It’s the feeling every moviemaker dreams of: You step out of a sold-out screening of your new film at a gorgeous venue that oozes with character. Enthusiastic, intelligent audience members ask you lingering questions you didn’t have time to answer during the Q&A. Dusk is settling and, as you were promised, the weather is absolutely perfect at this time of the year. Someone hands you a drink. It’s that sexy programmer whose eye you’ve been trying to catch all week. She asks if you’re going to the party tonight, and as you nod and follow her into the rideshare vehicle waiting outside, you think to yourself that the rumors are true: This is a cool festival.
Well, that feeling happens quite often at the following 25 festivals. We’ve got big, sophisticated, cosmopolitan affairs; we’ve got intimate regional fests that haven’t yet outgrown their homey charm. And before you think we editors presume to consider ourselves authorities of cool, meet our seven panelists. These expert judges, plucked from our rolodex of cool contacts, each nominated their favorite stops on the world circuit, which we compiled into this year’s list.
Uniformly excellent cinema is one thing the 25 festivals have in common, as well as genuinely thoughtful, inspiring panels and moviemaker education events (“This, for me, is the theme of cool fests,” said panelist Emily Best.) Another is a willingness to experiment with outside-the-box programming, integrating cinema not only with alternative spaces but with other media, both traditional and cutting-edge. Yes, a great festival is, on the one hand, a temporary plunge into a world magically removed from real life. But the very best ones elevate their communities throughout the year: harbingers of a creative, cinema-loving lifestyle; the circulatory system pumping blood into a truly rich city. You’ll find many of those here.
Emily Best, founder and CEO of Seed&Spark, currently conducting crowdfunding workshops at festivals and organizations around the U.S.
Dennis Dembia, senior vice president of marketing and public relations agency Rogers & Cowan, with over 15 years of experience in the entertainment industry.
Adam Donaghey, film producer and co-founder of the Oak Cliff Film Festival, who assists programming and serves on boards at a variety of fests.
Elvis Mitchell, former New York Times film critic, host of KCRW’s The Treatment, and Film Independent curator in Los Angeles.
Thom Powers, curator of SundanceNow Doc Club, documentary programmer for the Toronto International Film Festival, and artistic director for DOC NYC and Stranger Than Fiction at Manhattan’s IFC Center.
Karla Rodriguez, private and community events manager for the Alamo Drafthouse Denver. She has worked in the festival industry for nearly 10 years.
English nerds rejoice! This screenwriter’s mecca boasts more writers talking about writing than a Charlie Kaufman film. Besides the films, enjoy four days’ worth of panels, workshops, roundtables, and pitch sessions covering anything you could possibly want to learn about crafting a narrative. “The whole experience feels so engaged in the creative process of storytelling,” raves one of our panelists. The festival also throws an annual Film & Food Fundraising Party, hosted this year by (the very cool) Cary Fukunaga, director of True Detective.
One of three documentary festivals on this list, CIFF lures locals and visitors away from the too-gorgeous-to-be-true Maine autumn weather, offering an equally breathtaking color spectrum of precisely chosen films. The festival’s growing Points North Documentary Forum (encompassing quality panel discussions and thrilling live pitch sessions in front of a full-house audience) puts the emphasis on great, personalized feedback, provided by doc heavyweights like Marshall Curry and reps from film funds, distributors, marketing experts, other festivals… you name it.
Though its full name is sprawling (the International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography Camerimage), Camerimage has a tight focus: It’s the biggest cinematography-devoted festival in the world. “It’s really cool to experience a festival with a different slant to it than most,” says a panelist, praising “the unconventional format, which awards films according to their visual, aesthetic and technical values.” Oh yeah, and “being ‘off the grid’ in Bydgoszcz provides an aura of coolness as well!”
Take it away, panelists: “It flies in even shorts filmmakers, hosts an artist residency program, shows works-in-progress, and programs with a focus on magical realism and unusual art. And they offer a unique dance/film collaboration [Dance-a-lorus] with master classes in dance!” Says another: “The spirit of David Lynch resonates throughout this festival. I’ve toured shooting locations from Blue Velvet, visited Dennis Hopper’s old loft, and had many a PBR at the Barbary Coast Bar. I also had lunch on a battleship. No, that’s not Lynch-related, but it’s damn cool.”