Best Of: 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, 2014

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Feast your eyes on MovieMaker‘s complete list of the 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2014.

Despite original plan to publish the list in installments (we had already begun here and here), we’ve decided we couldn’t keep the news to ourselves any longer. We’re happy to present our much-deliberated, comprehensive list, featured in the Spring 2014 issue of MovieMaker, out on newsstands and digitally today!

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Ah, those devilish festival entry fees. They never seem like that much—if you’re organized and manage to hit early submission dates, you generally won’t be forking out more than $50 each time you ship your film off to seek its fortune. But pretty soon you’ve raked up significant costs trying to get your baby screened. (Unless you use an third party submission processor, but many festivals don’t accept submissions from them, anyway.)

Hence MovieMaker’s annual list. Once again, we made film festival evaluation as much of a science as possible: Hundreds of festivals around the world were sent a survey encompassing such criteria as travel compensation, value of prizes, acceptance/submissions ratio, alumni relations, press opportunities, distribution and acquisition history, quality of panels, workshops, and parties, and so on. We weighed the answers in a point system (and looked into some helpful testimonials from circuit-weary moviemakers) to arrive at the following 50.

We’ve said it before and it bears repeating—Sundance, Cannes, Berlin, SXSW, Venice, Toronto, Tribeca are not on this list; not because you shouldn’t submit to them (see director Jeremy Saulnier’s article on making Blue Ruin on page 28 of the Spring 2014 issue), but because you don’t necessarily need us spotlighting them. (Of course, the line gets inevitably hazy—we ultimately left out Slamdance, but kept the Los Angeles Film Festival.) These festivals are a little homier, a little edgier, a little more personal—and, we believe, absolutely worth it.

 

AMERICAN FILM FESTIVAL POLAND

Wroclaw, Poland / Oct/ 21-26 2014 / americanfilmfestival.pl/index.do

If you are an American moviemaker looking for international distribution, look no further. AFF, and their accompanying industry event “U.S. in Progress,” is the only film festival in central Europe focusing on U.S.-made films. Submission is entirely free—so we’d say it’s worth the entry fee.

 

ASHLAND INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL

Ashland, OR / Spring 2015 / ashlandfilm.org

“The best films, the best people, the best time imaginable,” said Lucy Walker (The Crash Reel) of AIFF 2013, and dozens echoed her (seriously—we read their testimonials). The festival does its best to encourage filmmaking, so much so that one attendee said, “Heck, I’ll make a film just to be able to come back!”

 

ATLANTA FILM FESTIVAL

 Atlanta, GA / Spring 2015 / atlantafilmfestival.com

Besides their five-day Creative Conference, the 38-year-old Atlanta Film Festival produces their own self-help guides, podcasts and webinars available for moviemakers to download. These cover topics across all aspects of production, distribution, marketing and festivals.

 

AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL

Austin, TX / Oct. 23-30 2014/ austinfilmfestival.com

Eight days, 200 films, and 175 panels—the Austin Film Festival sure knows how to pack a lot of fun into a short amount of time. Going into its 21st year, winners of Best Feature and Documentary will each win a $2,500 cash prize, and up to $1,000 for airfare and lodging.

 

BENDFILM FESTIVAL

Bend, OR / Oct. 9-12, 2014 / bendfilm.org

For this Oregon-based film festival, feedback is key. Each year, the festival enlists the help of industry professionals to provide thorough feedback to accepted moviemakers about their films, and the program manager is prepared to offer those whose films weren’t accepted a thorough explanation.

 

BIG SKY DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL

Missoula, MT / Winter/Spring 2014 / bigskyfilmfest.org

BSDFF holds an annual “Doc Shop” aiming to help moviemakers further their careers through workshops, work-in-progress presentations, and their annual International Pitch Session. Earlier this year, the fest was named an official Academy Award-qualifying festival in the Documentary Short Form category.

