At a whopping 22 days (just shy of Seattle’s 25) Fantasia is one of the bigger fests on this list, regularly attracting more than 100,000 attendees. The North American ground zero of the Asian genre film scene, the fest launched director Takashi Miike to the world stage back in 1997, and he’s been a godfather-like presence ever since. Also, genre fans are nice: As one panelist tells it, “the programmers are lovely and passionate and slather you with hospitality, and the audiences are insane. They are huge and inquisitive and super-interactive.”
You could build a checklist of cool out of one panelist’s enthusiasm for Fantastic Fest. “More awesome movies than you can handle?” Check. “Highly anticipated premieres?” Check. “A crazy amount of talent in person?” Check. “A party around every corner?” Check. “Celebrity boxing?” Uh… check. In summary: “Holy wow. If a full-blown interactive festival experience is what you’re looking for, look no further. This is the genre-lovers’ dream.”
With a board that includes Martin Scorsese, Ken Burns, and Barbara Kopple, Full Frame is an Academy-qualifying four-day affair with round-the-clock panels, discussions, and screenings of over 100 films. “Nicely complemented by refreshing spring weather and the area’s boom in great restaurants,” one panelist puts it, the festival’s “superbly curated line-up” is “matched to smart and appreciative audiences.” Off-season, Full Frame runs an educational doc-making summer camp and a doc-screening road show—both entirely free!
Coolness is more about personality than size, which is why Flyway represents the best of small-town American fest-ing. After citing the “exceptional” programming, a panelist paints the experience in a truly idyllic light: “They have a potluck on opening night and it seems everyone in town is an exceptional home chef. Most of the festival centers around Pepin’s beautiful winery, and the screening venue is above the Stockholm Pie Company, which has been called the best pie in America. It feels like a long weekend away in the woods.”
“A great market to meet industry execs by day, and drink whisky with them overlooking the river by night,” says a panelist of this “hilariously fun,” smartly-curated Irish festival. “Be careful—the sun comes up early and can catch you with a drink in hand.” We doubt that guests, like local folk Brendan Gleeson and Saoirse Ronan, will mind. (Just ask them how to pronounce “fleadh.”)
With one of the world’s most prodigious film industries as a backdrop, it’s no wonder this 38-year-old festival presents such a wide-ranging, cosmopolitan spread of programming. Speaking of spreads, “just the breakfast included in the hotel room is enough reason to show up at this festival… a full-on magical dim sum experience,” says a panelist, whose priorities are clearly in the right place.
“In 2011, I was stuffed in a van with a cooler of beer and a bucket of fried chicken and driven over an hour to a private residence called ‘Graceland Too.’ This fire-hazard of a home was filled to the brim with Elvis memorabilia and owned by a gun-toting crazy person.” The opening of a horror movie? No—one panelist’s fondest memory of Indie Memphis. The regional festival is a four-day carnival of film and music both homegrown and world-class. When a festival spans Halloween, you know you’re in for a good time.
An MM staff member, speaking of Küstendorf, once said, “Definitely the coolest fest I’ve ever been too, because I like absurdity and accordions, strong drink, strange food and I can tolerate cigarettes. Oh, and there are wonderful films by young filmmakers and great access to celebrity guests. It’s a beautifully bizarre event.” Which pretty much nails it. The Eastern European fairytale fortress of auteur Emir Kusturica, Drvengrad is a veritable artistic enclave every January, with prestigious international screening selections and a student shorts competition in a gorgeous, but relaxed, environment.
This fall festival, named after the two cinematically pioneering brothers, is “a thrilling collection of cineastes, townsfolk, and a lovingly assembled selection of restored films from every genre,” a panelist enthuses. “Major filmmakers attend to be feted and to select movies that have had an impact on their lives and bodies of work.” Besides their cinephile-satisfying screenings, the festival hosts a nightly club (on a modified oil barge moored on the Rhône riverbanks!) with concerts, DJs, and free entry to everyone.