Festivals: Top 50 Festivals Worth the Entry Fee

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Update, April 8, 2014: We will be announcing the results of the 2014 “50 Festivals Worth the Entry Fee” list on moviemaker.com over the next few weeks, starting tomorrow, April 9. Please check back then for the festivals that made the cut this year!

Everyone knows about Sundance, Cannes, Toronto, SXSW, Rotterdam, Venice and Berlin. But depending on what source you reference, the tally of film festivals worldwide numbers between 4,000 and 6,000. To put those figures in financial terms, if you submitted to all of them you’d be shelling out in excess of $300,000—considerably more than the total production budget of most truly independent films. That’s why, for the better part of the last decade, MovieMaker has been combing through festival data to bring our readers a slate of film festivals “worth the entry fee.” The following, in alphabetical order, is our 2013 list:

1-25

American Documentary Film Festival
Palm Springs, CA; www.americandocumentaryfilmfestival.com
Located in luxurious Palm Springs, ADFF aims to be the largest documentary festival on the West Coast. The fest has become renowned for its film fund competition, including a top prize of up to $50,000. Moviemakers can pitch their complete or in-progress work to an industry panel and vie for financing. ADFF also has a documentary alliance with several festivals (notably in Europe and Latin America), thus facilitating a global “theatrical release” experience for select films.

American Film Festival—US in Progress
Wroclaw, Poland;www.americanfilmfestival.pl
Seeking overseas distribution for your latest indie? AFF offers the unique U.S. in Progress program, which facilitates European distribution (and post-production services) for American indie features. The event brings together many European buyers and producers (as well as distributors, sales agents, and festival programmers) interested in U.S. indies at the post-production stage, and offers in-kind post-production awards worth $40,000. Last year, three of the six films selected for work-in-progress screenings premiered  at Sundance. Submission is free.

BendFilm Festival
Bend, OR; www.bendfilm.org
Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Bend has stayed committed to the ideal that, at a film fest, the moviemaker is king—and should be treated as such. The fest offers a range of generous cash awards, including a $5,000 grand prize for Best in Show, as well as $500 cash prizes in six other categories. One of the most coveted awards is Best Narrative Feature, the winner of which receives a Panavision camera package worth $60,000.

Brooklyn Film Festival
Brooklyn, NY; www.brooklynfilmfestival.org
BFF is an international fest devoted to discovering, exposing, and promoting burgeoning independent moviemakers, while also drawing worldwide attention to Brooklyn as a diverse, multicultural epicenter of cinema. From last year’s slate, five of the productions already have theatrical releases scheduled, including Gut Renovation and My Brooklyn. There are 22 awards presented at the fest—including the Grand Chameleon for best film. Prizes total between $50,000-$70,000 in goods and services.

Brooklyn Short Film Festival
Brooklyn, NY; www.brooklynshorts.com
Brooklyn also serves as home to this international showcase, which brings together the world’s best short films. The fest’s engaging, congenial atmosphere is perfect for developing connections and building new relationships in the industry. BSFF also offers assistance to help cover costs for all out-of-town movie-makers, including supplying lodging for those commuting from elsewhere in the U.S. and Europe. On top of that, they offer a cash prize of $1,000 to the winner of the Audience Choice Award.

Cinequest Film Festival
San Jose, CA; www.cinequest.org
If you’re looking to submit to a dynamic fest—one that’s always on the cutting-edge of the latest technological advancements—then look no further than Cinequest. Now in its 23rd year, the festival offers both World Premieres and special events featuring state-of-the-art technology. Additionally, the fest boasts the coveted Knight Foundation Audience Award, which gives away $25,000 each to the best dramatic and documentary features of the year.

deadCenter Film Festival
Oklahoma City, OK; www.deadcenterfilm.org
deadCenter is so named because it’s located in the exact center of the United States. Since its humble beginnings in 2001, deadCenter has become Oklahoma’s largest film festival—presenting over 1,300 diverse movies since its inception. The fest also offers some amazing distribution opportunities in conjunction with its Distribution Forum, which started last year. As part of the Forum, each accepted moviemaker is guaranteed one-on-one meetings with sales agents and distributors.

