50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee

Before we get to our list of the 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2024, can we share some quick thoughts on film festival strategy?

A lot of filmmakers have the exact same strategy: Submit to Sundance, SXSW, Cannes, Berlinale, Venice and the Toronto International Film Festival, and prepare for fame and fortune. Unfortunately, this strategy doesn’t work out for many of these filmmakers, because — that’s right — so many have the same strategy, and programmers can only pick so many films.

To be sure, the festivals above can be a springboard to success and acclaim. But they aren’t the only options.

Each year, we prepare our list of 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in hopes of introducing you to festivals you may not have realized are great matches for you — or re-introducing you to festivals that you might have thought were out of reach, but perhaps aren’t. 

We look at factors like location, cost, how many films are submitted vs. how many films are chosen, whether a festival can qualify a film for Oscar consideration, and whether it has a screenwriting competition. We also look at how festivals make life easier for filmmakers, by helping with travel costs, offering stipends or screening fees, or simply free meals and drinks. We also highlight large prize packages. And we consider your chances of meeting distributors who can get your film in front of a mass audience. 

We don’t include Sundance, SXSW, Cannes, Berlinale, Venice and TIFF on this list because if you’re reading this, you probably already know they could be your breakthrough. But so can some of the festivals below. 

As usual, our list came in at a little over 50, because of ties. Festivals that are Academy Award-qualifying have an “A” next to their name, and those with screenwriting competitions have an “S.” And like we always say, not every festival on this list will be perfect for everyone, but we’re sure at least one will be perfect for you. Also please note that our presenting sponsor had no editorial input on this list.

And now, here’s our 2024 list of 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee.


Los Angeles, California / October 23-27 / fest.afi.com

Who wouldn’t want to attend a festival based at Hollywood’s iconic TCL Chinese Theatre? The features lineup of this very highly regarded festival is curated, not submissions-based, and you don’t have the greatest odds of getting in with a short, either. But if you do get in, you’ll be in the presence of some of the most accomplished people in the industry, and a barrage of A-listers: The latest edition opened with Sam Esmail’s Leave the World Behind and closed with Bradley Cooper’s Maestro, while other films included recent Oscar winner Cord Jefferson’s American Fiction and Jeff Nichols’ The Bikeriders, both of which were making their Los Angeles premieres. Distributors in attendance have included Netflix, Amazon MGM Studios, Disney, Searchlight, HBO, MGM, Republic Pictures, Apple, Sony Pictures Classics and A24. It’s a frequent stop for Oscar voters, especially given the many AFI alums in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The festival is also known for incisive Q&As with a strong focus on the process of filmmaking, as you’d expect from AFI. Its many accolades include being on MovieMaker’s list of the 25 Best Film Schools in the U.S. and Canada. 

Gabriel Union and Keith Powers on the Red Carpet at the American Black Film Festival. Photo by Kelvin Bulluck, courtesy of American Black Film Festival.


Miami Beach, Florida / June 12-16 / abff.com

One of the oldest and most prestigious festivals focused on Black artists, ABFF is known for A-list guests, discovering new talents, and a strong industry presence: This year’s sponsors include Warner Bros. Discovery/HBO, Cadillac, Comcast NBCUniversal, Ally Financial, and Walmart. Discovery, Amazon MGM Studios, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, Lionsgate and Netflix. Founded in 1997, it draws more than 5,000 people to its screenings and events in Miami Beach, as well as another 35,000 visitors to the ABFF PLAY platform. Additional exposure comes via the festival’s inflight channel on American Airlines flights. Attendees turn up hoping to catch both stars and rising stars, and ABFF delivers: alums include Issa Rae, who is the 2024 festival’s creative director, as well as Halle Berry, Ryan Coogler, Kevin Hart, Will Packer, Anthony Anderson, and more. The festival also hosts the ABFF Honors, which held a ceremony in Beverly Hills in March honoring Taraji P. Henson, Jeffrey Wright, Garrett Morris, Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Mara Brock Akil, creator of Girlfriends, The Game and Being Mary Jane.


Wroclaw, Poland / November 5-11 / americanfilmfestival.pl

Sometimes you have to leave America to appreciate how good we have it, film-wise: From its vantage point in Central Europe, the American Film Festival heralds the best of U.S. cinema, and charges no entry fee. That doesn’t mean getting in is easy: It is mostly curated. But if you get in, except to enjoy generous help with travel and accommodations, the presence of major distributors known to include Universal, Sony, Paramount, Warner Bros. Discovery and Disney, and tens of thousands of dollars in prize packages. Films that played the latest edition include Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers, Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla, and Kristoffer Borgli’s Dream Scenario. Other draws include the U.S. in Progress program, which promotes partnerships between U.S. filmmakers and Polish post-production facilities, buyers and producers, among others. Last year’s festival also included insights from Adele Romanski and Alex Ross Perry, as well as a silent disco party.


Atlanta, Georgia / April 25-May 5 / atlantafilmfestival.com

One of America’s longest-running film festivals — celebrating its 48th annual edition this year — provides top-notch hospitality to fans and filmmakers alike. Besides providing a generous travel package to invited moviemakers, it also welcomes top distributors like Amazon MGM Studios and A24, and a massive prize package totaling more than $100,000. (Most is from a best cinematography prize that is accompanied by roughly $90,000 in camera and post/equipment rental services.) It offers spirited programs that celebrate DIY audacity: One of its Southeast premieres last year was Hundreds of Beavers, director Mike Cheslik’s cartoonish, black-and-white fever dream about an applejack salesman and aspiring fur trapper who must do battle with… the things in the title. There’s also a strong emphasis on helping filmmakers advance their careers, not only with the respected screenwriting contest, but also through the festival’s Creative Conference, which sets out to add transparency to every part of the creative process. Recent guests have included  writer-director-producer Craig Zobel (Mare of Easttown) and his The Hunt director of photography Darran Tiernan, who talked about the working dynamic between directors and DPs. Speakers have also included veterans from Atlanta, The Underground Railroad, The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, and countless other productions with strong Atlanta ties — as well as projects from all over the world. Atlanta is one of several festivals on this list that was also on last year’s list of the 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World, chosen by filmmakers based on their love of the overall festival experience.

Austin Film Festival executive director Barbara Morgan and Emerald Fennell. Photo by Jack Plunkett, courtesy of Austin FIlm Festival.


Austin, Texas / October 24-31 / austinfilmfestival.com

Another entry on our latest list of the 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World, AFF is one of the best festivals for networking, especially for screenwriters. The festival, which just celebrated its 30th year, is packed with events and well-attended by creators who fare well in its very popular and competitive screenwriting competition. You can barely turn around without finding a potential collaborator. The festival also draws top films, like the aforementioned The Bikeriders, whose director, Jeff Nichols, attended last year and noted that he screened his first feature at AFF in 2007. American Fiction writer-director Cord Jefferson received last year’s inaugural Writer’s Writer Award, and writer-director Emerald Fennell attended an opening-night screening of her delicious latest, Saltburn. The long list of distributors who attended the latest edition included Amazon MGM Studios, Gravitas Ventures, Paramount+, Disney, and Magnolia Pictures. Juries also frequently include distributors and studio reps, and the festival notes that it has repeatedly seen jurors be so impressed with filmmakers that they start professional relationships. And it’s not all about industry hobnobbing: AFF stays true to the spirit of keeping Austin weird by seeking out and selecting fun, boundary-pushing projects. We don’t have to tell you that Austin is one of America’s film capitals, and most fun places to go out. 

