20 Best Festival “Investments”

The Phoenix Film Festival’s “Camerahead” mascot
gives audiences a pretty good idea of what matters most to this
film festival.

When it comes to film festivals,
moviemakers often have a very narrow view. Too often they believe
that only the sure-bet film festivals (read: Sundance, Toronto,
Cannes, etc.) are worth getting excited about. But the good news is that these
days, with hundreds of fests to choose from, a growing number of events do deliver
quite a return on your entry fee investment. And if you’ve ever taken a
rollercoaster ride on the festival circuit, you know that means something. Entry
fees alone can total in the hundreds of dollars—which can take quite abite out of the beer budget. Here are just a few fests we believe give
moviemakers their money’s worth.

Angelus Awards Hollywood
Entry Fee: $25 / www.angelusawards.com
This student-only festival seeks to honor those young moviemakers who “explore
the complexity of the human condition with creativity.” The festival offers
a unique opportunity for young moviemakers to hobnob with experienced professionals.
They’ve celebrated such talents as Patricia Cardoso (Real Women Have Curves)
and Tony Bui (Three Seasons) very early on in their careers. Oh, and
did we mention they offer a $10,000 grand prize, too?

Ann Arbor Film Festival
Entry Fee: $30 – $40 / www.aafilmfest.org
Founded in 1963, AAFF is the oldest alternative and experimental festival in
North America. It is also a pioneer of the “traveling” festival, offering selected
moviemakers even further nationwide exposure for their work. While the festival
focuses more on project quality than name recognition, it shouldn’t go without
noting that Brian DePalma, George Lucas, Gus Van Sant and Andy Warhol are just
a handful of the fest’s alumni.

Austin Film Festival
Entry Fee: $40 – $50 / www.austinfilmfestival.com
If your goal is to find work as a writer in this industry, there is perhaps
no better festival—or networking opportunity—than AFF. As evidenced by our “10
Best Cities to be a Moviemaker,” the city itself is hard to beat when it comes
to having a passionate film community. And for one week each fall, the tight-knit
group offers screenwriters and film lovers from around the world into the fold.
In 2003 alone, their all-star panelist line-up included writers Shane Black
(Lethal Weapon), Bill Broyles (Castaway), David Benioff (The
25th Hour
) and Chris and Paul Weitz (About a Boy). Try getting a
meeting with any of these guys in LA!

New York/Avignon Film Festival
Entry Fee: $25 / www.avignonfilmfest.com
Now in its tenth year in New York and twentieth year in Avignon, France, the
Avignon Film Festival offers moviemakers—and festival attendees—a completely
intimate moviegoing experience. Few other festivals offer such access to such
a large group of talented moviemakers, and on two continents. While some festivals
plan according to two agendas—the filmmakers and the festivalgoers—Avignon
sees these groups as one in the same, making every aspect a true learning experience
for moviemakers and movie lovers alike. Where else would you find such panel
discussions as “Make Your Own Damn Movie” with Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman and “International
Co-Production and Co-Financing” with Jason Kliot and Mark Urman.

Bermuda International Film Festival
Entry Fee: $25 / www.bermudafilmfest.com
While some festivals use their desirable location just to entice people to
come to their event (then usher them into a theater where they keep them all
week), the Bermuda International Film Festival makes the most of paradise—with
seaside parties and events all week long. It also doesn’t hurt that, at only
six years old, the festival is gaining international steam, screening numerous
films that had taken home top prizes at Cannes and Locarno before BIFF, and
turning a number of film magazine editors into converts.

CinemaReno Reno, NV
Entry Fee: $20 / www.cinemareno.org
More than just a film festival, CinemaReno bills itself as a “year-round
festival of films,” and delivers on that promise. In addition to sponsoring
the Reno Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, the not-for-profit film society also
hosts a number of screenings throughout the year (featuring new independents
as well as rare and classic work), and provides info on other local film programs,
including the Reno Film Festival (www.renofilmfestival.com) and the Great Basin
Fim Society (www.gbfs.org).

Directors Joan Biren (No Secret Anymore) and Laura Nix (The
Politics of Fur
) catch their breath at the Nashville Film Festival.

Cinequest San Jose, CA
Entry Fee: $35 / www.cinequest.org
Christened one of the top 10 film festivals in the world by the Ultimate
Film Festival Survival Guide
, it’s not surprising that Cinequest is on
our list as one of your best bets. If there’s one word to describe this event,
it’s “maverick”—both as a noun and an adjective. The festival appreciates and
celebrates true artistry and innovation in cinema, and attracts more than 50,000
like-minded festival attendees each year (many of whom are industry professionals
looking to discover the “Next Big Thing.”)

