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50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, 2015

50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, 2015



Omaha, Nebraska / Winter 2016 /

One of Omaha Film Festival’s biggest attractions is its screenplay competition, with industry successes—such as Steve Faber (writer, Wedding Crashers) and Leslie Dixon (producer of Limitless and Gone Girl) in 2014—heading panels. Screenplay finalists see their writing brought to life by professional actors at OFF’s Writer’s Theatre.



Oxford, Mississippi / Winter 2016 /

With this four-day fest serving three meals a day and complimentary alcohol, no wonder all attendees “tend to end up doing karaoke together at the Saturday late-night party every year,” according to development director Melanie Addington. Alumni enjoy waived submission fees for future editions.

James Franco and Tim Blake Nelson give a Q&A at the Oxford Film Festival. Photograph by Danny K Photography

James Franco and Tim Blake Nelson give a Q&A for The Sound and the Fury at the Oxford Film Festival. Photograph by Danny K Photography



Palm Springs, California / June 16-22, 2015 /

Last year’s ShortFest line-up saw a master class lecture with Ted Hope, a session on publicity for first-timers, one-on-ones with industry pros, and a “Meet the Programmers” panel with a host of top festival gatekeepers. The festival also offers over $115,000 worth of cash and in-kind prizes, in 14 juried categories and four audience ones.



Portland, Oregon / Sept. 1-7, 2015 /

The winner of Portland Film Festival’s 20K Screenplay Prize gets (you guessed it) $20,000 in resources to produce their film. Also up for grabs: plain ol’ fun. The festival organizes such inherently “Portland” activities for filmmakers as a craft beer bike tour and “Oregon Games, including axe-throwing, wood-chopping and tree-climbing,” says festival director Josh Leake.



Providence, Rhode Island / Aug. 4-9, 2015 /

Short filmmakers take note: This Academy-qualifying fest has a history of superb programming, with five alumni shorts nominated at the 2015 Academy Awards. One entry fee gets you into three submission pools (besides the main fest, there’s the Rhode Island International Horror Film Festival and Roving Eye Film Festival), plus consideration for an array of addendum screening series.



New York, New York / Summer 2015 /

Designed as a summer series rather than a traditional festival, Rooftop Films doesn’t hold panels or offer juried awards; instead, they hand out over $125,000 in cash in service grants to alumni (like Benh Zeitlin and Ana Lily Amirpour). No wonder Rooftop isn’t so easy to get into (last year’s edition received 3,000 submissions, with 150 accepted). Industry and audience interaction peaks at huge after-parties-come-musical events.

Rooftop Films designs spectacular alternative-venue screenings around New York City all summer long. Photograph by Dillon DeWaters

Rooftop Films designs spectacular alternative-venue screenings around New York City all summer long. Photograph by Dillon DeWaters



Santa Fe, New Mexico / Oct. 14-18, 2015 /

Enjoy a “varied and unpretentious festival experience” (as festival director Liesette Paisner puts it) in this lively New Mexico town. Panels and workshops allow close interaction with local celebrities like George R. R. Martin and Wes Studi—and with many returning alumni, whose submission fees are waived.



Savannah, Georgia / Oct. 24-31, 2015 /

Savannah Film Festival is consistently praised for its projection quality—“the best I’ve seen at any festival, ever,” says director Eric Anderson of 2014 short “The Looking Planet.” The grandiose setting in the festival’s huge Trustees and Lucas theaters helps, too. And both student films and animation entries get free submission for a few months every year.



Seattle, Washington / May 14-June 7, 2015 /

You’re in for a happy (though lengthy) stay at the nearly month-long SIFF, which assists with everything from travel arrangements to publicity and community outreach. The fest offers more than 20 panels, forums and masterclasses, carefully curated programming, and a long roster of attending distributors including 20th Century Fox, IFC Films and Roadside Attractions.



Sheffield, England / June 5-10, 2015 /

Festival staff describes Sheffield as the ideal combination of “unparalleled expertise with a rebellious streak.” Over 100 events (including interactive workshops, debates—and a roller disco) are led by the likes of Martin Scorsese and Morgan Spurlock. The fest’s pitching forum, MeetMarket, facilitated 1,500 meetings in 2014.

The Channel 4 First Cut Pitch at Sheffield Doc/Fest. Courtesy of Sheffield Doc/Fest

The Channel 4 First Cut Pitch event at Sheffield Doc/Fest. Courtesy of Sheffield Doc/Fest

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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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