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50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, 2015

50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, 2015



Jackson, Mississippi / April 9-12, 2015 /

Jackson is “home to some real quirky and creative folks, fried catfish, sweet tea, and a film festival to rival the best of them,” says festival coordinator Michele Baker. Each winning film receives a piece of original glass art and a cash prize. Crossroads grants alumni free submissions and places on future panels.



Wilmington, North Carolina / Nov. 11-15, 2015 /

“Many filmmakers feel like they’ve joined a family of fierce revolutionaries when they leave,” says Cucalorus director Dan Brawley. It might be due to the fest’s non-competitive spirit: despite superb programming, it hands out no awards (“an awkward end to a great experience”). But it does channel 85 percent of ticket sales into filmmaker financial support—and boasts a lounge with “free moonshine, comfy couches and pimento cheese.”

A "fierce band of revolutionaries" at the Cucalorus Film Festival, 2014. Photograph by Saben Kane

“A family of fierce revolutionaries” at the Cucalorus Film Festival, 2014. Photograph by Saben Kane



Washington, D.C. / Sept. 10-20, 2015 /

DC Shorts has arguably the best feedback system on the circuit—and with 30 percent of accepted shorts picked up for commercial distribution last year, festival screeners seem to know what they’re doing. The 11-day fest produces pre-film bumpers for each screening, allowing even absent filmmakers the opportunity to introduce themselves to their audiences.



Oklahoma City, Oklahoma / June 10-14, 2015 /

deadCENTER hosts an annual Distribution Forum where filmmakers meet one-on-one with distributors like IFC and Gathr Films. Buyers who sign deals at the festival retain their spots for the next edition, while the other distributors rotate each year. Also on rotation? Oklahoma City itself. This year, locals will lead daytrips for an insider tour of the “dead center” of America.



Edmonton, Canada / Oct. 1-10, 2015 /

Festival producer Kerrie Long says, “We know exactly what it’s like to arrive in a new city, trusting that your cinematic baby will be screened in-focus to a welcoming audience.” Long and staff bring warmth to the northernmost city in Canada—they might take you to “an Edmonton Oilers or Edmonton Eskimos football game.” Whiplash, Foxcatcher, and Leviathan all played in 2014.

Edmonton International Film Festival programs in 2014. Courtesy of Edmonton International Film Festival

Edmonton International Film Festival programs in 2014. Courtesy of Edmonton International Film Festival



Montreal, Canada / July 16-Aug. 4, 2015 /

Fantasia remains one of the most prominent genre festivals in the world, visited by all manner of distribution bigwigs and featuring a co-production market dubbed the Fantasia Industry Rendez-Vous. In addition to making every effort to connect filmmakers, press, and industry guests, the fest runs three weeks, so you’re guaranteed multiple screenings.



Toronto, Canada / June 16-21, 2015 /

“Mainstream festivals think of women as a separate, and lesser, class of creator,” says Jen Frankel, writer of Alien House Party. “Here at last is a festival that doesn’t make that short-sighted and limiting mistake.” FEFF places special emphasis on writing: “We received enough professional feedback in a few short days to take our script to the next level,” says filmmaker Daniela Saioni.



Kitzbühel, Austria / Aug. 25-30, 2015 /

Late summer, the Austrian Alps—it sounds more fantasy than festival, but Filmfestival Kitzbühel is now in its third year. Kitzbühel has had quick success matching its films with European distributors. And in addition to prizes from sponsor Canon, the festival hands out airfare, lodging and meal compensation.



Salt Lake City, Utah / June 18-27, 2015 /

A partnership with FantasyCon allows this genre-based festival—which had its inaugural edition in 2014—to put on genuinely fun events. (Last year, Elijah Wood DJ’ed!) The festival gives out a total of $30,000 in cash and in-kind prizes—and with 30 awards categories, there’s a good chance you’ll get in on some of that.

DJ Elijah Wood at the inaugural FilmQuest Festival, 2014

DJ Elijah Wood at the inaugural FilmQuest Festival, 2014. Photograph by Gerald McCoy


Durham, North Carolina / April 9-12, 2015 /

With its emphasis on art over industry, Full Frame’s reputation as a premier doc stop is well deserved. The festival puts on an enticing, well-rounded schedule of panels and workshops; cash prizes run up to $10,000; and its Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grant gives a first-time documentarian travel, lodging, access to master classes and mentorship.