50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee - Big Sky Documentary Film Festival

2013 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival

 

BROOKLYN FILM FESTIVAL

Brooklyn, NY / May 30-June 8, 2014 / brooklynfilmfestival.org

Brooklyn Film Festival awards a total of $50,000 in prizes and services, plus a one-week theatrical release in NYC. Attendees include distribution agency reps, theater owners, online distributors, and museum and gallery reps, who are personally introduced by festival staff to moviemakers at events.

 

CHAGRIN DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL

Chagrin Falls, OH / Oct. 8-12, 2014 / chagrinfilmfest.org

CDFF staff contacts local special interest groups to notify them of related documentaries: “We had a film from Hungary in 2013. The Cleveland Hungarian club published an article about the filmmaker, subsidized his travel and there was a huge Hungarian contingency at the film screening.”

 

CINEQUEST FILM FESTIVAL

Silicon Valley, CA / Spring 2015 / cinequest.org

Besides attending fantastic workshops and panels, moviemakers mingle with giants of science and art alike, as Silicon Valley gem Cinequest gives out honorary Maverick Awards to game-changers in technology and culture (this year’s honorees included Neil Gaiman and the inventor of the cellphone).

 

DC SHORTS FILM FESTIVAL

Washington DC / Sep 11-21, 2014 / festival.dcshorts.com

“No one gives feedback like DC Shorts. The festival was created dedicated to this service.” DC Shorts staff is understandably proud of its patented feedback system, which allows all entrants access to individual scores and screening comments, followed by the possibility of speaking personally with programmers for further discussion.

 

deadCENTER FILM FESTIVAL

Oklahoma City, OK / June 11-15, 2014 / deadcenterfilm.org

deadCENTER is located in the geographic middle of the Unites States, but it wants moviemakers to be the center of attention. With an entire committee devoted to guests’ needs during the festival, filmmakers go on coordinated daytrips with locals by day, and attend raging parties with free Stella by night.

 

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL

Montreal, Canada / July 14-Aug 5, 2014 / fantasiafestival.com/2014/en/pre-festival

Quentin Tarantino once called Fantasia “the most important and prestigious genre film festival on this continent.” Yet despite its high-profile premieres and top distributor attendance, your film won’t get lost in the shuffle. The three-week event runs that long so every film gets a fair chance of being viewed—there are never more than three screenings at once.

 

FEMALE EYE FILM FESTIVAL

Ontario, Canada / June 18-22, 2014 / femaleeyefilmfestival.com

The female perspective reigns at this Canadian fest, though over 40 percent of attendees are men. Their archives boast the debut efforts of many an indie queen, including Anita Doron, Sarah Polley, and Ingrid Veninger. The festival is currently establishing its own distribution arm to further promote films directed by women.

 

FLORIDA FILM FESTIVAL

Maitland, FL / Spring 2015 / floridafilmfestival.com

The 23-year-old Florida Film Festival takes place at Enzian, a beloved art house theater with in-theater table service and cabaret style seating. Last year’s event was attended by distributors like Magnolia Pictures, IFC, Oscilloscope Laboratories and Variance Films, hunting for new films to acquire—perhaps yours next year!

 

GASPARILLA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Tampa, FL / Spring 2015 / gasparillafilmfestival.com

Satisfied alumni spread the word about GIFF. “We have doubled our attendance the last couple years,” a festival representative said. “Several alumni go on our advisory board, and some have come back and made films in our city. This year at least a quarter of our accepted films were recommended by alumni.”

 

HAMPTONS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Hamptons, NY / Oct. 9-13, 2014 / hamptonsfilmfest.org

Why not submit to the Hamptons International Film Festival? Accepted moviemakers experience the perfect blend of a beautiful seaside community and top-quality films. The winner of the Golden Starfish Award wins a prize package of in-kind services of a $145,000 value. Cash awards are offered in other categories as well.

 

HOLLYSHORTS FILM FESTIVAL

Hollywood, CA / Aug. 14-23, 2014 / hollyshorts.com

Short film fest HollyShorts packs a punch in the prizes department, with a total of $100,000 in production and post-production services, a $40,000 film school scholarship for winners of the Youth category, and all-expenses-paid trips to New Zealand and Noci, Italy.

