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50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, 2015

50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, 2015



Park City, Utah / Jan. 22-28, 2016 /

Sure—Slamdance accepts something like two percent of submissions (all watched by alumni, not staff programmers). But get in and you’ll climb Slamdance’s many branches—like VOD distribution imprint Slamdance Studios, Slamdance On the Road (showcasing titles around the U.S.), the Slamdance Hulu channel, and Slamdance Cinema Club (which began a new partnership in 2015 to screen alumni films at ArcLight Cinemas).



Various locations, United States /

Southern Circuit has a different format than your typical festival—participating filmmakers go on a screening roadshow across the South, earning honorariums of $2,400-$3,200 per tour. In addition to lodging and a per diem, Southern Circuit develops promotional materials for partnering venues to attract audiences at every stop.



Tacoma, Washington / Oct. 8-15, 2015 /

After a banner year in 2014 screening indie standouts like Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, and hosting film critic Leonard Maltin as a special guest, Tacoma Film Festival ups its game in 2015, expanding its award categories as well as its line-up of panels and events.



Wichita, Kansas / Oct. 14-18, 2015/

“Tallgrass showed me that they were ready to challenge the Wichita audiences,” says director John Wildman of “out-there” The Ladies of the House. Tallgrass certainly fosters an interesting community, hosting a Stubbornly Independent Gala presentation for a selected film each year, and (as of 2015) inviting alumni to become year-long filmmakers-in-residence. Also, we’ve heard the filmmakers’ lounge provides massages.

Libations at the Third Annual Shaken Not Stirred party at Tallgrass Film Festival

Libations at the Third Annual Shaken Not Stirred party at Tallgrass Film Festival. Courtesy of Tallgrass Film Festival



Taos, New Mexico / Spring 2016 /

Taos Shortz Film Festival looks beyond its (funky, artistic) New Mexico borders, partnering with many international festivals for film exchanges that send shorts to India, Russia, Spain and more. Collaboration rules—founder/organizer Anna Cosentine recalls a short created at last year’s edition, written on a napkin. “People are still talking about it!”



Palo Alto, California / Oct. 15-25, 2015 /

Documentary fest UNAFF was founded to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—so it’s a great stop for social issue filmmakers. In 2014, the festival presented seven panels on world issues like climate change and hate crimes. Post-fest, many films are brought on the road for the ensuing UNAFF Traveling Film Festival.



Vancouver, Canada / Sept. 24 – Oct. 9, 2015 /

With generous prizes and a history of strong programming, VIFF often sees alumni films acquired post-fest—such as, in 2014, the Safdie brothers’ Heaven Knows What and Tom Hammock’s The Well. Its four-day Industry Conference featured luminaries such as Jay Duplass and Ondi Timoner in 2014, as well as representatives from HBO and FX.



Victoria, Canada / Feb. 2016 /

This year, Victoria Film Festival recreated a 1940s cocktail club for opening night, and set its guest lounge in a refurbished double-decker bus equipped with a giant projector—enjoyed by filmmakers like Damián Szifron (Wild Tales) and Joshua Oppenheimer (The Look of Silence). The fest’s series of industry events focuses on setting filmmakers up to adapt to media trends.

An end of fest party at Victoria Film Festival 2014. Photograph by Jesse Lin

An end of fest party at Victoria Film Festival 2014. Photograph by Jesse Lin



Victoria, Texas / March 2016 /

“We are a top-notch second-tier fest that programs some of the best films on the circuit,” says Anthony Pedone of VTXIFF. “We offer films that don’t get into the major fests the opportunity to get a great premiere and a first-class experience.” VTXIFF is the hub for the Crossroads Awards, which pools 21 films from the Film Exchange network of fests to compete for a cash prize.



Woods Hole, Massachusetts / July 25-Aug. 1, 2015 /

What does WHFF do for alumni? “We have a year-round screening series which offers the opportunity to receive a screening fee,” says executive director Judy Laster. “We advocate for them with distributors, offer the opportunity to submit to future festivals without paying a fee, provide recommendations to other festivals looking for content, and provide advice about other screening options.” Sold! MM 


What festivals did we miss this year, and what should be on next year’s list? Share your opinions, comments and festival circuit anecdotes in the comments below! And revisit 2014’s 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee here.
This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Spring 2015 issue, hitting newsstands April 28, 2015. Illustrations by Bijou Karman. This list was compiled via the dedicated research of Janet Le, Kerry O’Conor, Jean Okamoto and May Zhang.

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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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