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  1. Chuck says:

    You left off an amazing, emerging film festival in the Eastern Oregon Film Festival. For a small area, this festival has accomplished mountainous goals.

    From the indie music, films, and atmosphere, there is no reason to leave this fest off the list.

  2. DR Fraley says:

    What about the Broad Street Film Festival(BSFF)?

    BSFF is a regional, educational film festival that seeks to provide a venue for collegiate filmmakers in the Chattanooga area so that they may present their work to their peers and the community at large. A not-for-profit organization, the BSFF exists under the umbrella of the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga with it’s own Board of Directors. The mission of the BSFF is to enhance the film community in the Chattanooga area by hosting annual film festivals which provide educational and networking opportunities for student filmmakers. This is the 10th festival. BSFF has always been open to the general public.

  3. Zak Forsman says:

    When I think of a festival that offers a tremendous amount of value for the money you’ll spend attending, it’s the Phoenix Film Festival. All competition features get three screenings over the Fri, Sat, Sun weekend. We sold out two of the three without lifting a finger because the festival attracts well over 20,000 people hungry for independent movies. After 15 years, it’s one of the few festivals that get every aspect right. I’m kinda dumbfounded that its not represented here.

  4. Greg says:

    I had the pleasure of attending several of these festivals as a filmmaker, and I can honestly say the young and rising Napa Valley Film Festival deserves to be included among them. The mix of Hollywood fare (“The Imitation Game”, Kevin Costner with “Black Or White”) and little self-financed shorts from guys like me is inspiring. Q & A’s are delightful, hosted by moderators with a glass of Cabernet in hand. Films get multiple screenings in varied venues in different idyllic towns. The nightly DJ’d parties with their farm to table preparations are incredible. Oh – did I say “Freemark Abbey Station”? Enough said!

  5. I’m traveling back to South Carolina for the Indie Grits Film Festival and beyond excited. This is the best festival experience I’ve ever had as a filmmaker. They celebrate southern filmmakers, provide unique entertainment (puppet show, hello), and genuinely care for their filmmakers. 95% of their filmmakers attend from all over the country and by the end, everyone is friend’s with each other. Not to mention, they have a filmmaker travel fund that is paying for us to travel cross country and putting us up in a host house. Amazing people running this festival and so happy to keep coming back with more films.

  6. Mark Walters says:

    No mention of Dallas International Film Festival? Fantastic Fest?

  7. Yvette says:

    The ITSA Film Festival in California’s gold country is a great festival where filmmakers and attendees can meet other notable industry professionals. Love their workshops and quality film selections. You also can’t go wrong in checking out the historic downtown where the festival is held.

  8. Alberto says:

    No mention Arlington InternTional Film Festival (AIFF) in Cambridge in Massachusetts from October 15 to 22, at Kendall Square Cinema

  9. Thomas says:

    Traverse City Film Festival now in it’s 10th year. This is the brainchild of Michael Moore and set in a gorgeous waterfront town of Traverse City. Tons of fun and JUST GREAT MOVIES!

  10. Viki says:

    I recently returned from the 21st Sedona International Film Festival in Sedona, AZ. Reading your list, I’m quite shocked that it’s not on your list. This is a stellar film festival. Fabulous venues that are near 100% FULL because of how the community rallies behind their festival. As a filmmaker that is supremely important to me because my film is being SEEN by a HUGE audience. Great awards. Great volunteers and warmth from the whole community of film lovers. Free accommodations donated by all the wonderful hotels in Sedona for SIX nights. Two VIP all access passes and a VIP lounge to hang out in all day if you don’t want to go watch films. (Though not sure why you’d do that as the films are fabulous!) But perhaps one of the most surprising parts of this festival is the amount of food that you are fed. Fully catered lunches and dinner (provided by local restaurants) and a VIP party every single night to network with more free food and alcohol. This festival blew me away. I’ve never had this much offered to me at a festival. It is so well organized like a perfectly oiled machine. I can’t say enough about it. Truly set the bar a little too high for all other festivals to come. Definitely deserves to be on your list.

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