Courtesy of Big Sky


Missoula, Montana /  February 2025 / bigskyfilmfest.org

Big Sky is worth attending for the gorgeous location alone, and the very walkable festival makes the trip easier by assisting with lodging and local transport. But it’s also one of the best places on earth for documentarians to find collaborators, backers and companies to release their films — representatives for ABC News Studios, POV, Participant, The New Yorker, Disney Original Documentaries and Catapult Film Fund have all attended. One of the biggest draws is the accessible DocShop filmmaker’s forum, which includes panels, workshops, one-on-one meetings and many opportunities for informal talks. In great and bad times for documentaries — and in its 21 years, Big Sky has seen both — it has kept the focus on its core mission of putting great films in front of appreciative audiences. 

Adura Onashile, whose film Girl won Best Feature Narrative at the BlackStar Film Festival. Photo by Daniel Jackson, courtesy of BlackStar.


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania / August 1-4 / blackstarfest.org

A self-described “gathering for Black, Brown, and Indigenous filmmakers worldwide interested in transforming the film industry and changing the narrative,” BlackStar does things right — from bold programming to stipends for invitees to hosting top distributors like Netflix, Hulu, and Starz/Lionsgate. BlackStar also offers more than $100,000 in prizes. The festival also offers an inviting ratio of submitted-to-accepted films, as well as a communal atmosphere that includes regular panels and conversations from the Daily Jawn Stage, plus the BlackStar Bazaar of shops and vendors. The latest edition included the Philly premieres of Adura Onashile’s Girl, Bethann Hardison and Frédéric Tcheng’s Invisible Beauty and Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson’s Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project. 


Calgary, Alberta, Canada / September 19-September 29 / ciffcalgary.ca

If you’ve admired the Alberta landscapes of Fargo and The Last of Us, CIFF is your chance to see them in person — and also to admire the professionalism and artistry of one of North America’s fastest-rising film hubs. While the location is a major draw, so is the festival itself, which draws praise from attendees, helps with travel costs for select filmmakers, and has been attended by distributors including the National Film Board of Canada and Elevation Pictures. It is also celebrated for Industry Week programming that offers panels on subjects like adapting shorts to features, improving representation, and navigating the expansion of artificial intelligence. And it offers a prize package totalling more than $30,000 — including a scholarship to Vancouver Film School, one of our 25 Best Film Schools in the U.S. and Canada. Films that screened at the latest CIFF included recent Oscar winner Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall and Ariane Louis-Seize’s exquisitely titled French-Canadian production Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person. 

Check-in at the Catalina Film Festival. Courtesy of the Catalina Film Festival.


Avalon, California / September 25-29 / catalinafilm.org

An hour from Los Angeles by ferry, or 15 minutes by helicopter, the Catalina Film Festival is based on storied, picturesque Catalina Island, a playground to the stars of Hollywood’s golden age. The festival sets out to make history as well as celebrating it, with an emphasis on discovering new talent and an encouraging submission-to-acceptance ratio. The festival is generous with travel and accommodations, and who doesn’t want to tool around Avalon (the only incorporated city on the island) en route to yacht parties or screenings at the Art Deco, 1,200-seat Avalon Theatre? The festival takes over the island, so you’re likely to see fellow attendees wherever you go, whether eating out or walking the beaches or snorkeling. The laid-back networking opportunities abound, and industry attendees have included representatives of Annapurna Pictures and Saban Films. Prizes include editing packages, camera rentals, and industry mentorships, and one claim to fame is the Wes Craven Award, backed by the family of the late master of horror. And if fun scares are your thing, be sure to book a ghost tour, which will keep you informed of Catalina’s legendary hauntings.


San Jose and Mountain View, California / 2025 / cinequest.org

The latest edition of Cinequest has just passed by the time you read this, so you have plenty of time to plan your submission for next year — and you should. Bringing Hollywood and Silicon Valley together, Cinequest is always looking for the next big thing, and so are the many distributors known to attend, including IFC, Gravitas, HBO, A24, Roadside Attractions, Magnolia, Netflix, Oscilloscope and FilmRise. With over 200 new films shown across 10 days, the event combines discovery with networking, with an eye toward provocative productions, and it offers more than 20 awards that range from genre to family films, as well as recognition for virtual and augmented reality projects. The festival’s latest Maverick Spirit Award honoree is Matthew Modine, star of Cinequest’s closing-night film Hard Miles, a story of a social worker who takes a team of teenage convicts on a life-changing cycling trip. Past winners have included J.J. Abrams, Tatiana Maslany, Nicolas Cage, Rosario Dawson, Spike Lee, Harrison Ford and Michael Keaton. And it’s one of our 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World.


Cleveland, Ohio / April 3-13, 2024 / clevelandfilm.org

Enjoying its 48th year with the edition that just wrapped, this festival is known for programming films that both challenge and delight audiences, who pack the glittering, historic Playhouse Square, the city’s must-see performing arts center near the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the shores of Lake Erie. The organizers are known for professionalism and generous hospitality, offering airfare and lodging to guest feature filmmakers, as well as the opportunity to share in one of the largest festival prize packages — it totals more than $130,000, across 34 awards. Those that carry $10,000 prizes include the coveted RTM Audience Choice Award for Best Film, Reel Women Direct Award, George Gund III Memorial Central and Eastern European Competition, and the Nesnadny + Schwartz Portrait Documentary Competition. The films are top-tier, and distributors known to attend include The Film Collaborative and Cleveland’s own Gravitas Ventures. This year’s edition celebrated the theme “In the Glow,” recognizing the “the energy and excitement that radiates throughout the arts and film-going community” while subtly nodding to the solar eclipse. CIFF is also one of our 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World.

Just another evening at Cucalorus. Courtesy of Cucalorus


Wilmington, North Carolina / November 15-19 / cucalorus.org

Ask what the festival does best, and the festival’s chief instigating officer (yep, that’s his title) Dan Brawley will mention its recipe for cheese grits, or tastie-fried cornbread. That tells you all you need to know about how little this anti-competitive festival cares about concepts like “best,” — and how much it cares about making sure everyone gets to enjoy its local flavor, comforts, and total lack of pretension. Brawley and his team are all about instigating experiences, memories, and friendships — not handing out prizes, finding a distributor, or making deals. Cucalorus is about getting together to share a love of films, especially fun, daring, and sometimes esoteric films. Screenings at the cheery community theater Jengo’s Playhouse are likely to begin with a musical number, spoken-word piece, or comedy routine. Brawley heralded last year’s showing of Mary Dauterman’s horror-comedy Booger, about grief and a stray cat, by crawling the stage in a leopard-print onesie, sipping milk and purring. If that’s not enough for you, Wilmington is filled with film history, given that it hosted productions from The Black Phone to Blue Velvet. And it’s one of our 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World.