Cucalorus Film Festival Wilmington, NC
Entry Fee: $20 / www.cucalorus.org
You won’t find any tempting cash prizes at this decade-old film festival event,
but will you find an unparalleled atmosphere in which to view the work of some
of the world’s most innovative (and possibly underrated) indie auteurs. True
to its North Carolina location, the festival prides itself on serving “a healthy
dose of southern hospiality, and a few films to write home about” to its attendees.
Two years after calling the event “the best kept secret on the indie fest circuit,” we
stand by our claim.

DC Independent Film Festival Washington, DC
Entry Fee: $15 – $25 / www.dciff.org
Believe it or not, our nation’s capital is one amazing place to find indie
moviemakers. And in just four short years, the D.C. Independent Film Festival
has been the place to find some of the most provocative independent
features, shorts, documentaries and animations. But it’s not just about entertaining
the public here. The festival is broken up into two different screening types:
Film Sessions, which are open to the public, and Market Screenings, where a
moviemaker can show an excerpt of his or her work to industry professionals
(including producers and distributors).

Denver International Film Festival Denver, CO
Entry Fee: $25 / www.denverfilm.org 
Independent film and big corporate backing may not seem to go hand-in-hand.
But when the business standing behind you is Starz Encore, one of today’s most
indie-minded cable programming stations (who have premiered the feature work
of Paul Schrader and Spike Lee), it all starts to make sense. It also doesn’t
hurt the guest list to have big-name entertainment hosting the event; even
first-time indies have the chance to mingle with a legion of A-list moviemakers.
The fest shows its spirit by naming its top awards after some true indie icons:
the John Cassavetes Award is presented to an American director or actor for
outstanding achievement in indie moviemaking (William H. Macy is their latest
recipient); the Stan Brakhage Vision Award is given for best short or documentary
film; and the Krzystof Kieslowski Award is presented for the best European
film.

FirstGlance Film Festival L.A., CA; Philadelphia, PA
Entry Fee: contact: withoutabox.com  / www.firstglancefilms.com/philadelphia
Just what is it about the FirstGlance Film Festival that makes it so special?
Take a look at its location and you may find a hint. As one of the first and
only bi-coastal film festivals, the FirstGlance name is really branding itself.
And as franchising opportunities become available, there just may be a FirstGlance
event in your city sometime very soon. But perhaps FirstGlance’s most innovative
location is on the Web, where they’ve recently developed a weekly online screening
series that’s judged by the Website’s registered membership. It includes professional
moviemakers and videographers, students, film distributor, agents, fans and
more.

Florida Film Festival Maitland, FL
Entry Fee: $35.00 / www.floridafilmfestival.com
In addition to location, timing is an important part of any festival. After
all, what would Sundance be without the omnipresent threat of a snowstorm?
Similarly, things in Orlando just wouldn’t be the same in March if it weren’t
for the Florida Film Festival—now in its lucky 13th year. While top-name stars
attend and sing the festival’s praises each year, what’s even more important
to indie moviemakers is the fact that the festival is now an Oscar-qualifying
event in the category of Live Action Short Film. Win the Grand Jury Prize here,
and you’re automatically eligible to send your baby onto the Academy Awards.

Ft. Lauderdale Film Festival Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Entry Fee: $25-$40 ($5 off through withoutabox.com)  www.fliff.com
It’s not every day that a film festival makes it into the Guinness Book of
World Records, but take a peek inside and sure enough you’ll find that the
FLIFF holds the record for the world’s longest film festival. At nearly a month
in duration, it’s a record that will likely be held for a while. But what does
this mean to you? It means that with nearly 30 days of screenings to schedule,
there are more open spots for films that you’d find at that week-long event
you were thinking of submitting to. In 2003, the festival showed more than
130 features from 25 countries. Who knows what 2004 will bring!

Marco Island Film Festival Marco Island, FL
Entry Fee: $15 – $40 / www.marcoislandfilmfestival.com
There must be something in the Florida air that makes it such a haven for true
independent cinema. The Marco Island Film Festival is yet another Sunshine
State event that makes the most of its location, going so far as to set up
chairs and a screen on the beach! But this year, the festival is building upon
its already well-respected history by introducing World Cinema Naples, its
sister event taking place in April, and bringing the Marco Island group one
step closer to its goal of educating and entertaining all of Southwestern Florida.

Screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie and
David Benioff share their views on adapting work for the screen
at the Austin Film Festival’s “Adapt This!” panel.

Moondance Film Festival Boulder, CO
Entry Fee: $25 – $75 / www.moondancefilmfestival.com
It goes without saying that one of the biggest indicators of a festival’s worth
is the feedback you hear from past moviemakers and attendees. When it comes
to Moondance, there’s perhaps no more outspoken group. With entry fees edging
into the $75 range, it may be one of the more expensive festivals on the circuit—but
Moondance is a results-driven event. In a recent film industry poll of more
than 150,000 professionals, Moondance was ranked as the third most important
film festival event in the world, trailing only Cannes and Sundance! Three
of their winners have been nominated for Academy Awards following the event,
while several others have found agent representation—and script optioning opportunities
through the event’s exposure. (And it doesn’t hurt their reputation that Jodie
Foster and Francis Ford Coppola are just two of the names who have requested
Moondance winners’ work.)

Nashville Film Festival
Entry Fee: $15 – $60 / www.nashvillefilmfestival.org
There’s something nice about a festival with a long history—and few other festivals
in the country can beat the Nashville Film Festival’s. Started in 1969, the
event is one of the longest running in the U.S.—and one of the most heavily
attended. With an average of 200 projects selected from submissions of more
than 1,000, there’s certainly a little bit of something for each one of the
festival’s 15,000 attendees.

“It doesn’t hurt that Jodie Foster and Francis
Coppola are two of the names who have requested the work of Moondance
winners…”

Phoenix Film Festival
Entry Fee: $15 – $60 / www.phoenixfilmfestival.com
Even when you’re talking about the Academy Awards, com
paring one movie
to another can often be an apples-to-oranges situation. On the film festival
circuit in particular, where studio-produced indies often compete head-to-head
with a local indie’s $5,000 production, it can be difficult to get your film
noticed. The Phoenix Film Festival’s method of categorizing films by their
budget is a truly revolutionary—and egalitarian—way to level the playing field.
For example, all short films must have a budget of less than $50,000 while
medium-length productions cannot have been shot for more than $75,000. While
they accept features of any budget, those made for over $1 million show as
part of the Festival Showcase, while those produced for under a million go
into the Festival Competition.

Rhode Island International Film Festival Providence,
RI 

Entry Fee: contact: withoutabox.com / www.film-festival.org
Like the Florida Film Festival, one of the big draws of the Rhode Island International
Film Festival is for short moviemakers in particular: the event is one of only
a few festivals where short film award winners qualify for Academy Award consideration.
But the event’s got a lot more going for it than that. In particular, its dedication
to motion picture artists of all types and genres, and its unrivaled support
of visiting moviemakers and alumni. The festival receives a ton of submissions
each year—and tries to accommodate as many pictures as they possibly can. In
its six-day run in 2003, the RIIFF packed a whopping 185 projects into its
lineup.

Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival Birmingham, AL
Entry Fee: $25 / www.sidewalkfest.com
The festival’s name indicates a sort of homegrown feel, and that’s exactly
what sets this festival apart. Created in 1999, the Sidewalk Moving Picture
Festival was founded to give local motion picture artists a place to show their
work to hometown audiences, and local projects are still a big part of what
they do. But as word has spread about this event (which encourages its attendees
to really take part, opting to sell ‘weekend passes’ in lieu of individual
tickets to screenings), moviemakers from around the globe have clamored for
their spot on the lineup. In 2003, Sidewalk screened such festival favorites
as Bob Odenkirk’s Melvin Goes to Dinner and Ben Coccio’s Zero Day. While
attendance has been increasing each year, the festival has maintained its downhome
attitude, which is perhaps the event’s biggest attraction.

Woodstock Film Festival Woodstock, NY
Entry Fee: $25 / www.woodstockfilmfestival.com
One might think that New York City was where all the film action was happening
in this state, but since its introduction only four years ago, the Woodstock
Film Festival is proving that isn’t true. Since its founding, the event has
made fast friends in members of the press and the film industry. It has also
built a reputation as a festival with impeccable taste. With such advisory
board members as Magnolia Pictures’ Eammon Bowles, casting director Ellen Chenoweth,
director-actor-producer Griffin Dunne, actor Ethan Hawke and United Artists’
Bingham Ray supporting the cause, a trip to Woodstock certainly can’t hurt
your chances of making a few worthwhile industry connections. MM

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