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50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2017

50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2017


FilmQuest Festival

Provo, Utah / September 8-16, 2017 / / S

“Shortwave” director Ryan Phillips won four Cthulhu trophies at FilmQuest 2016. Courtesy of Daniel Amezcua Photography

Genre fest FilmQuest has done much in its three years of existence, but its proudest accomplishment might be its growing community of alumni who reunite at parties held throughout the year. Last year’s edition featured a number of interesting panels, such as “Minorities in Genre: Past, Present, Future,” “Practical Effects in the 21st Century” and “Worlds That Don’t Exist: Writing for Genre.” This year, says Festival Director Jonathan Martin, look forward to “a live symphony playing the music of great genre film scores,” among other events.

Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival

Providence, Rhode Island / August 8-13, 2017 / / A, S, P, V

The Providence Performing Arts Center hosts Rhode Island International Film Festival. Photograph by Mike Braca

This BAFTA-, Canadian Screen Awards- and Academy-qualifying festival hosts a slew of smaller fests and sidebar presentations that submissions automatically enter, as well. Education is something that RIIFF takes seriously: This year, the festival is expanding its Flickers’ Filmmaker Mentorship Program, which matches local filmmakers and students with international filmmaker mentors during the run of the festival. It will also partner with University of Rhode Island on a course immersing students in festival operations and activities.

Heartland Film Festival

Indianapolis, Indiana / October 12-22, 2017 / / A

Guests at the 25th anniversary Heartland Film Festival Awards Party in Indianapolis, 2016. Courtesy of Banayote Photography and Heartland Film Festival

Alumni praise Heartland Film Festival’s engaged audiences—who get to interact with visiting moviemakers beyond October through encore screenings, masterclasses and other roadshow events. Fest participants gets cozy at a newly expanded Premiere Pavilion party area, where Q&As, live music and other festivities take place. All accepted shorts are offered non-exclusive distribution on ShortsHD, and if that deal isn’t sweet enough for you, the generous cash prizes ($100,000 will be given out this year) probably are.

HollyShorts Film Festival

Los Angeles, California / August 10-19, 2017 / / A, V, S

Actor Luke Wilson with HollyShorts co-founder Theo Dumont at the 2016 festival edition. Courtesy of HollyShorts Film Festival

This year, the newly Academy-qualifying HollyShorts adds a VR category to its line-up. Those projects will join a bonanza of quality short films, many of which can be screened on streaming site Bitpix during the 10-day festival, for moviemakers curious about their new friends’ work. Competition is stiff for the prizes, which include Kodak film stock and partial funding for your next project. 2016 attendees enjoyed panels ranging from an intellectual property primer to a proof-of-concept how-to, all in the heart of Hollywood.

Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival

Toronto, Ontario, Canada / April 27 – May 7, 2017 / /A, V, P

No shortage of passionate documentary fans at Hot Docs 2016. Photograph by Christian Pena

Hot Docs is a documentary giant with major industry attendance and knockout programming (2016 hosted the international premieres of O.J.: Made in America, Cameraperson and Life, Animated). Haven’t got a film to show yet? Next to the festival runs a huge industry conference and forum—billed as “North America’s most effective international documentary market”—which puts heavy focus on international co-producing. Consider attending some of its workshops and town hall sessions and getting schooled.

Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival

Hot Springs, Arkansas / October 6-15, 2017 / / A

Ed Asner (subject of documentary My Friend Ed), actor Robert Walden and filmmaker Sharon Baker at Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival 2016. Photograph by Aaron Brewer

Last year, Lara Stolman’s feature doc Swim Team world-premiered at HSDFF and went on to a robust and prestigious tour of the circuit—one of the festival’s many success stories. Hot Springs attendees party in some creative venues—think historic bathhouses, the Gangster Museum of America and the majestic Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa—that give the whole affair its fantastic local color. Don’t forget to pack your bathing suit.

Indie Memphis Film Festival

Memphis, Tennessee / November 1-6, 2017 /

Tennessee fest Indie Memphis approaches its 20th year. Photograph by Breezy Lucia

Indie Memphis keeps evolving. Last year, the fest acquired Amazon Studios as a marquee sponsor, becoming the first festival outside of Sundance, Tribeca and Seattle International Film Festival to receive the honor. “They cited our commitment to diversity as a key factor,” says Executive Director Ryan Watt, and—after a strong line-up of African-American titles in 2016—civil rights will continue to be a programming focus. Get ready for live music before every film… and copious barbecue, too.

Julien Dubuque Film Festival

Dubuque, Iowa / April 20 – 23, 2017 /

Psychedelic pop band Dengue Fever played the JDFF 2016 awards ceremony. Courtesy of Julien Dubuque Film Festival

Communication is a big strength of this burgeoning Iowa festival. Staff provide intensive publicity assistance, from placing interviews on local radio to connecting filmmakers with the surrounding schools. “I also personally write to filmmakers who don’t make it as official selections,” says Executive Director Susan Gorrell. “Yes, it takes a lot of time, but it’s a personal touch that I think is very important.” Another nice touch? Films screen up to four times over the four-day festival.

Mammoth Lakes Film Festival

Mammoth Lakes, California / May 24-28, 2017 /

A tight-knit cohort at MLFF 2016’s closing night party. Courtesy of Mammoth Lakes Film Festival

Expect prime bonding with your fellow moviemakers at Mammoth Lakes. We’ll let Festival Director Shira Dubrovner count the ways: “We take over a student housing facility and put filmmakers all in one place. We take them on a field trip to the ghost town of Bodie, one of the top five ghost towns in America. We treat them to a night of bowling. There are also informal nightly visits to the local hot springs where filmmakers can have a warm, relaxing soak, under the moon and stars.”

Maryland International Film Festival

Hagerstown, Maryland / March 2018 / / P

(L-R) Festival President Tom Riford, actor Ben Bray, Executive Director Tracie Hovey, Treasurer Heather Guessford, Board Member Nicole Houser, Creative Director Joe Carnahan and Vice President Mary Anne Burke. Courtesy of Maryland International Film Festival

Director Joe Carnahan (The A-Team, The Grey) is Maryland International Film Festival’s creative director, and his presence during opening night festivities makes for a great networking opportunity. This six-year-old festival’s line-up is very indie, with the occasional festival circuit darling (for example, Kamala Lopez’s documentary Equal Meets Equal this year). Beyond the screen, the festival features extracurriculars like speed pitching and acting classes. Students submit for free to its high school shorts contest.

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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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  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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