New York City, New York / November 13-December 1 / docnyc.net

If it seems sometimes like the hardest part of making a documentary is getting it released in front of the audience it deserves, DOC NYC can help. It draws a wealth of distributors, including Amazon, A&E, ABC News Studios, The New Yorker, Disney+, Disney’s Onyx Collective, ESPN Films, HBO, Hulu, IFC Films, Max, MTV Documentary Films, National Geographic, Netflix, NBC News Studios, NEON, Paramount+, Participant, POV, The New York Times, WNET and more. And its eight-day DOC NYC PRO conference helps filmmakers navigate both the art and business of storytelling. World premieres at the latest edition included Llewellyn M. Smith and Sam Pollard’s South to Black Power and Hasan Oswald’s Mediha. 2023’s prizes included one from Subject Matter, which provides resources to docs highlighting social issues. It awarded a $20,000 grant to 36 Seconds: Portrait of  Hate Crime, directed by Tarek Albaba, to support the film’s outreach and impact campaigns, and a corresponding $20,000 grant to Our Three Winners, a nonprofit dealing with the topics addressed in the film. 

The Blood, Sweat and Beers Q&A in El Paso. Courtesy of El Paso Film Festival


El Paso, Texas / September 26-28 / elpasofilmfestival.org

You still have time to make friends early with one of the fastest-rising and friendliest film festivals in the country, which boasts a fascinating location near the U.S.-Mexican border, fun and adventurous programming, and great parties. Founded in 2018 by filmmaker and artistic director Carlos F. Corral, it still retains a very welcoming submission-to-acceptance ratio, especially for shorts. The programmers love projects about life in Texas and along both sides of the border, as well as give-it-to-you-straight panels on subjects like finding a good distributor — and how to recognize a dicey one. (Many of the panels are organized by the El Paso Film & Creative Industries Commission at Visit El Paso.) Corral and executive director Andrea Calleros do an excellent job of making everyone feel welcome and recognized, frequently handing out surprise awards to filmmakers at the end of their screenings. At the latest edition we were awed by films including Lance Larson’s Deadland — a haunting spin on border narratives — as well as El Paso news anchor Robert Holguin’s very funny Blood, Sweat and Beers: The Making of a Comedy Rock Classic, about a collaboration between revered producer Money Mark Nishita and comedy music trio The Sloppy Boys at the Sonic Ranch, a unique residential recording studio close to El Paso.


Torun, Poland / November 16-23 / camerimage.pl

If you’ve made a beautifully shot, generally excellent film, you have at least a chance of getting into EnergaCamerimage, the world’s most essential festival highlighting cinematography. Its incredible guest lists over the years have included directors of photography from Roger Deakins to John Toll, as well as directors like Denis Villeneuve, David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino, who welcome the chance to let their trusted DPs shine. It draws a healthy media contingent and sharp-eyed distributors including Netflix, Ger Bros. Discovery, Disney, Sony Pictures Classics, HBO, and Amazon. The festival welcomes guests not only with the sweet smell of gingerbread in the air — some of its key ingredients are found nearby, along the Vistula river — but also by assisting special guests with travel costs, as much as possible. The excellent lineup of the latest edition included the Polish premiere of Jonathan Glazer’s Oscar-winning The Zone of Interest

(L-R) Fantasia programmer Carolyn Mauricette with The Sacrifice Game director Jenn Wexler and co-producer Heather Buckley. Photo by Julie Delisle, courtesy of Fantasia


Montreal, Quebec, Canada /
July 18–August 4, 2024 / fantasiafestival.com

Set in one of our favorite places on Earth during its warmest months, Fantasia has evolved in its nearly three decades from a festival that mostly celebrates Asian cinema to one that embraces genre films from around the world — especially if they combine artistic daring with verve, humor, and panache. The audience, known to meow when the lights go down, is one of the most passionate and informed in the world, sometimes rewarding films with applause breaks when they wittily subvert a genre trope — or just kill off a character in an especially audacious way. One of our favorite film experiences of 2023 was venturing into a Fantasia screening of the South Korean spy thriller Phantom solely because the crowd lined up outside to see it was so big and enthusiastic. You know what they say about the wisdom of crowds: Phantom turned out to be a total joy. Besides the fun, Fantasia offers crucial business opportunities: The international co-production market Frontières is accessible to all filmmakers and encourages big, inventive pitches. The festival is generous with travel costs for invitees, and has drawn a long list of distributors and sales agents, including Drafthouse, Neon, Universal Pictures, AMC Networks, Shudder, WellGo, Pony Canyon, XYZ Films, and more. 


Porto Alegre, Brazil / April 11-28 / fantaspoa.com

It’s very likely that at the moment you’re reading this, Fantaspoa attendees are enjoying the festival’s open bar, pizza, sweets, boat parties, and, of course, movies — Fantaspoa is known for adventurous genre-focused programming, raucous screenings, and an all-around good time. Distributors are rare, so you can focus more on fun, films and friendship than business. It also provides travel assistance when possible to Porto Alegre, which means “joyful harbor.” The latest edition’s films include the international premieres of Michael Lukk Litwak’s sci-fi romance Molly and Max in the Future and Caye Casas’ Spanish black comedy The Coffee Table. It also has a very reasonable submission-to-acceptance rate, so if you’ve made a great film and love a great party, this is perfect for you. 


Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada / July 24-29 / thefemaleeyefilmfestival.com

This is another festival that isn’t easy to get into, but is well-worth attending if you can. It provides an excellent balance of films and events about the business of moviemaking, including panel discussions such as “Meet the Funders,” “Meet the Distributors,” and “Meet the Guilds, Agencies and Organizations.” Other events include its popular script development program and a live-pitch competition with a $2,500 prize. It’s also known for generous assistance with travel costs. Buyers known to attend have included EOne, Paramount Canada, CTV, Crave and Hollywood Suites. Distributors have included KINO Smith, A1, Mongrel Media and IndieCAN. The latest edition of FeFF featured the world premieres of Arabella Burfitt-Dons’ Grey Matter and Faith Howe’s documentary The Nature of Healing


Montreal, Quebec, Canada / October 4-15 / nouveaucinema.ca

The second Montreal festival on our list, Festival du Nouveau Cinema is highly selective and prestigious: More than half a century old, it draws distributors including Netflix Canada, Warner Bros. Discovery, Access Canada, Québecor, Arte France, Wild Bunch, Elevation, and Sphère films. Recent screenings included the North American premieres of Tran Anh Hung’s The Taste of Things and Quentin Dupieux’s Yannick, as well as Oscar winners Anatomy of a Fall and The Zone of Interest. Montreal is one of our Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker, and the chance to visit the city and attend one of the world’s great film festivals simultaneously should be irresistible to cineastes. The prize package totals over $75,000, and the festival also prides itself on discovering brilliant new filmmakers. Additionally, it highlights the best of Montreal music — free of charge. 

