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50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2017

50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2017


Chagrin Documentary Film Festival

Chagrin Falls, Ohio / October 4-8, 2017 /

Chagrin Falls, population 4,000, hosts up-and-coming CDFF every fall. Courtesy of Chagrin Documentary Film Festival

CDFF is less competitive, submissions-wise, than many big doc festivals, and it’s the personal touch that sets this small town apart. Last year’s audience was 10,000-strong, and is unusually involved with the festival: Lodging is provided via a home stay program, while the fest holds daily “Meet the Filmmaker” events and publishes a “Who’s in Town” flier. CDFF happily provides feedback on all submissions when requested—“a record number of filmmakers took advantage of this in 2016,” says Executive Director Mary Ann Ponce.


Cinequest Film & VR Festival

San Jose and Redwood City, California / February 27 – March 11, 2018 / / A, V, S, P

Roland Vranik’s film The Citizen took home the Best Narrative Feature, Drama award at Cinequest 2016

Cinequest made its name celebrating technical innovation. Fittingly, the festival has elevated its extensive Virtual Reality programs to share the spotlight with traditional cinematic formats, and boasts a new series of VR forums and workshops. Back in regular reality, though, indies play alongside some high-profile premieres, and daily happy hour soirees bring moviemakers into close contact with the leaders of Silicon Valley. Keep your business cards handy.


Citizen Jane Film Festival

Columbia, Missouri / October 26-29, 2017 / / V

Citizen Jane is held on the Stephens College campus in Columbia, Missouri. Photograph by Chase Thompson

This non-competitive, women filmmaker-oriented festival accepts a relatively high percentage of submissions but doesn’t compromise on quality—the 2016 edition screened critic-approved The Lure, Abortion: Stories Women Tell and A Woman, A Part, among other titles. The Citizen Jane Summit, an afternoon of communal brainstorming and discussion, gets straight to the heart of the gender parity fight. Visitors then brush up on moviemaking skills at the festival’s day-long film school, and afterwards benefit from the festival’s new exchange program, which waives submission fees to CJFF’s partner festivals.


Cucalorus Film Festival

Wilmington, North Carolina / November 2017 / / V

A particularly colorful filmmaker lounge at Cucalorus 2016. Courtesy of Cucalorus Film Festival

Our list’s other non-competitive festival is “like a filmmaker cuddle puddle that could lead to something serious,” says Dan Brawley, its so-called chief instigating officer. Cucalorus is famed for its tight community… and its quirk. To wit: 2016 applicants had to submit a fantastical self-portrait alongside their films. (The best portrait won its maker a spot at the festival! Brawley calls this “an honest admission that there are a million ways to build a good festival.”) Beyond November, Cucalorus offers themed filmmaker residencies as well as grants to North Carolina filmmakers.

DC Shorts Film Festival & Screenplay Competition

Washington, D.C. / September 7-17, 2017 / / S

Filmmaker Melanie Brunt (center) with festival staff Joe Bilancio, Kimberley Bush and Derek Horne at DC Shorts 2016’s awards ceremony. Photograph by Sarah King / Courtesy of DC Shorts

Get accepted to DC Shorts and your short not only plays multiple times during the September event, but may feature in the festival’s year-round screening series, too. A pretty sweet deal—as are the Host-a-Filmmaker and Feed-a-Filmmaker programs, which provide accommodation and chow from generous locals. DC Shorts puts on a seminar with four different tracks: for filmmakers, actors, festival organizers and film lovers. Yet the highlight for many moviemakers is the fact that all submissions receive feedback, regardless of acceptance.

deadCenter Film Festival

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma / June 8-11, 2017 / / P, V

Audiences fill up the house at a deadCenter 2016 screening. Courtesy of deadCenter Film Festival

No, it’s not a market festival per se, but deadCenter wants to help you get distribution. The festival puts together a Distribution Forum every year, facilitating “speed-dating” sessions with representatives from companies such as The Orchard and Lionsgate. Networking takes place at afterparties, panels, a couple of filmmaker brunches and—new in 2017—filmmaker daytrips around Oklahoma City, hosted by locals. You’ll meet the press, too—deadCenter’s dedicated PR committee makes sure of it.

Denver Film Festival

Denver, Colorado / November 2017 / / V

Actress Hayley Squires was honored for her performance in I, Daniel Blake at the 2016 Denver Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Selects

As Denver Film Festival approaches its 40th year, it continues a tradition of stellar programming. Besides its broad selection of films from all over the world, the festival’s Creative Conversation series offers examinations on diverse critical issues—last year saw such panels as “Igniting the Fire: Indie Film PR and Marketing,” “SeriesFest presents Politics in Television” and even “Art vs. the Artist,” which explored the line between artistic output and personal scandal in the film industry. All alumni receive fee waivers for future submissions.