Copy of Indie Memphis

Indie Memphis Film Festival. Photograph by Breezy Torres

INDIE MEMPHIS FILM FESTIVAL

Memphis, TN / Oct. 12-Nov. 2, 2014 / indiememphis.com

Last year’s Indie Memphis held a filmmaking/brewing panel with Joe Swanberg, a party in a former bordello, and (of course) concerts galore. “Is this heaven? No, it’s Indie Memphis,” raved attendee Justin Doherty. They take film seriously, too: “We take particular pride in our jury, which features folks on par with Sundance.”

 

IRIS PRIZE FILM FESTIVAL

Cardiff, Wales / Oct. 8-12, 2014 / irisprize.org

IPFF’s claim to fame is being one of the best LGBT film festivals in Europe. Rather uniquely, the fest’s Iris Prize provides the funding, support and guidance (valued at £25,000) for its winner to make a new project. Talk about not resting on your laurels!

 

LITTLE ROCK FILM FESTIVAL

Little Rock, AR / May 15-19, 2014 / littlerockfilmfestival.org

LRFF has serious hospitality chops: Moviemakers are invited to stay for as long as they want, regardless of when they screen their films. And because founders Brent and Craig Renaud are documentarians themselves, they tap talent from their extensive network for panels and judges.

 

LONE STAR FILM FESTIVAL

Fort Worth, TX / Nov. 9-6, 2014 / lonestarfilmfestival.com

Under Lone Star Film Festival’s B1ST program, industry biggies like Jon Reiss and Ted Hope mentor moviemakers in new models of marketing and distribution, prepping them for the next steps in finding their films’ audience. As a festival representative said, “Better is better.”

 

LOS ANGELES FILM FESTIVAL

Los Angeles, CA / June 11-19, 2014 / lafilmfest.com

Now in its 20th year, LAFF is showing no sign of slowing down. The fest is famous for its signature Filmmaker Retreat, a networking event that in the past has taken place at George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch, and this year will take place at the famed Parker Hotel in Palm Springs.

 

MARTHA’S VINEYARD FILM FESTIVAL

Martha’s Vineyard, MA / Spring 2015 / tmvff.org

Sick of hustling your film day in, day out? Grab a break at MVFF, where moviemakers get beach walks, yoga classes, reflexology appointments, and even daycare. “In between movies our guests truly feel like they are on vacation,” staff said.

 

NANTUCKET FILM FESTIVAL

Nantucket, MA / June 25-30, 2014 / nantucketfilmfestival.org

Beyond its generous array of awards and prizes, NFF’s panels are especially appealing. They include an All-Star Comedy Roundtable, where board member Ben Stiller interviews comedic personalities, and the Late-Night Storytelling event, where attendees present hilarious five-minute stories to a live audience.

 

NAPA VALLEY FILM FESTIVAL

Napa Valley, CA / Nov. 12-16, 2014 / napavalleyfilmfest.org

Small wonder this fest is popular with attendees from nearby Hollywood: It puts on exquisitely curated dining and drinking experiences—exactly what one hopes for in California’s wine county. 2013 participant Paul Osborne says, “It’s only a matter of time before this becomes the new Sundance.”

50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee - National Film Festival For Talented Youth

2013 National Film Festival For Talented Youth. Photograph by Mark Malijan

 

NATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL FOR TALENTED YOUTH

Seattle, WA / Spring 2015 / nffty.org

If you are a young moviemaker looking to learn more about the industry, look no further than NFFTY. This Seattle festival only shows films created by filmmakers 22 and younger, placing an emphasis on educational networking—with some pretty awesome prizes to boot.