Denver Starz Film Festival
Denver, CO; www.denverfilm.org/festival
Managed by the Denver Film Society, this renowned fest has been going strong for 35 years. And since it’s sponsored by premium movie channel Starz Entertainment, there’s a chance that promising moviemakers can discuss possible distribution opportunities with the network. For short films, the fest just announced they have entered into an agreement with Shorts TV for distribution. The fest also offers generous $2,500 prizes for Best Documentary, Best International Narrative Feature, and Best New Director.

Fantastic Fest
Austin, TX; www.fantasticfest.com
Located in the film capitol of Texas, Fantastic Fest is renowned as the largest genre film festival in the U.S., specializing in horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action and anything else remotely fantastic. Films as diverse as There Will Be Blood and Zombieland have had their world premieres at the fest, and the legendary Alamo Drafthouse serves as the event’s main venue. Representatives from Magnolia, Paramount, Sony, DHF, IFC Films and Magnet (among others) have recently attended. As far as prizes go, the winner of the Next Wave award not only nabs an exclusive FF beer mug, but also $1,000 cash.

Female Eye Film Festival
Toronto, Ontario, Canada; www.femaleeyefilmfestival.com
This international Canadian fest boasts a line-up of compelling, thought-provoking films made exclusively by female directors. While the fest celebrates women moviemakers, the two-tiered script development program is open to men as well. This program (which selects between 25-35 annually) hosts a pitch session where writers get to discuss their scripts with producers, investors, and distributors.

FilmFestival Kitzbuhel
Kitzbuhel, Tyrol, Austria; www.ffkb.at
Best known for its internationally renowned ski resort, this picturesque town is now preparing for its first-ever film festival. Kitzbuhel offers aspiring moviemakers an opportunity to have their work shown, discussed, and promoted. The fest offers free lodging, transportation and meals, and there will be a large media presence—including from sponsor Kurier, Austria’s largest newspaper.

Gasparilla International Film Festival
Tampa, FL; www.gasparillafilmfestival.com
Tampa Bay’s largest independent film festival offers assistance in airfare, lodging and transportation. Such distributors as HBO, Oscilloscope Laboratories, and Commodity Films have been in attendance— but most important is IndiePix. The com-pany sponsors GIFF’s Independent Visions competition, where the winner of the Narrative Feature award has the chance to meet with IndiePix representatives to discuss distribution. Winners of other awards—including Best Documentary, International Film, and Focus on Florida—receive travel reimbursement, and the Young Filmmakers prize comes with a cash scholarship.

Hawaii International Film Festival
Honolulu, HI; www.hiff.org
For more than 30 years, HIFF has been the premier international film event in the Pacific. The festival is also the only event to offer screenings across the entire state of Hawaii; stunning locations include Honolulu, Waikiki, and Kaneohe, as well as encore screenings on the islands of Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island. For local and visiting moviemakers, the fest offers Creative Lab workshops, where innovators from around the world have the opportunity to learn and collaborate on new, exciting creative content. There’s also a $1,000 prize for both Best Narrative Feature and Best Documentary.

Hollyshorts Film Festival
Hollywood, CA; www.hollyshorts.com
HFF takes place at the historic TCL Chinese Theater (formally known as Grauman’s), and is preparing for what’s sure to be its biggest year, yet—with over $100,000 in prizes. To sweeten that already sweet deal, Hollyshorts is offering two, all-expenses paid international trips to this year’s winning moviemakers. The top prize-winner for Best Short Film will get two complimentary tickets to visit Wellington, New Zealand—plus $1,000 NZD in spending cash. Other top prizes include $10,000 in post-production and finishing services presented to both the Best Overall Short Film and Best Director award winners.

