The chance to meet John Waters. Not enough? OK, listen to this panelist: “Everybody shows up because everybody else is showing up because Maryland is paying for the train and airfare! More and more, we will find this fest world-premiering the best of indie cinema, because they are regularly drawing filmmakers in for a one-of-a-kind weekend of parties and delicious food. Plus, filmmakers can attend their Filmmaker Conference and get confidential inside information on the industry, directly from other filmmakers. A priceless resource.”
Having just celebrated its 32nd birthday (making it six years younger than its San Francisco counterpart, Frameline), this 11-day festival has venues all over Los Angeles, colonizing the city’s array of gay bars for its extensive reception-and-party schedule. (Free-flowing alcohol, singing and dancing traditionally abound.) Attendees get to see practically every notable queer film on the circuit. Outfest, the festival’s parent nonprofit, also partners with the UCLA Film & Television Archive to preserve LGBT moving image media.
This week-long fest, like its home city, has a low-key, idiosyncratic charm—hipster, but not as much as, say, SXSW (one party invite tells guests to “dress up—whatever that means to you! This is Portland, after all.”) The region’s notorious dampness sometimes competes with some of the more inventive outdoor events. When Mother Nature smiles, however, guests enjoy screenings and concerts in parks, and a walking tour of Portland’s film landmarks (and when she doesn’t, they can attend a DSLR panel with the team from Road to Paloma).
Sidewalk wows with its sheer comprehensiveness—to Birmingham, it’s more than just a festival. Beyond their top indie fare and educational panels, the soirees are legendary: This year saw a funky street party with a seafood boil and bluegrass, a Sixteen Candles-themed party at the top of Red Mountain, and “parties at [lead programmer] Rachel Morgan’s house. That is all” (says a panelist). Outside of August, the festival holds regular networking events, a screenplay competition, quarterly practical workshops (zombie make-up, anyone?) and the “Sidewalk Scramble,” a 48-hour filmmaking contest.
Let’s face it: At three times the length of most other festivals, SIFF gives itself three times the chance to be cool (Nope, it’s not fair). “Who doesn’t love nearly a month of movie-binging?” asks one panelist. “What’s so great about this is that attendees get the chance to watch nearly every film they’d like to with its versatile, long schedule.” Another panelist raves about the extracurriculars: “They have a filmmaker education program called Catalyst that had some of the coolest panels I saw all year.”
SXSW is a standout among festivals with pretty much the coolest offerings in new film, music, interactive media—and parties. It’s where young talent shines brightest: The 27-year-old event “leads the way in bringing up-and-coming filmmakers to the masses.” “If you’re looking to quit your day job, this heavy networking and exposure festival is a must-stop for you,” declares one panelist (Another confirms this: “I basically owe my entire career to South by Southwest.”)
“Location, location, location” perfectly sums up the allure of the Stanley Film Festival. Named for its setting in the hotel where Stephen King found inspiration for and wrote The Shining, this three-year-old horror film fest nails atmospheric charm on the head, showcasing both classic and contemporary indie cinema. As one panelist says, “There’s nothing like taking in some of the most stellar horror film programming while breathing in fresh (and maybe haunted) mountain air. Just watch out for those twin girls that hang out in the hallways. They’re a little unnerving.”
Want to “watch five groundbreaking films with filmmakers in attendance, catch a secret trip out to [famed Mexican restaurant] Casa Bonita, and end your night with some karaoke?” That’s all in a day’s work at the Starz Denver Film Festival. Screening over 200 films in 12 days, this fest boasts quite the reputation “for its filmmaker and guest relations,” with over 150 industry guests attending this year.