 

NEW ORLEANS FILM FESTIVAL

New Orleans, LA / Oct. 16-23, 2014 / neworleansfilmsociety.org/pages/detail/31/film-festival

Festival staff cite New Orleans’ eccentric atmosphere as a big draw: “We’ve hosted a filmmaker welcome soiree at an old mansion in the French Quarter, a dance party with a bouncy castle, an evening party at the Louisiana wax museum, and brunch amongst hundreds of Mardi Gras floats.” Last year’s total prize value was more than $80,000 in camera packages, film stock, cash prizes, and software.

 

NEWPORT BEACH FILM FESTIVAL

Newport Beach, CA / Spring 2015 / newportbeachfilmfest.com

NBFF gets top marks for networking opportunities. Located within driving distance of Los Angeles, the festival hosted a large contingent of film buyers, sales agents, and both international and domestic distributors in 2013, allowing moviemakers to interact personally with the best of the business.

 

OXFORD FILM FESTIVAL

Oxford, MS / Winter 2015 / oxfordfilmfest.com

Oxford has a legion of alumni waxing lyrical about the fest. “It was my first year attending OFF but you could have fooled me. By the end of the first night, everyone was a friend,” said one. “They pick you up and take you to the airport, put you up in a hotel, feed you every day… You can’t beat that as a (probably) deeply-in-debt filmmaker,” said another.

 

PALM SPRINGS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL and PALM SPRINGS INTERNATIONAL SHORTFEST

Palm Springs, CA / January, 2015 and June 17-23, 2014 / psfilmfest.org

With major distributor presence, ample awards and prizes, and a long history of prestigious premieres, both the feature and short festivals held at Palm Springs should be on your radar. A highlight of the International Film Festival is the two-day director’s retreat for selected moviemakers. Meanwhile, many of the Shortfest’s Audience Award winners have gone on to be nominated for, and win, Academy Awards.

 

PHILADELPHIA FILM FESTIVAL

Philadelphia, PA / Fall 2014 / filmadelphia.org/festival

Presented by the Philadelphia Film Society, the Philadelphia Film Festival boasts great press relations, industry attention, and covers transportation, lodging and airfare for moviemakers. Prizes for jury awards include a free round-trip flight voucher on Southwest Airlines and select film-related software.

 

PHOENIX FILM FESTIVAL

Phoenix, AZ / Spring 2014 / phoenixfilmfestival.com

Attendees and festival programmers alike cite the Phoenix Film Festival’s central location as key to the fest’s success. “Our parties, screenings, events, seminars and awards are all within steps of each other,” said a representative. Because of this, the fest has “no problem selling out screenings due to word of mouth alone.”

 

POLLYGRIND UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL

Las Vegas, NV / Oct. 16-18, 2014 / pollygrind.com

The Vegas-based Pollygrind Underground Film Festival specializes in all things alternative, with a wide variety of films not shown elsewhere. They are also now part of the RxSM Film Exchange, so each year three winning films are sent to compete for the Crossroads Awards at the RxSM Expo.

 

RAINDANCE FILM FESTIVAL

London, England / Sep. 24-Oct. 5, 2014 / raindancefestival.org

Raindance is the place to go for an international audience. With offices in London, New York, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Budapest, Berlin and Brussels, the festival is one of the world’s most geographically expansive. In 2012, 48 percent of the films selected secured British or European distribution.

 

RHODE ISLAND INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Providence, RI / Aug. 5-10, 2014 / film-festival.org

This Academy-qualifying festival is the largest film festival in New England, with over 30,000 attendees each year. 100 percent of the festival line-up is selected from entries. Bonus: when you submit to RIIFF, you are automatically in the running for the RI International Horror Film Festival and the Roving Eye Film Festival as well.

 

SAN JOSE INTERNATIONAL SHORT FILM FESTIVAL

San Jose, CA / Oct. 9-12, 2014 / sjsff.com

Now in its sixth year, SJISFF programmers say, “We do our best to present films in their optimum visual environment—selected films are screened digitally from HD masters and viewed through 2K and 4K projectors. Filmmakers have routinely commented on our commitment to the highest quality presentation.”