Doug Jones, the man of a thousand faces, at Filmquest. Photo by Jonathan Martin, courtesy of FilmQuest


Provo, Utah / October 24-November 2 / filmquestfest.com

Did you ever attend a sleepover in the ‘80s where you stayed up watching incredibly fun, weird, audacious movies you thought about for the rest of your life? FilmQuest is the closest you can come to that experience, and best of all, many of the other guests will be fellow filmmakers with deliciously wild tastes. The final mind-blower is that it all takes place a few miles from Brigham Young University in the supremely wholesome and friendly town of Provo, where the mountain air helps cleanse your brain of all the gloriously insane things you’ll see inside the festival’s sole screening venue, Velour. FilmQuest founder Jonathan Martin is the charismatic leader at the center of it all, and he and his sweet, thoughtful and hardworking collaborators cheer on screenings that sometimes stretch into the early mornings and leave you inspired and determined to go out and make great, no-limits genre films. Last year’s edition included cool extras like L.A.’s Death Dealer Prop’s giving away ghastly mannequins and body parts, as well as a portrait studio just off the red carpet. The fact that it all takes place around Halloween adds to the feel of recapturing the most fun nights of your childhood. Of course it’s also one of our 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World.


San Francisco, California / June 19-29 / frameline.org

Established nearly half a century ago, this is a top-notch festival in every regard: fun and adventurous programming, a reasonable submission-to-acceptance ratio, and more than $100,000 in prizes. Distributors including Hulu and Focus Features attended the latest edition, and you can also expect plenty of press to turn out. Bold, smart films that have recently played Frameline include Emma Seligman’s Bottoms, Sebastián Silva’s Rotting in the Sun, and Taylor Mac’s A 24 Decade History of Popular Music by Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein. You’re also in one of the most cinematically sweeping cities in the world, so you can enjoy stunning visuals even when you aren’t at screenings. 


Durham, North Carolina / April 4-7, 2024 / fullframefest.org

With an emphasis on immersion and making connections, Full Frame is known as a gateway to awards and other festivals — as well as distributors. It has longstanding relationships with major players like Showtime, ESPN, National Geographic, Netflix, and A&E. Generous with both travel assistance and prizes — including $10,000 for the Grand Jury Award winner — it’s also known for promoting the work of its filmmakers long after the festival ends. Recent Full Frame films have included the world premiere of the Oscar-nominated “Three Songs for Benazir,” by directors Gulistan and Elizabeth Mirzaei, which received its Oscar qualification at Full Frame. This year’s edition just ended, so consider this a head start on planning for next year.


Galway, Ireland / July 9-14 / galwayfilmfleadh.com

When we attended a recent gathering of Irish filmmakers and supporters in California, all had the same question: “Have you been to the fleadh?” Pronounced “flah,” which is Irish for “festival,” is also one of our 20 Essential International Film Festivals, and draws smart audiences from all over the world’s to Ireland’s enchanted West Coast for a celebration of art, as well as a great chance to network over tea or pints in cozy, storybook environs. The fleadh’s programmers landed award magnets like Celine Song’s Past Lives, as well as hosting a slew of European or world premieres. It is generous with travel costs, and runs parallel to the Galway Film Fair, which features a marketplace that coordinates about 700 pre-scheduled meetings each year between filmmakers and industry representatives (including buyers, financers, sales agents and distributors) from more than 30 countries. Recent attendees included XYZ Films, Neon, StudioCanal, Eurimages, Film 4, Kinology, Picture Tree International, Visit Films, Epic Pictures and more. 


Guadalajara, Mexico / June 7-15 / ficg.mx

Built around the idea of helping people build connections, this major Latin American festival combines high-quality programming with bountiful career opportunities — especially Talents Guadalajara, a 15-year-old gathering designed to spark creative exchanges between and among actors, directors, cinematographers, sound designers, editors, writers, producers and film critics from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. (It is held in collaboration with the Berlin International Film Festival.) The festival is very generous with both travel costs and prizes, which total more than $120,000 and are divided across nine competitions. The large press team helps filmmakers get optimal exposure. Recent screenings have included Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City and Everardo González’s Una Jauría Llamada Ernesto. 


East Hampton, Southampton and Sag Harbor, New York / October 4-14 / hamptonsfilmfest.org

This industry-packed festival is one of your best chances to chat up people who can back you and your films: Distributors in attendance have included representatives for A24, Apple, Cinetic, Dark Star, Film Movement, Focus Features, Greenwich Entertainment, HBO, Hulu, IFC Films, Kino Lorber, Magnolia Pictures International, Max, MSNBC Films, MTV Documentary Films, MUBI, National Geographic Documentary Films, Neon, Netflix, Oscilloscope, Searchlight Pictures, Sony Pictures Classics, and more. Given that it’s scheduled at the start of awards season, in a place where many Oscar voters have second or third homes, you can also expect to see a wide selection of prestige films — last year’s included the East Coast premiere of American Fiction, as well as the North American premiere of Society of Snow. HIFF is also fairly generous with travel costs, and hands out cash prizes totalling $41,000 and in-kind goods and services totalling nearly $100,000. It also ensures a tremendous turnout not only with its films, but boldfaced names: The “In Conversation With…” series has included Paul Simon, Todd Haynes, Julie Andrews, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Alfre Woodard, and recent panel experts have included Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Oscar winners for Everything Everywhere All at Once

Directors Milana Vayntrub (L) and Natalie Metzger, whose films were part of the Vanishing Angle block at Indy Shorts in 2023. Photo by Jessica Chapman, courtesy of Heartland


Indianapolis / October 10-20 / heartlandfilm.org


Indianapolis / July 23-28 / heartlandfilm.org/indyshorts 

The nonprofit arts organization Heartland Film puts on two festivals, both of which are among the highlights of the year. Heartland is one of our absolute favorite festivals for features, and Indy Shorts is one of our absolute favorite festivals for shorts. Both offer intense devotion to impeccable hospitality and meticulous, thoughtful programming — every detail is taken care of, beautifully. Both also do an admirable job of drawing big names, then leveraging their popularity to also shine a light on new discoveries. Highlights of the latest Heartland included the Midwest premieres of Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers and George C. Wolfe’s Rustin, and Indy Shorts highlights included a stellar block of shorts from Vanishing Angle, including the directorial debut of Alden Ehrenreich, “Shadow Brother Sunday.” You’ll quickly fall in love with sumptuous venues like the Living Room Theaters, a restaurant/bar/movie theater/cultural center located in the city’s popping Bottleworks District, and a walk around town will leave you in awe of the city’s canals — and wondering why they don’t turn up on screen more often. Heartland and Indy Shorts are generous with travel costs, you’ll eat well, and you can count on some delightful surprises: A theme party at last year’s Indy Shorts included photo ops with cute animals. Perhaps the best part of Heartland, if you’re a filmmaker, is its fairly accessible submission-to-acceptance ratio, assuming you’ve made a great film. (Indy Shorts is a little tougher, but not impossible, to get into.) The festivals also offer exceptional prize packages, including $20,000 each for Heartland’s Narrative Feature Grand Prize and Documentary Feature Grand Prize. And Heartland and Indy Shorts are also both on our list of the 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World. Wows all around.


