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50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2017

50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2017


Miami Film Festival

Miami, Florida / March 9-18, 2018 /

Dazzling waterfront partying at the Miami Film Festival. Courtesy of Miami Film Festival

Sponsors such as the nonprofit John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and HBO bestow generous prizes on award-winners at this festival, now in its 34th year. MFF is known for its particularly strong programming of new Ibero-American and Floridian cinema. At this spring’s edition, attendees enjoyed North American premieres like Radu Mihaileanu’s The History of Love and Alankrita Shrivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha, plus a Google Talks series on improving diversity in film and tech.

New Hampshire Film Festival

Portsmouth, New Hampshire / October 12-15, 2017 / / S

New Hampshire Film Festival’s 2016 Comedy Panel: (L-R) Greg Kretschmar, Josh Meyers, Rae Dawn Chong, John Michael Higgins and Tom Bergeron. Photograph by Stewart Mellentine

Accessibility is key here: both in terms of geography—all venues at NHFF are within a mile of each other—and industry, with distributors like A24, IFC Films, Magnolia Pictures and Oscilloscope Laboratories attending. The fest also holds a press party a week or two before opening night for regional outlets to get a head start on coverage (a nice touch!). Besides stellar events like the annual Insiders and Comedy panels, last year’s edition partnered with Red and G-Technology for a workshop on various types of workflows, from VR to hi-res.

New Orleans Film Festival

New Orleans, Louisiana / October 11-19, 2017 / / A, P, V

LBJ star Woody Harrelson with his wife and daughter, opening night at the 2016 New Orleans Film Festival. Photograph by Craig Mulcahy / New Orleans Film Festival

New Orleans Film Festival is upping its commitment to diversity with a new mandate that its line-up be at least 50 percent women-directed titles, and 35 percent by directors of color. (Juries tend to be equally diverse.) NOFF also manages a mentorship program, pairing emerging moviemakers of color with veterans. All this in addition to a slew of networking and pitch opportunities—325 one-on-one meetings were facilitated in 2016, with reps from IFC, Roadside Attractions, CAA and many more. No wonder more than 400 moviemakers attended last year!

Oak Cliff Film Festival

Dallas, Texas / June 8-11, 2017 /

Moviemakers got a private tour of Texas’ AT&T Stadium at Oak Cliff 2016. Courtesy of Oak Cliff Film Festival

If you’re a film junkie, this Dallas fest’s for you—the historic Texas Theatre, where screenings take place, projects in 16mm and 35mm, and previous editions of the fest have hosted a day-long workshop with Mono No Aware where participants shot, exposed and projected 8mm and 16mm film. Ninety-five percent of out-of-town moviemakers and jury members received airfare last year, and all received free lodging. Expect festival founders and staff to be in-the-know, yet approachable.

Outfest Los Angeles

Los Angeles, California / July 6-16, 2017 / / P, S, V

Chris Kelly’s Other People was a hit at Outfest 2016. Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment

At 35, Outfest is mature, but still growing. In 2016, the LGBT festival held an inaugural Fast Track pitch session event for its Screenwriting Lab fellows, allowing them facetime with executives. (Still more meetings are set up through Outfest’s Industry Link program.) For such a reputable stop in the heart of L.A., Outfest boasts a pretty healthy acceptance ratio—and programmers will pass on selected titles to its partner Newfest in New York.

Oxford Film Festival

Oxford, Mississippi / February 7-11, 2018 / / S, V, P

Actor Danny Glover attends the 2017 Oxford Film Festival to introduce the Oscar-nominated film I Am Not Your Negro. Photograph by Tenola Plaxico

Oxford Film Festival’s programming hits a pleasing blend of satisfying low-budget fare and prestige titles, a recipe that’s responsible for the increase in attendance that the fest has seen in recent years. This February’s edition featured a varied array of panels, from SAG Indie’s “Actors Taking Charge of Their Career” to “Fest Forward: Careers in New Media.” Another special treat for visitors was Danny Glover—the actor attended to introduce a screening of Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro.

San Luis Obispo International Film Festival

San Luis Obispo, California / March 2018 /

Ann Margret and Alan Arkin attend SLOIFF 2016. Courtesy of San Luis International Film Festival

This rapidly growing, though still cozy, Central California festival has a pervading warmth, with enthusiastic crowds who come out for the thoughtful programming. Downtown San Luis Obispo is plenty nice already, but the festival conducted a special trip this spring that brought moviemakers to visit shooting locations in the area—and it encourages additional drop-ins to nearby wineries with a complimentary wine-tasting pass. The lavish filmmaker gift bag, full of local goods, is something to look forward to, as well.

Santa Fe Independent Film Festival

Santa Fe, New Mexico / October 18-22, 2017 /

Jacqueline Bisset received SFIFF’s 2016 Lifetime Achievement award. Photograph by Sage Paisner

A strength of SFIFF is the talent on display at its panels: 2016’s edition saw talks with MacGyver creator Lee Zlotoff, director Jay Roach (Trumbo) and editor Paul Barnes (The Thin Blue Line), moderated by producer-screenwriter Kirk Ellis (John Adams). Add to that a solid independent line-up (titles like Sherng-Lee Huang’s and Livia Ungur’s Hotel Dallas and the Oscar-nominated doc Fire at Sea played last October) and historic venues like the Lensic Theater and Jean Cocteau Cinema, and you’ve got a winner.

Savannah Film Festival

Savannah, Georgia / October 28 – November 4, 2017 / / V

La La Land director Damien Chazelle attends Savannah Film Festival 2016. Photograph by Cindy Ord, courtesy of Getty Images for SCAD

Sure, some of the year’s most fêted films screen at Savannah (La La Land and Moonlight, anybody?) but rest assured that a good chunk of the festival’s line-up are unheralded gems. As it’s presented by Savannah College of Art and Design, there’s a down-to-earth, collegiate feel to SFF, with heavy student participation and educational masterclasses. Entries to the animation and student categories are free during a certain window every year, as are submissions from festival alumni.

SENE Film, Music & Arts Festival

Providence and Warwick, Rhode Island / April 25-29, 2017 / / S

The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow performing at SENE 2016. Photograph by John Pitocco

SENE (that’s Southeast New England, for the uninitiated) makes a serious effort to help moviemakers get press coverage. The festival provides a press release template for crafting materials, and has successfully booked spots on local TV. This 9-year-old festival is nevertheless still intimate and homegrown, held over five days, with live music and art exhibits programmed alongside film. SENE also programs for the Boston Comedy Festival in November, so comedy shorts submissions are eligible for both fests.

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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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