The 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World, 2014

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Our annual list of the world’s weirdest and most wonderful cinematic celebrations: the 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World.

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.

Music and movies come into intimate proximity at the True/False Film Festival

Music and movies come into intimate proximity at the True/False Film 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.


The 2014 Coolest Festival Judging Panel

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Emily Best, founder and CEO of Seed&Spark, currently conducting crowdfunding workshops at festivals and organizations around the U.S.

Josephine Decker, director of feature films Butter on the Latch and Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, playing at various festivals this year.

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.


 The Festivals

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.


  • Camden International Film Festival // Camden, ME // September 2015 //

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.


  • Camerimage // Bydgoszcz, Poland // November 15-22, 2014 //

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!”


  • Cucalorus Film Festival // Wilmington, NC // November 12-16, 2014 //

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.”

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  2. Michael

    November 22, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    This is pretty lame list MovieMaker Mag! Last year you had it right when you had your READERS vote for the top 25 coolest festivals…. this year you have a small panel of judges… none of which have been to Dances With Films in Los Angeles (which, btw, was the ONLY film festival that was in the top 25 last year remotely close to Los Angeles)…. be that as it may…. having a tiny group of judges is completely stupid because: 1] They have not been to all the festivals in the world (duh)… and 2] They undoubtedly have bias. A list is a list is a list… and they are all subjective… but seriously?… no, really… seriously?

  3. Kate McClintic

    November 22, 2014 at 11:10 am

    Maybe not the “coolest” this year though it has been previously, certainly one of the loveliest, most gracious, most convenient, and most enjoyable film fests in the world is the Beaufort, SC, International Film Fest in Beaufort, SC (between Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC). Beside great films, there are wonderful restaurants, a variety of places to stay, shops, and historic sites–all within walking distance. Also great hiking, biking, kayaking (on three of the cleanest rivers in the US) and a golf course within spitting distance in all directions to suit all budgets. If you haven’t seen the South, this is the way to see it!

  4. James

    November 18, 2014 at 11:15 pm

    I have been going to the Hong Kong International Film Festival for the past 13 years. It is many things, but cooler than festivals absent from your list like Sitges, PiFan, Yubari and FrightFest? I think not.

  5. Eric Freeman

    November 18, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Great list, however, filmmakers don’t care if a film festival is “cool”. They want to sell their movie so they can make another movie. How about making a list of festivals where a filmmaker can actually have a chance at selling their film? You know, a truly independent festival that isn’t just a joke like Sundance.

  6. Robert Cano

    November 18, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Filmmakers and guests consistently tell us year after year that The Long Beach Q Film Festival is the most intimate and enjoyable film fest that they have attended.

  7. Hilary McCarthy

    November 18, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    not forgetting the weird and wonderful Corona Fastnet Film Fest in Schull, West Cork in May!

  8. Maggie jury

    November 18, 2014 at 3:23 am

    Great piece to see and if anyone would like to come over to the Galway Film fleadh, it’s usually on in July along with a few other festivals we have here.

    We’d love to have you for the month 🙂

  9. son

    November 18, 2014 at 2:58 am

    Coolest Film Festivals in the World? and the reason is thet there were the only festivals were Judging Panel were probable.

  10. Szymon

    November 18, 2014 at 2:05 am

    Nowe Horyzonty in Wrocław (Poland) is a really great festival.

  11. Gerhardus

    November 17, 2014 at 4:04 pm


  12. Kristian Berg

    November 17, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Yeah, well, um – Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival – Taos Shortz Film Fest – Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival – Woodstock Film Festival. My two cents.