Hollywood, California / August 8-17 / hollyshorts.com 

Another of the premier short film festivals, Hollyshorts celebrates its 20th edition this year. With screenings at the TCL Chinese 6 Theatres in Hollywood, it offers a tough-but-not–impossible submission-to-acceptance ratio, more than $100,000 in in-kind prizes (including the $60,000 Panavision Camera Package prize for the Grand Prix Best of Fest winner) and exposure to a wide array of distributors: Recent attendees have included Netflix, Disney+, Lionsgate, Hulu, Neon, Omeleto, Dust, Alter, Short of the Week, Vimeo, Dread Central, Epic Pictures Group, Amazon, Paramount, and more. Juries are also packed with industry executives. You’ll have ample opportunity to get your work in front of the press, and the festival even helps with press release templates and writeups on the Bitpix blog. (Bitpix also streams the festival’s panels, in case you miss one.) Last year’s highlights also included a Q&A with Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, and in addition to the usual parties and chats, the festival offers a hike, since not everyone likes to socialize indoors.


Hot Springs, Arkansas / October 18-26 / hsdfi.org

One of the top documentary festivals in the South is a real filmmaker’s festival, offering intimate networking and, you guessed it, hot springs. (It is close to Hot Springs National Park, which pumps thermal water to nearby bathhouses.) Distributors known to attend include National Geographic Films, MSNBC Films, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Firelight Media, CAA Media, Kartemquin, and CNN, and world premieres at its latest edition included Li Lu’s A Town Called Victoria, Jack Lofton and Jeff Dailey’s The People v. Profits, and Yuriko Gamo Romer’s Baseball Behind Barbed Wire. Juries include filmmakers, critics and journalists and industry leaders, and the awards include PBS’s Reel South Award, given to a short film. 

A Julien Dubuque screening. Photo by Amanda Munger, courtesy of JDIFF


Dubuque, Iowa / April 24 – 28th / julienfilmfest.com

The focus is on community at JDIFF, where filmmakers can truly get to know the town by staying in the homes of residents who open their homes to them during the festival. The festival also offers shuttles to screenings and sightseeing around the community, and filmmakers are invited to gather together for free breakfast, lunch and dinner in the filmmaker lounge. Also, most venues are within walking distance, so you’re likely to see a lot of familiar faces and make new friends. Representatives from EST Studios, LeoMark Distribution and Circus Road are among the industry professionals who have attended. The festival also hands out more than $25,000 in prize money, and hosts panels on such practical subjects as distribution and how to create a pitch deck. It also has a fairly inviting submission-to-acceptance ratio. Recent screenings included Nardeep Khurmi’s cross-cultural road trip drama Land of Gold and Meredith and Austin Bragg’s charming Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game


Locarno, Switzerland / August 7-17 / locarnofestival.ch

Lake Maggiore and the Alps make Locarno one of Switzerland’s most popular tourist destinations, and exceptional programming and organization make it one of the world’s most respected film festivals: Up to 8,000 people gather each night to watch films on one of Europe’s largest screens on the Piazza Grande. Founded in 1946, Locarno emphasizes experimentation, discovery and auteur cinema, and richly rewards those who take big artistic risks — the prizes total well over $400,000, and distributors known to attend include ARTE, Bac Films, Film Movement, FilmNation, HBO, Kino Lorber, Les Films du Losange, MK2, MUBI, Netflix, NEON, Orange, Paramount, Pyramide Films, Rai, Searchlight Pictures, TF1 and ZDF. Locarno has one of the most impressive press arsenals in the festival world, with five press agents (for France, both Germany and Austria, Italy, Switzerland and International) helping films that don’t have their own press agent. Last year it welcomed more than 1,500 industry guests and nearly 800 journalists, as well as more than 100,000 attendees. It isn’t by any means easy to get a film accepted by Locarno, but if you can manage it, you’re certain to have an unforgettable experience. 

Louisiana Film Prize founder Gregory Kallenberg leads a toast. Photo by Chris Lyon, courtesy of the Prize


Shreveport, Louisiana / October 17-20 /prizefest.com

Founded by documentarian Gregory Kallenberg, this is one of the most unique festivals on this list, or anywhere in the world. Entries must be shot in Louisiana, and are whittled down to 20 finalists that are shown repeatedly in two separate blocks during the festival. They transcend genre, atmosphere, and filmmaker experience level, swerving from funny to sweet to scary, sometimes in a single short. The winner, as determined by both judges and the audience, receives at least $25,000 — or $50,000 if it was shot in Caddo Parish, home of Shreveport. (The festival also hands out additional prizes for the top five films, as well as Founder’s Circle Grants to be used toward making future entries.) You often see the same names repeating in the credits, because local filmmakers pitch in to help one another. But you don’t have to be from Louisiana — you just have to make your movie there. Because everyone watches the films together — and eats, parties and laughs together, a lot  — you’re bound to find new friends, collaborators and accomplices. The festival extends the local flavor by partnering with Shorts International, which distributes Oscar-nominated shorts, and stocking its judging panel with festival programmers, distributors, journalists and others who can spread the word about great films.


Palma de Mallorca, Spain / October 30-November 5 / evolutionfilmfestival.com

Evolution Mallorca brings some of the world’s greatest filmmakers, and rising cinematic stars, to the sun-kissed Balearic islands capital of Palma. German-born founder, director, filmmaker and festival strategist Sandra Lipski embodies its theme of “bridging cultures — bridging people” by combining the best of Hollywood, Spain and Germany while welcoming filmmakers from all over the globe. (You should read her detailed perspective on developing a festival strategy here.) Evolution Mallorca has welcomed distributors including Magnolia Pictures, IFC Films, Roadside Attractions, A24, Avalon and more, and the latest edition included the Spanish premieres of Nikolaj Arcel’s The Promised Land and David Fincher’s Netflix thriller The Killer, while a class featured the film’s cinematographer, Erik Messerschmidt. Other highlights include Film Talks, which last year featured Oscar winner Susanne Bier and Goya winner Isabel Coixet. And honorees have included Mads Mikkelsen, Danny DeVito and Ana de Armas. One hotly anticipated extracurricular event is the Mallorca Go! excursion tour, co-produced with Fundacion Mallorca Turisme, which takes filmmakers on a day trip across the entire island of Mallorca. It includes a visit to Mallorca’s largest sound stages at Palma Pictures Studios, a traditional lunch by the sea, a sunset drink at the official festival hotel, Portixol, and a visit to local ice cream company Fet a Soller. The festival also offers generous assistance with travel expenses, and its submission-to-admission ratio is quite reasonable, considering you’re applying for admission to an island paradise.


Mammoth Lakes, California / May 22-26 / mammothlakesfilmfestival.com

With an emphasis on risky, thrilling, personal filmmaking, MLFF seeks out a diversity of filmmakers, styles, and thought. Festival director Shira Dubrovner and her colleagues pride themselves on a personal touch, even coordinating carpools for filmmakers traveling from Los Angeles. The sense of community doesn’t stop there — it extends to state-of-the-art screenings, close attention to hidden gems and new talents, and even late-night trips to the local hot springs. Prizes include a $10,000 Panavision camera package and $13,000 post–production grant from Light Iron for the winner of the Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature. Screenings at the latest edition included the world premiere of William Forbes and Douglas Skinner’s Name of the Game, which the festival unforgettably billed as “the untold story of Black male exotic dancing in South Los Angeles and how it intersects with the origins of hip hop, gang culture, and kung fu assassins.” The documentary found representation at the festival. 