Little Rock Film Festival
Little Rock, AR; www.littlerockfilmfestival.org
Held on the banks of the Arkansas River, this international fest highlights the American South and its rich history. The founders of the festival, Brent and Craig Renaud, are award-winning documentarians, and have helped attract many distributors to LRFF—including Discovery Channel, Current TV, and PBS—as well as helping facilitate meetings between moviemakers and potential buyers. LRFF pays for travel and accommodations for all accepted moviemakers, and offers $10,000 cash prizes for both Best Southern Film and Best Socially Conscious Film.

Lone Star Film Festival
Fort Worth, TX; www.lonestarfilmsociety.com/about/lone-star-film-festival
The signature event of the Lone Star Film Society, LSFF seeks to champion and discover emerging moviemakers. The B1ST FilmForward program, open to all films and filmmakers selected for the Feature Film Competition, offers one-on-one mentorship by pairing moviemakers with industry leaders to discuss new methods of distribution and marketing. The fest also provides rich and varied opportunities for moviemakers to interact with the press, as well as a number of impressive cash prizes—including $2,500 apiece for Best Narrative and Documentary Feature. Selected filmmakers also receive free airfare, lodging, and transportation.

Nashville Film Festival
Nashville, TN; www.nashvillefilmfestival.org
Collaboration is key at NaFF, one of the country’s longest-running film festivals (it was founded in 1969). The fest features a multitude of networking opportunities—including a VIP Tent where moviemakers can connect with one another and meet industry decision-makers—as well as special receptions where city managers offer incentives to moviemakers and access to the Tennessee Film Commission. NaFF also offers a total of $45,000 in cash prizes, including $3,000-$5,000 for the Bridgestone Narrative Feature Competition (Craig Brewer’s Hustle & Flow was a past winner).

NewFilmmakers Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA; www.newfilmmakersla.com
Held at the illustrious Sunset Gower Studios, NewFilmmakers showcases innovative works by emerging moviemakers who may have been overlooked at other festivals. Unlike most fests, NewFilmmakers features 6-12 films per month, so each film screened gets exclusive attention. Such high-profile distributors as The Weinstein Company, Disney, Paramount, and Cohen Media Group have attended. The fest aims to help moviemakers by reaching out to a mailing list of over 1,500 national and international distribution representatives, sales agents, and managers—which is why 80 percent for features screened at NFMLA get picked up for distribution.

New Orleans Film Festival
New Orleans, LA; www.neworleansfilmsociety.org
Founded by the non-profit New Orleans Film Society, NOFF has been going strong for over 20 years. A large number of New Orleans-based production houses and stages participate, sponsoring special receptions and taking part in panels and networking events. Last year, Michelle Satter, director of the Sundance Feature Film Program, held a Q&A session with moviemakers interested in submitting to the Sundance lab. NOFF also incentivizes moviemakers to submit by providing two complimentary nights of lodging to every attendee. The total value of last year’s prizes totaled over $70,000 in cash, camera packages, film stock, and software.

Newport Beach Film Festival
Newport Beach, CA; www.newportbeachfilmfest.com
Screening over 300 films in eight days, this multicultural fest prides itself on bringing the best in independent and international cinema to beautiful Newport Beach. With its close proximity to Los Angeles, a large contingent of film buyers, sales agents, and both international and domestic distributors attend the fest—actively participating in events and meeting with moviemakers. The fest also offers discounts on airfare and lodging, and appoints a programmer to assist each moviemaker from acceptance to premiere.

Oak Cliff Film Festival
Oak Cliff, TX; www.oakclifffilmfestival.com
Located in the burgeoning Bishop Arts District of Dallas, OCFF showcases innovative and independent moviemaking of all stripes—from locally-made films to international works. The fest is held at Oak Cliff’s top-shelf theater venues, including the historic Texas Theatre, the Kessler Theater, and the Belmont Hotel. The fest offers free airfare, lodging and transportation for out-of-town moviemakers, as well as a wealth of networking opportunities with industry professionals. Last year the fest gave away a bicycle, two custom-made wooden belt buckles, and “as much film-related gear/swag as we could find.”