 

SANTA BARBARA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Santa Barbara, CA / Winter 2015 / sbiff.org

For 11 days SBIFF celebrates the best of cinema in the beautiful seaside community of Santa Barbara, attracting over 75,000 guests each year. In 2014, 52 distribution companies were represented, and heavyweights like David O. Russell, Cate Blanchett, and Martin Scorsese attended.

 

SANTA FE INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL

Santa Fe, NM / Oct. 15-19, 2014 / santafeindependentfilmfestival.com

At last year’s fest, John Waters performed a live one-man show, while George R. R. Martin, Kirk Ellis, and DP Lee Daniel hosted panels on their crafts. In addition, moviemakers stood the chance of winning production packages worth $2,500 as prizes.

 

Savannah Film Festival 2013 – Special Screening of The Spectacular Now and Q&A with Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Michael Weber, James Ponsoldt, Lucas Theater – Photography by Marc Newton, courtesy of SCAD

Savannah Film Festival. Photograph by Marc Newton

 

SAVANNAH FILM FESTIVAL

Savannah, GA / Oct. 25-Nov. 1, 2014 / filmfest.scad.edu

Savannah has a reputation of being one of the most haunted cities in America, a fact the Savannah Film Festival takes full advantage of. Last year it hosted a screening series called “Supernatural Stories,” where spooky, fantastical documentaries, features and shorts were screened.

 

SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Seattle, WA / May 15-June 8, 2014 / siff.net

SIFF, celebrating its 40th year, is the largest audience film festival in the US with over 150,000 visitors over their whopping 25 days. With as long a history as that, notable premieres have been aplenty, including Trainspotting, Braveheart, Blood Simple, Slacker, and Donnie Darko.

 

SAN LUIS OBISPO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

San Luis Obispo, CA / Spring 2015 / slofilmfest.org

This idyllic town’s community gets involved in their annual film celebration: Screenings (held in venues from cozy Downtown SLO to nearby Avila Beach and Hearst Castle) are bustling, and the festival programs a selection of films from the Central Californian Coast. ”It is a labor of love, and I think that is evident,” says artistic director Wendy Eidson.

 

TACOMA FILM FESTIVAL

Tacoma, WA / Oct. 9-16, 2014 / tacomafilmfestival.com/home

Located in scenic Tacoma, WA, TFF’s objective is to nurture moviemakers in the Pacific Northwest. To do so, they offer $500 prizes in eight different categories, including Best Short Film, Best Feature Film and Best Regional Film.

 

TALLGRASS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Wichita, KS / Oct. 15-19, 2014 / tallgrassfilmfest.com

Tallgrass’ special categories including Grasscendo (music-themed films), Greengrass (environmentally-themed films), Grassroots (featuring films about social issues) and Smallgrass (family films). Most events and parties take place at museums, galleries, and other arts venues in Wichita, KS, allowing participants a taste of local culture.

 

TAOS SHORTZ FILM FESTIVAL

Taos, NM / Spring 2015 / taosshortz.com

Located in the high desert, but centered in a walkable area of town, Taos Shortz is exactly what they advertize – “quaint, casual and intimate.” The only short film festival in a state booming with moviemaking creativity, TSFF continues to bring quality independent shorts to New Mexico.

 

TRUE/FALSE FILM FESTIVAL

Columbia, MO / Winter/Spring 2015 / truefalse.org

This documentary festival covers moviemakers’ travel and lodging, and offers a sizeable daily stipend (which, we are told, is “going up”). Hard to argue with that. We also admire the staff’s attitude: “We want to celebrate cinema in all its expansive and wild diversity and, if that celebration goes until 4 a.m. and features a party with a homemade firehouse pole, so be it.”

 

USA FILM FESTIVAL

Dallas, TX / Spring 2015 / usafilmfestival.com

Founded in ’71, the USAFF was the first festival in the U.S. to exclusively showcase “The American Filmmaker,” and ever since then they have been a virtual who’s who of the U.S. moviemaking world.  Just ask Roger Ebert, who once said about the USAFF: “They do everything right.”