Stephen Colbert and Martin Scorsese at the Montclair Film Festival. Photo by Neil Grabowsky, courtesy of Montclair


Montclair, New Jersey / October 18 – 27, 2024 / montclairfilm.org/festivals

Set in an affluent bedroom community on the edge of the Watchung Mountains, where some residents have views of Manhattan from their backyards, Montclair is known for well-connected, discerning audiences and very involved supporters. Among those supporters is Stephen Colbert, whose wife, Evelyn McGee-Colbert, is the president of the festival. A highlight of the latest edition was Mr. Colbert sitting down with Martin Scorsese for a wide-ranging, intense conversation that included their shared Catholic faith, the nature of sin, and of course Killers of the Flower Moon. (Scorsese also shared that he shot Raging Bull in black and white partly because he didn’t like how all the fake blood looked in color.) Other Q&As included May December director Todd Haynes and Dream Scenario director Kristoffer Borgli. The adventurous programming also included Kaouther Ben Hania’s Tunisian documentary Four Daughters, which won the festival’s documentary prize and went on to an Oscar nomination, and Joanna Arnow’s very dark and daring comedy The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed, which won Montclair’s $5,000 Mark Urman Award For Fiction Filmmaking, honoring early career filmmakers. The festival generously assists filmmakers with work in competition, and distributors known to attend include A24, Netflix, Kino Lorber and Magnolia. It also has a fairly welcoming submission-to-acceptance ratio. 

Naples award winners. Photo courtesy of Artis—Naples.


Naples, Florida / October 24-27 / artisnaples.org/NIFF

Known for white sand, calm waters and dolphin spotting, Naples is a glorious setting for a festival, and NIFF makes guests feel very welcome by specializing in red-carpet treatment, including a generous hospitality package and interviews with local press. It assists with travel costs, hands out more than $10,000 in prizes, and hosts fabulous events, from the opening night party to cocktail receptions to trips out for post-screening dinners and drinks. It isn’t easy to get into, but expect to be treated very well if you do. As part of the multidisciplinary arts organization Artis-Naples, which focuses equally on visual and performing arts, it provides beautiful surroundings in which filmmakers will feel appreciated. Recent screenings included the East Coast premiere of Hard Miles

A screening in Nashville. Photo courtesy of NashFilm


Nashville, Tennessee / September 19 – 25 / nashvillefilmfestival.org

Nashville is one of the most artistic cities in the world: Walk into pretty much any restaurant or bar and you’ll hear great music played with exquisite skill. But listen past the guitar licks and you’ll also hear stories, another Nashville specialty. NashFilm loves a good tale, tightly told, and combines its appreciation of good storytelling and music into a big-tent celebration of storytellers of all kinds. Nashville is also a business hub, especially given the number of industry players who departed from the coasts for Nashville during the pandemic. The festival’s latest edition included the regional premieres of William Oldroyd’s Ottessa Moshfegh adaptation Eileen, as well as Tran Anh Hung’s A Taste of Things and Raven Jackson’s All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt. Apple Original Films was among the recent distributors in attendance. The festival offers 25 awards, and cash prizes between $500 to $3,000 per category. Don’t miss a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where you’ll get a hundred ideas for biopics of long-overlooked musical outlaws.


New Orleans, Louisiana / October 17–22 / neworleansfilmsociety.org

Both filmmaker-focused and audience friendly, NOFF aims to be an incubator for future projects and collaborations. It manages a mentorship program for filmmakers of color that pairs emerging talents with established ones and has been supported by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Golden Globe Foundation, HBO, and the National Endowment for the Arts. In part by offering lodging to all accepted filmmakers, it draws anywhere from 200 to 300 each year, and roughly 80% of screenings include a filmmaker Q&A. Last year alone, the festival helped instigate more than 30 one-on-one meetings between filmmakers and potential funders. Guests can also expect good media exposure, and the chance to compete for more than $50,000 in cash prizes, including $10,000 prizes as part of documentary and narrative pitch events. The festival also provided several camera rental packages in partnership with Panavision, Light Iron, and Keslow Camera ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 to recipients of different jury awards. Last year’s films included two back-to-back, sold-out screenings of Commuted, directed by New Orleans filmmaker Nailah Jefferson, which celebrated its world premiere at the festival and follows one woman’s re-entry into life outside prison following President Obama’s commuting of her sentence. The documentary received support from some of the major documentary funders in the country, including the Sundance Institute, Black Public Media, ITVS, Firelight Media, Perspective Fund, Chicken & Egg, the Southern Documentary Fund and more. Distributors and funders who attended in 2023 included ITVS, NBCUniversal and MSNBC Films. 


Los Angeles, California / Monthly / newfilmmakersla.com

NFMLA is unlike any other film festival because it isn’t just one festival — it’s at least a dozen each year, sometimes more, with a shifting focus on different types of filmmakers and a special emphasis and commitment to promoting films from underrepresented storytellers. The festival includes screening at a 500-seat theater, pre- and post-screening receptions, and curated industry meetings for all filmmakers whose films are official selections. NFMLA also promises outreach to journalists, including MovieMaker — we feature interviews each month on moviemaker.com. This is a very good festival for discovery, especially given the large number of distributors known to attend, including A24, NEON, Focus, Amazon, Netflix, Open Road, MGM, STX, Universal, Film Mode, Freestyle Digital Media, Entertainment One, Gravitas Ventures, Lionsgate, Participant, Warner Bros. Discovery, 20th Century Studios, Max, Paramount, and many more. 

A night in Nevada City. Courtesy of Nevada City Film Festival


Nevada City, California / June 21-23 / nevadacityfilmfestival.com

Located in a gorgeous, bewitching Sierra Nevada town, the Nevada City Film Festival deliberately keeps things small and intimate so that it can welcome each visitor with attention and respect. That means a screening fee for all films, as well as help with travel and lodging. Guests will quickly fall into the enchanting rhythm of this arts-friendly town, where people slow down and appreciate the relaxed vibe and surrounding great outdoors. The festival sees itself not just as a place to be inspired and make connections, but to recharge. The carefully curated screenings, which place a special emphasis on shorts, seek to program films like an album, with each work flowing meaningfully into the next. Recent screenings have included Rebecca Landsberry-Baker and Joe Peeler’s documentary Bad Press, about censorship of the Muscogee Nation’s sole news outlet. Fourteen awards come with cash prizes between $500 and $1,500. Nevada City is another festival on both this and our list of the 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World.