Oaxaca FilmFest
Oaxaca, Mexico; www.oaxacafilmfest.com
OFF is a truly international event. In the past three years, the fest has represented over 80 countries, and with the area’s rich heritage and beautiful surroundings, it offers a one-of-a-kind film fest atmosphere. OFF’s budget-friendly rates also make it one of the most affordable events around. The fest provides discounts on airfare, lodging (free for filmmakers in need), a per diem for those who require assistance, as well as free transportation. Such distributors as Paramount and Sony Pictures Classics have been in attendance. In the past three years, 19 films have been picked up at the festival.

Rincon International Film Festival
Rincon, Puerto Rico; www.rinconfilm.com
Puerto Rico’s largest film festival, RIFF provides moviemakers not only with a great fest experience, but a dream vacation. Every night films are screened at outdoor beachfront venues, while moviemakers get to have dinner prepared by some of the best chefs in the area—free of charge. RIFF is connected to high profile distributors like Gravitas (which distributes to cable, VOD, Netflix and iTunes) and HBO Latino. The fest also holds a free distribution workshop where filmmakers collaborate and share information. In the past five years, at least 17 films have been picked up for distribution.

Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Santa Barbara, CA; www.sbiff.org
This 11-day fest, in one of California’s most beautiful seaside communities, included 20 World and 11 U.S. premieres in 2013. SBIFF has a growing acquisitions program that gives buyers direct and priority access to films pre-selected for the program. Some of the industry’s top distributors attend, including Paramount, Samuel Goldwyn Films, Freestyle Releasing, Lionsgate, and many others. Last year, five features secured distribution through their Acquisitions program. The fest also boasts a number of handsome prizes, including a camera package worth $60,000, and $2,500 cash to a documentary feature that addresses social justice issues.

Victoria TX Independent Film Festival
Victoria, TX; www.vtxiff.com
Located in downtown Victoria, this four-day event presents documentaries, dramas, and animated films (both shorts and features) from around the world. The fest also offers free airfare, lodging, transportation, and meals to participating moviemakers. As for awards, VTXIFF offers a $5,000 prize to split between the winner and two runners-up of the Crossroads Award. There’s also an exclusive chance to travel with Film ExChange, the international film fest network that organizes VTXIFF.

25-48

Atlanta Film Festival
Atlanta, GA / Mid to Late March
www.atlantafilmfestival.com
One of only two-dozen Academy Award-qualifying festivals in the U.S.

Big Bear Lake International Film Festival
Big Bear Lake, CA / September 20-22, 2013
www.bigbearlakefilmfestival.com
Every script entered in the screenplay competition receives written feedback from at least three readers.

Chagrin Documentary Film Festival
Chagrin Falls, OH / October 2-6, 2013
www.chagrinfilmfest.org
In just three years the festival has captured a viewership of 5,000.

Chicago Comedy Film Festival
Chicago, IL / November 2013
www.chicagocomedyfilmfestival.com
CCFF, their online festival channel, allows for digital distribution of comedies looking to avoid getting lost in the Amazon web chasm.

Crossroads Film Festival
Jackson, MS/ / Mid April
www.crossroadsfilmfestival.com
Come receive cash prizes with Southern hospitality, sweet tea, and fried catfish.

Edinburgh International Film Festival
Edinburgh, Scotland / June 19-30, 2013
www.edfilmfest.org.uk
Established in 1947, EIFF is the longest continually-running film festival on earth.

Indie Memphis Film Festival
Memphis, TN / October 31-November 3, 2013
www.indiememphis.com
IMFF covered all the travel and lodging expenses for narrative feature filmmakers last year; also, who could pass up the possibility of a free field trip to Graceland?