 

VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Vancouver, CA / Winter 2015 / viff.org

As one of the largest film festivals in North America, VIFF concerns itself with building the right audience for accepted moviemakers, with an extensive target-marketing department that is focused on finding audiences for specific films. The festival offers a total of $25,000 across five prizes.

 

WATERFRONT FILM FESTIVAL

South Haven, MI / June 12-15, 2014 / waterfrontfilm.org

Held at a beachfront resort town on the sandy shores of Lake Michigan, WFF styles itself as a three day vacation. This non-competitive festival attracts heavy coverage from Midwestern press, with moviemakers frequently appearing on television to promote their films.

 

WOODS HOLE FILM FESTIVAL

Cape Cod, MA / July 26-Aug. 2, 2014 / woodsholefilmfestival.org

WHFF shows alumni some loving: “We offer them discounts on workshops and master classes, fee waivers on their next entry, and participation as panelists and teachers of master classes. They can also join our year-round screenings series, for which they are paid.” MM

Fifty is a lot of festivals, but it’s still not enough! Did we overlook any really kick-ass festivals this year? Tell us about them in the comments, and who knows, they might well make the cut next time around. Also, curious about last year’s list? Check it out here.

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12 Comments

  1. del snow

    May 1, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    Full Frame. Weird omission.

    • MovieMaker Magazine

      May 1, 2014 at 6:59 pm

      Full Frame is a great festival for sure! Thank you!

  2. Michael Groom

    May 1, 2014 at 11:36 am

    I had the best time ever at the Sedona International Film Festival. They’re very hospitable: providing excellent accommodation for film makers, parties every night, food on tap in the filmmakers lounge, and the location is obviously breathtaking. Every screening I went to was sold out and there was a lot of good opportunity for networking with fellow film makers from all over the world. Once you’re accepted the first time, you can apply as an alumnus for free, forever.

    • MovieMaker Magazine

      May 1, 2014 at 7:01 pm

      Michael, Sedona IFF is definitely an excellent fest, and we’re glad you had such a fantastic experience. Thanks for the ringing endorsement!

  3. Holly

    April 24, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    The Indie Spirit Film Festival in Colorado Springs, CO was a great festival I attended as a filmmaker! They really take care of you and make you feel special. They have a bunch of events for the filmmakers and the programming is diverse. Check it out!

    • MovieMaker Magazine

      April 24, 2014 at 6:33 pm

      Holly, your experience at Indie Spirit sounds lovely. Thanks for the suggestion!

  4. Noentryfee

    April 23, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    What about a topic on festivals that still don’t ask for entry fee ? Yes they exist, and some of them are kinda interesting.

    • MovieMaker Magazine

      April 24, 2014 at 6:25 pm

      Awesome idea, and something we’ll look into adding the next time we publish this list. For now, you’ll note that the American Film Festival in Poland is one such entry-fee-less fest!

  5. Harrah

    April 23, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    The Seattle International Film Festival actually starts on May 15, not the 25th as listed.

    • MovieMaker Magazine

      April 23, 2014 at 7:49 pm

      Hi Harrah, thanks for catching that! We’ve made the correction. :)

  6. John R Taylor

    April 23, 2014 at 6:47 am

    The Shortini International Short Film Festival in Augusta, Sicily.
    It is a small city, the festival is a fabulous community of people working together to present a very good festival – divided into ‘Italian’ and ‘International’. The spirit of the place has to be experienced. It is an outdoor festival, with screenings at two locations in adjoining piazzas. Screenings start after dark and go to midnight – three nights.

    • MovieMaker Magazine

      April 23, 2014 at 7:43 pm

      John, that sounds like a wonderful festival (adorable name). Thanks for putting it on our radar. Italian festivals are really fun – there’s a great one in Bologna every summer held in Piazza Maggiore; it’s for classic films, not new ones, but if you’re in Italy in June you should definitely check it out.