Provincetown, Massachusetts / June 12-16 / provincetownfilm.org

We attend this festival every year, and love it: When PIFF marked its 25th anniversary last year, we wrote that it had “perfected the art of putting on a film festival.” It takes place in a location unlike anywhere else on earth, a very LGBTQ-friendly art mecca at the tip of Cape Cod, on the site of the Mayflower’s landing in 1620. Last year, a festival goer in a rainbow-colored pilgrim outfit captured the vibe perfectly. The programming is exquisite, with an emphasis on queer stories and not taking yourself too seriously: Last year’s films including the East Coast premieres of Julio Torres’ Problemista and Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman’s Theater Camp, as well as screenings of the three films we noted in our Frameline entry. Distributors known to attend include HBO, Warner Bros. Discovery, Magnolia Pictures, and Strand Releasing. The guest lists are always impressive, and every year the great John Waters, the festival’s emcee and patron saint, cooks up something fun, from a drive-in screening of the B-movie killer rabbit masterpiece Night of the Lepus to a formal dinner at the town dump. This year, he announced a fundraiser auction for the Provincetown Film Society, which puts on the festival, in which four lucky fans will get to spend a night with him in the Provincetown Jail this summer. 


Brooklyn, New York / May 17-August / rooftopfilms.com

Rooftop breaks festival tradition by not holding one festival, but rather a series of very special screenings, all summer long. It specializes in curated events where the films are screened with venues and surroundings that match and expand on them. For example: It showed Alejandra Vasquez and Sam Osborn’s Going Varsity in Mariachi in a neighborhood with a large, close-knit Mexican community, and welcomed a mariachi band beforehand. A screening of the free-diving documentary The Deepest Breath, by director Laura McGann, was held overlooking the water at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. The thematic expansion goes beyond locations: At a screening of Arc of Oblivion, Ian Cheney’s documentary about personal and natural archives, attendees were asked to write down things they collect, and their notes were sent to an artist featured in the film. The festival has drawn distributors like A24, MUBI, Apple, HBO, Magnolia Pictures, Amazon Studios, Roadside Attractions, Netflix, and NEON. It isn’t easy to get into, but if you do, expect your film to be shared as thoughtfully as imaginable.


San Francisco, California / April 24-28, 2024 / sffilm.org

The San Francisco International Film Festival celebrates both international films – last year’s prominent screenings included the South Korean film Peafowl, by Byun Sung-bin — and the best of San Francisco cinema. Films with local ties included Stephen Curry: Underrated, Peter Nick’s documentary about the Golden State Warriors star, as well as What These Walls Won’t Hold, Adamu Chan’s doc about a COVID outbreak at San Quentin. The festival typically welcomes well over 100 filmmaker guests each year and places a strong emphasis on hospitality, offering travel assistance and guided tours of the city led by SFFILM staff. Guests can also look forward to dinners, happy hours and parties in one of the world’s great cities for socializing. Distributors known to attend include A24, Apple Originals, Netflix, IFC, Lionsgate, ESPN, NatGeo, Amazon, Roadside Attractions, Magnolia, HBO, Kino Lorber, ITVS, POV, Big Beach, Submarine, Catapult Film Fund, Fifth Season, NBCUniversal Media, Field of Vision, Dolby Institute, and more.

Emma Stone (R) presents Mark Ruffalo with the American Riviera Award during the 39th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Photo by Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images for Santa Barbara International Film Festival


Santa Barbara, California / 2025 / sbiff.org

You know a film festival draws great guests when Brad Pitt shows up to present an award. That’s just what Pitt did in February as he handed the Outstanding Performer of the Year Award to Bradley Cooper. The Brads were in good A-list company: Among the other awardees who attended the festival were directors Martin Scorsese and Justine Triet and actors Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Jeffrey Wright, America Ferrera, Paul Giamatti, Colman Domingo, Lily Gladstone, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Danielle Brooks. Murphy, Downey, Randolph, and Triet all went on to win 2024 Oscars, as did Emma Stone, who dropped in to give Santa Barbara’s American Riviera Award to her Poor Things co-star, Ruffalo. SBIFF is a major Oscar campaign tour stop because so many Academy voters live in this idyllic coastal town less than two hours from Los Angeles. Besides some of the best February weather in the country, it also offers smart, incisive Q&As like Leonard Maltin’s candid career retrospective with Downey, and festival director Roger Durling’s insightful talk with Murphy, in which Durling observed, to Murphy’s surprise and delight, that the actor had made up his fingers with nicotine stains to play the lead in Oppenheimer. The festival also offers free screenings of many of the major films of the previous year at the Mission-style 2,000-seat Arlington Theater. But perhaps the most striking thing about SBIFF is that for all its star power, it is also fully committed to discovering and promoting bold new films and filmmakers. This year they included Best Documentary winner Diving Into Darkness, Nays Baghai’s portrait of cave diver Jill Heinerth, and Audience Choice Award winner Transmexico, directed by Claudia Sanchez. Distributors known to attend have included Netflix, Warner Bros. Discovery, NEON, A24 and more. It isn’t easy to get a film accepted, but programming director Claudia Puig notes that — given the festival’s coastal setting — movies about the ocean tend to strike a chord.


Santa Fe, New Mexico / October 16-20 / santafe.film

Located in the No. 1 town on our list of the Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker, SFIFF has a best-of-both worlds appeal: It feels far from the pressure of the coasts, but New Mexico is fast becoming one of the world’s great film hubs. (It doesn’t hurt that the latest Oscar winner for Best Picture, Oppenheimer, shot outside Santa Fe.) The prizes are generous, including a $90,000 prize package from Panavision and Light Iron for the Best Narrative Feature and a $15,000 Panavision camera package for the Best Narrative Short. The festival is also generous with travel and lodging. Films in the latest edition included the world premiere of Lois Lipman’s documentary First We Bombed New Mexico, the untold story of how the Trinity test portrayed in Oppenheimer affected thousands of New Mexicans, including the Indigenous people of the region. You can draw inspiration not just from the films, but from the land and the town: Nestled in the natural beauty of the Sangre de Cristo foothills, Santa Fe is also home to countless art galleries. SFIFF organizers Jacques Paisner and Gary Farmer often welcome guests to their Film Talk Weekly radio show and podcast, the festival holds a special panel to connect filmmakers with distributors, and fantastic events have been known to include a reception at the New Mexico Governor’s Mansion. Past festival guests have included Sterlin Harjo, Oliver Stone, Shirley MacLaine, Robert Redford, Wes Studi, Jane Seymour, Ethan Hawke, Godfrey Reggio, Catherine Hardwicke and many more. 

Breakthrough Director Award winner Cord Jefferson at Savannah’s Trustees Theater. Photography courtesy of SCAD


Savannah, Georgia / October 26 – November 2 / filmfest.scad.edu

Presented by the Savannah College of Art and Design, one of our Best Film Schools in the U.S. and Canada, SCAD Savannah offers unparalleled hospitality to filmmakers and audiences alike. Visiting filmmakers enjoy hosted meals, parties and receptions, the chance to explore SCAD’s expansive new Hollywood-style backlot, and packed showings in gorgeous venues like the 1,100-seat Trustees Theater. Its impressive guest lists include a slew of top stars and filmmakers who share their wisdom with SCAD students. Last year’s honorees included directors Ava DuVernay, Emerald Fennell, Cord Jefferson, Eva Longoria, Jeff Nichols, George C. Wolfe and Todd Haynes, who shot his mesmerizing May December in Savannah, as well as actors including Kevin Bacon, Greta Lee, Peter Sarsgaard and Cailee Spaeny. Savannah, meanwhile, is very high on the list of smaller cities and towns in our Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker, and the festival puts its many charms — architectural, cultural and culinary – on grand display. Its prizes include a $10,000 jury prize for the LGBTQIA+ Film Competition, presented by Amazon Studios, and a $5,000 Audience Award prize.