Edmonton International Film Festival

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada / September 28 – October 7, 2017 /

Filmmakers getting their patio party on at EIFF. Courtesy of Edmonton International Film Festival

If you’re looking to engage with a younger crowd, consider Edmonton International Film Festival. The festival has a “Bring a Filmmaker to Your School” program, which allows teachers to book EIFF moviemakers to be special guests at high schools and talk to students about moviemaking. Also, notes Festival Producer Kerrie Long, “EIFF organizers are passionate about attracting large audiences to short films.” The “wildly popular” daily short screenings regularly take in crowds of 300.

Fantasia International Film Festival

Montreal, Québec, Canada / July 13 – August 2, 2017 / / V, P

Fantasia Co-Programming Director Tony Timpone and Co-Festival Director Mitch Davis with Guillermo del Toro in 2016. Photograph by King-Wei Chu

“To ensure that every film has a real shot at making an impact,” says Fantasia Co-director Mitch Davis, “we never have more than three screens going—and we usually limit it to just two.” That’s why the festival runs for a fun-packed three weeks, during which a horde of industry delegates searches rabidly for the next big genre titles. Fantasia’s second weekend hosts Frontieres, an international co-production market featuring receptions, pitch sessions and work-in-progress screenings. 2016 also saw a masterclass taught by, oh, just Guillermo del Toro.

Female Eye Film Festival

Toronto, Ontario, Canada / June 20-25, 2017 / / P

Female Eye provides opportunities to get something off the ground. There’s the festival’s Live Pitch for features, the Good to Go script pitch (for writers with projects ready for takeoff) and the two-day Script-Reading Series with professional actors. Unlike its film line-up, which features women-directed titles only, the festival’s script development program is open to men, as well—as long as their screenplays feature female protagonists. Last year, the festival launched a channel on streaming site IndieVue designed to be a paying platform for alumni films.

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  1. Bob Cook says:

    The questioned asked was “Do Film Festivals give a shit about the films or are they just out to make money?”

    As the Executive Director of the Central Florida Film Festival I can say to you that it’s on the filmmaker to research the festivals they are entering. We made the MovieMaker “Top 25 Film Festivals….” in 2012, and continue to do more for the filmmaker in 2017, but somehow dropped off their list which is now the “Top 50”. There are more than 5000 film festivals worth the effort. They all have reviews and they all have a process. Take a look for what festival is good for your film.

    I believe the larger the festival the less personal care is given. The larger festivals have benefactors and large sponsors and an enormous payroll. Many of the smaller festivals are 501c-3 Charities and do not take salaries. All of that research is public domain. If you blindly send in your entry fee it is possible that your film might fall through the cracks.

    For example when a filmmaker sends in copies of their film without entry numbers, titles or even packaging (just a disc) it’s easier to toss them in the trash and move on to the next (it happens…a lot).

    I like to contact the filmmaker and let them know but we have barely three hundred entries. If I had 500 or more entries it would be impossible. Find a niche’ for your film and a festival that might appreciate your film. What’s a good festival fit is on you.

    At the Central Florida Film Festival we give a shit! That might become our new catch phrase (lol). I hope this helped.

  2. I’m a bit surprised that Michael Moore’s baby, the Traverse City Film Festival, is not on this list. I’ve been to the last three and each has offered stellar full length as well as short feature films with a very diverse array of subject matter. “Er, I think ya missed one here.”

  3. Thank you so much for considering us again this year MovieMaker! Added value is our dedicated goal to increasing the number of female directors that play our festival this year so we are providing a 50% discount to submit to female directed projects. Use BlacheOXFF on Film Freeway to get this discount!

  4. Consider the Sacramento International Film Festival (Marty Anaya, Director). Sacramento has been under the radar for over a decade with it vibrant filmmaking community. On any given day there are probably 2 or 3 indie films in production on the streets. Also, there must be over 10 or 12 other film festivals throughout the year with various themes. Our newest… The Food Film Festival, celebrating Sacramento as a Farm-to-Fork capital. This are ramping up in Sacramento!

  5. Jim Parker says:

    Surprised you did not include the Full Frame Festival in Durham, North Carolina in April and the Anchorage (Alaska) International Film Festival in December

  6. Jim Parker says:

    Surprised you didn’t include two very good U.S. festivals: Anchorage (Alaska) International Film Festival in December and the Full Frame Documentary Festival that takes place in Durham, North Carolina.

    • Terry says:

      You missed Dances with Films Festival in Hollywoood, CA which is all about independent Film Makers and showcases hard hitting subject matter from up and coming Film Makers.

  7. Susan Weiss says:

    In International Film festivals youmissed Guanajuato International Film Festival. #GIFF !!!!

  8. Check out the Blackbird Film Festival in Cortland, NY! We’re entering our 5th season now and it just keeps getting better!

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    Subty is an online marketplace that allows you to compare subtitle companies by rates, quality ratings, and client reviews. We also provide content security and give you real-time monitoring of project progress.

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  10. KC says:

    Fresh off the Beaufort International Film Festival in Beaufort, South Carolina, I can tell you that this fest is one of the best curated, best attended small film festivals in the country. It’s listed as a top 100 festival on Film Freeway, and in 2016 breached the top 10. Each screening was packed, and the predominant audience is made of up film lovers, not film makers.

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