrates women in film to promote opportunities for women in the film industry. They accept submissions until January and the festival occurs in August.
Harlem International Film Festival
The Harlem International Film Festival uplifts the community of Harlem by providing a space for not only community voices, but international voices about culture and migration. They’ve discovered directors like Ava DuVernay and Nate Parker. The festival takes place in May.
Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital
An esteemed festival in Washington, D.C., the Environmental Film Festival brings large audiences to films with an environmental theme. They accept films until the beginning of December, and the festival takes place in March.
Global Peace Film Festival
The Global Peace Film Festival takes place in Winter Park, FL during late September and accepts submissions until April. They focus on films with the broad themes of peace and affecting change.
Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
An Academy-qualifying film festival, the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival brings light to voices within the Asian Pacific community. They accept films until November and the festival is at the beginning of May.
No matter your cinematic taste, there’s a film festival for everyone. A filmmaker who’s just starting out or a more experienced independent filmmaker might choose to submit a new short film. An avid cinephile or actor might choose to attend the screenings.
Once you’ve made some great connections, check out We the Project to bring your next film endeavor to life. Maybe you’ve met a co-director and just need to find the right cast, or maybe something sparked a completely new idea and you need to hire an entire team. We the Project will streamline your talent-finding process to make sure your team is the perfect fit.