Park City, Utah / January 19-25 / slamdance.com/festival

Led by filmmakers, for filmmakers, Slamdance prides itself on finding daring new storytellers, and avoiding favoritism — it notes that its program is built wholly from a blind submissions pool, with no special treatment for anyone. The festival selects some of the wildest films you’ll see in any festival, and prefers the gutsy and dynamic to the slick and easily digestible. It isn’t easy to get into, but it’s also almost impossible to predict what its adventurous programmers will select — so it’s worth shooting your shot. Among the filmmakers it has boosted, early in their careers, are recent Oscar winner Christopher Nolan and the Russo brothers. Joe and Anthony Russo have given back with the AGBO Fellowship, which includes $25,000 and their mentorship. Distributors known to attend Slamdance include Gravitas, Juno Films, Kino Lorber, Shout Factory, MUBI, ARRAY, and Utopia. It is held annually alongside the Sundance Film Festival, when Park City becomes the brightest sun in the film universe. 


Birmingham, Alabama / August 19 – 24 / sidewalkfest.com

Sidewalk, also on our latest list of the 25 Coolest Film Festivals, receives very high marks from filmmakers for not only discovering new talents, but continuing to support them throughout their careers. The festival, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, has flourished thanks in part to the energy of creative director Rachel Morgan, who goes out of her way to make all guests feel recognized and remembered long after the fest ends. Besides welcoming about 15,000 attendees each year, Sidewalk also keeps the spirit of the festival alive year-round with a full slate of events at the two-screen Sidewalk Film Center + Cinema in the heart of the city’s historic theater district. It shows a mix of new films and old favorites, and even a “bad movie night” — because bad movies need love, too. The festival is generous with travel and lodging, features impressive educational panels from both local and international filmmakers, and has drawn distributors including NEON and A24. Recent screenings included Soda Jerk’s experimental Hello Dankness, made up of hundreds of samples of other films. 


Sonoma, California / March 19-23, 2025 / sonomafilmfest.org 

Founded in 1997, SIFF is a destination festival known for giving filmmakers and industry representatives a chance to unwind and connect in a convivial atmosphere in wine country. It is generous in helping with travel costs, and filmmakers can expect to attend top-flight parties and culinary events. It also supports local high school students with a media arts program that invites them to use brand-new filmmaking equipment and screen their films during the festival. Recent films to screen at Sonoma include the world premiere of Marc Turtletaub’s UFO dramedy Jules and an advanced screening of Andrew Haigh’s All of Us Strangers. Prizes include the Cinelease Filmmaker Award, which includes a $10,000 production grant for the winner’s next project, and distributors at the latest edition included Netflix, Strand Releasing, Participant Films, Killer Films and Sony Classics. And, if you’ve made an excellent film, you have a reasonably good shot of getting in, especially if your film involves food and wine. 

Moviemaker 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee 2024
Katherine Propper, winner of Tallgrass’ Stubbornly Independent Award for her film Lost Soulz. Photo courtesy of Tallgrass


Wichita, Kansas / October 24-27, 2024 / tallgrassfilm.org

Parties every night, panels every day, free headshots and plenty of free food are just some of the draws of this highly regarded festival, which is also one of our 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World. Under the exemplary leadership of executive director Melanie Addington, Tallgrass lives up to its “stubbornly independent” mantra while going out of its way to give filmmakers every possible advantage and help them forge lifelong partnerships. Its panels offer insights on subjects like distribution and legal issues, it helps set up red carpet and sit-down interviews, and it offers a VIP lounge where filmmakers can bond during their downtime. Unforgettable venues include the century-old Orpheum Theatre and the Boeing Dome Theater and Planetarium, and recent distributors in attendance included Marginal Media, Gravitas Venturas, Dark Star Pictures and Homestead Entertainment. The latest edition included the world premiere of Marc Marriott’s Tokyo Cowboy and the Midwest premiere of Vera Drew’s The People’s Joker. Also, Katherine Propper, the latest winner of the festival’s Stubbornly Independent Award, wrote about making her road-trip movie Lost Soulz in the last issue of MovieMaker. You can also read her piece at moviemaker.com.


New York City / June 5-16 / tribecafilm.com

Of the major festivals, Tribeca has one of the most reasonable submission-to-acceptance ratios, given the amount of press and prestige it can bring to a film. With a well-deserved reputation for finding and championing new voices and bold filmmaking, it’s a true and uncompromising filmmakers’ festival. Admission also means potential introduction of your work to a vast range of distributors. Those who attended the latest edition included A24, Apple, Bleecker Street, Cinema Guild, HBO, Hulu, IFC, Magnolia, NBC Universal, Neon, Netflix, Oscilloscope, Paramount, Roadside Attractions, Shudder, Sony Pictures Classics, Utopia, Warner Bros. Discovery, Zeitgeist Films, Lionsgate, Kino Lorber, Film Movement, Tubi, Vertical, Gravitas Ventures and Giant Pictures. 


Vienna, Austria / May 28–June 2 / viennashorts.com

A freshly planted tree, a one-month residency in Vienna and magnum bottles of champagne are among the prizes at this forward-thinking festival held in the Austrian capital that the Economist Intelligence Report names as the most livable city in the world. When a tree is planted in honor of a winning film, a QR code allows anyone within 100 meters of that tree to watch the film. It’s just one way the festival tries to help cinema take root in daily life. The festival is also very walkable, and guests can enjoy free drinks and finger foods as they socialize. The festival also works with filmmakers to reduce travel costs as much as possible. Recent films at the festival included the world premiere of Jasmin Baumgartner’s “Bye Bye, Bowser” and Georges Schwizgebel’s “From One Painting… to Another.” 


Woodstock, New York / October 15- 20 / woodstockfilmfestival.org

We end this list on a high: Woodstock is another festival that is also one of our 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World. About 100 miles from New York City, Woodstock always has an impressive guest list — past attendees have included Ethan Hawke, Debra Granik, Roger Ross Williams, Ang Lee, Richard Linklater, Darren Aronofsky, Mira Nair, Matt Dillon, Mark Duplass and  Jennifer Connelly — drawn by its strong sense of community and embrace of art. Its latest jurors included documentary masters Barbara Kopple and Joe Berlinger, as well as actors Thomas Sadoski and Lori Singer. Its latest Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Matthew Modine, went to James Ivory. Recent distributors in attendance included IFC Films, HBO, MTV Docs, and Neon. The festival holds daily and nightly parties, assuring that filmmakers have many chances to share stories with each other and supportive audience members, and press opportunities abound. Screenings at the latest edition included the U.S. premiere of Pawo Choyning Dorji’s The Monk and the Gun, which earned an honorable mention for the Gigantic Pictures Award for Best Feature Narrative. The winner was Victor Nunez’s Rachel Hendrix, starring Singer as a woman in mourning after her husband’s sudden death. 

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