Myrtle Beach International Film Festival
Myrtle Beach, SC / Late April
www.myrtlebeachfilmfestival.com
Dalton Pictures, MBIFF’s parent company, is currently working on a new release platform that will give indie films a more traditional opening in South Carolina.

Napa Valley Film Festival
Napa Valley, CA / November 6-10, 2013
www.napavalleyfilmfest.org
Possibly winning $10,000 while sipping on world-class wine? Yes, please!

New Hampshire Film Festival
Portsmouth, NH / October 17-20, 2013
www.nhfilmfestival.com
Come win a ten-pound, hand-carved granite Granny Award for your mantle.

Provincetown International Film Festival
Provincetown, MA / June 19-23, 2013
www.ptownfilmfest.org
PIFF offers a relaxed setting where you can watch a film and then bicycle to the beach.

One Cloud Fest
The Worldwide Web / September 1-November 10, 2013
www.onecloudfest.com
Harnessing the power of social media, OCF takes place entirely online, providing instant access to films for both filmmakers and viewers.

Philadelphia Independent Film Festival
Philadelphia, PA / June 26-30, 2013
www.philadelphiaindependentfilmfestival.com
Win an Adobe Master Suite Package in a world-class venue like the National Constitution Center.

Raindance Film Festival
London, England / September 25-October 6, 2013
www.raindance.org
A “bellwether” festival that boasts the opportunity for getting your film picked up for distribution—or another festival—without you having to do any work (except sumbit your film).

Red Rock Film Festival
Zion Canyon, UT / November 7-9, 2013
www.ophilia.com
Comments are offered to every film submitted during the entry process.

Rhode Island International Film Festival
Providence, RI / August 6-11, 2013
www.film-festival.org
RIFF is also the umbrella for the RI International Horror, Roving Eye, and Providence GLBTQ Film Festivals.

Savannah Film Festival
Savannah, GA / October 26-November 2, 2013
www.filmfest.scad.edu
Presented by the Savannah College of Art and Design, the festival offers more than $100,000 in cash and prizes, as well as a viewership of 40,000.

Soho International Film Festival
New York, NY / Early to Mid April
www.sohofilmfest.com
Between 10 and 20 percent of films shown at SIFF get picked up for distribution.

Sunscreen Film Festival
St. Petersburg, FL / Mid to Late April
www.sunscreenfilmfestival.com
SFF encompasses everything sun-related: the Sunshine State, the beach, sunscreen, and the prospect of winning the Sun Spot Award.

Tiburon International Film Festival
Tiburon, CA / Mid April
www.tiburonfilmfestival.com
“Tiburon” means shark in the Carib Indian dialect. You learn new things every day.

Vegas Indie Film Festival!
Las Vegas, NV / May 1-8, 2013
www.viff.net
Do you actually need a reason to go to Vegas? Just in case, though, VIFF! awards winners with their “Golden Bulb” trophy from the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign.

Woods Hole Film Festival
Woods Hole, MA / July 27-August 3, 2013
www.woodsholefilmfestival.org
WHFF films are given a second life with their year-round programming (perks include sometimes getting paid!).

World Fest Houston
Houston, TX / Mid April
www.worldfest.org
Founded in 1968, the oldest film and video festival in the US lives on to sift through and award the best of the more than 4,500 annual entries. MM


Photo by Blessing Yen

4 Comments

  1. John Self

    April 23, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    Don’t entirely understand how your list can include a festival that hasn’t even started yet… makes it a bit hard to judge its quality, doesn’t it?

    • Rory-Owen Delaney

      April 24, 2013 at 8:37 pm

      A great point, John. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. elise

    April 11, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    My fave film fest is the Turner Classic Movie film fest in Hollywood. It’s all classic films, interviews, and other classic film related activities.