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50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, 2015

50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, 2015



Tampa, Florida / March 2016 /

Gasparilla is known for a creative party scene: Filmmakers and industry attendees have, in past years, mingled in a specially-renovated 1920s-era department store, and around a functional, truck-sized Magic 8 Ball. With financial assistance for airfare, lodging and transportation, accepted filmmakers can seize the night without breaking the bank.



Indianapolis, Indiana / Oct. 16-25, 2015 /

With over $100,000 in prize money awarded every year, and Academy-qualifying status for shorts, a filmmaker’s road to Hollywood could very well start at the Heartland Film Festival. Young filmmakers take notice: Heartland’s High School Film Competition encourages the next generation of storytellers with a $3,000 prize.

Robert Downey Jr. and ?? at the 2014 Heartland Film Festival

Director David Dobkin and Robert Downey Jr. at the 2014 Heartland Film Festival. Courtesy of the Heartland Film Festival



Hollywood, CA / Aug. 13-22, 2015 /

Looking beyond HollyShorts’ $100,000 in production and post-production prizes for a second, you’ll find the fest a major hub for short film distribution: More than 40 distributors attended last year, picking up north of 50 short films at the festival. Participants also enjoy the simultaneous HollyShorts Film Conference, with presentations, panels and workshops every day of the fest.



Hot Springs, Arkansas / Oct. 9-18, 2015 /

The eccentric history of this spa city means that a HSDFF event may well happen in a 1920s bathhouse, the Gangster Museum of America, or the Arlington Hotel (the festival’s main screening and accommodation venue). An Academy-qualifier for documentary shorts, HSDFF welcomes many of the year’s strongest docs; 2014’s selection included An Honest Liar, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, and Meet the Patels.

Brad and George Takei at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival.

Brad and George Takei attended the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival with the film To Be Takei. Courtesy of Robbie Brindley, Lorien Dahl and Annie Gerber



Fort Worth, Texas / Nov. 2015 /

The Lone Star Film Festival stands out for its strong alumni relations and heavy-duty press-wrangling. An in-house publicist helps films get coverage in local and regional outlets. On top of that, the festival conducts its own professional photo shoots and interviews with participating filmmakers for year-round online promotion.



Nashville, Tennessee / April 16-25, 2015 /

At 46 years old, 3,500 submissions a year, 220 screenings, 42,000 visitors, 500 volunteers, a staff of 30, more than 100 attending media outlets, $45,000 in cash prizes, the numbers suggest that there’s nothing small about the Nashville Film Festival. Yet the fest excels at the personal touch—each submission, viewed at least twice, receives comments that are made available to all filmmakers, accepted or not.



Portsmouth, New Hampshire / Oct. 15-18, 2015 /

Festival executive director Nicole Gregg quips, “We don’t think that when the city was settled in 1623, they had NHFF in mind, but the layout of downtown Portsmouth couldn’t be better suited for it.” The festival is often praised for its energy—its staff will even coordinate custom events for filmmakers who have materials to present beyond just their films.

Crowds at the New Hampshire Film Festival. Photograph by David J. Murray,

A rapt audience at the New Hampshire Film Festival. Photograph by David J. Murray,



New Orleans, Louisiana / Oct. 15-22, 2015 /

Yes, the wacky parties are great, but New Orleans Film Festival goes above and beyond to add value to moviemakers’ experiences. 2014 saw the launch of a community outreach initiative, where an outreach specialist helped target filmmakers’ desired audiences, incentivizing attendance with free tickets. The staff also connects alumni films with bookers for New Orleans-area theatrical runs. Plus, John Goodman’s on the board!



Newport Beach, California / April 23-30, 2015 /

Just south of L.A., swanky Newport Beach sees high levels of distributor and celebrity attendance. Subsequently, festival events feature top-quality talent: Last year’s included a master class with cinematographer Matthew Libatique, and an editing seminar by Joe Walker of 12 Years a Slave. Special programming highlights female directors, LGBT narratives and filmmakers under 18.



Oaxaca, Mexico / Oct. 9-17, 2015 /

You’ll have fun with Oaxaca FilmFest’s networking opportunities, like its intense after-parties and free daily tours of the surrounding area. Known for its hospitality, the festival offers lodging, transportation, and a per diem for feature filmmakers. Post-festival, films are screened in the mountain and coastal regions of rural Mexico for audiences without access to cinema.

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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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