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50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2017

50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2017


Sidewalk Film Festival

Birmingham, Alabama / August 25-27, 2017 / / V

Sidewalk Film Festival lit up Birmingham in August 2016. Photograph by Joe De Sciose

This three-day festival packs a wallop, with an absurd number of parties (11 in 2016) squeezed into one weekend (not to mention 15 bands performing live, too). It’s hard not to befriend your peers with that kind of nonstop mingling—especially over such activities as screen printing souvenir T-shirts or gorging on a midnight Mexican breakfast buffet. Even better is the fact that those peers are behind the circuit’s best films, like Little Sister and Donald Cried in 2016.

Slamdance Film Festival

Park City, Utah / January 18-25, 2018 / / A, V, S

Moviemaker and Slamdance programmer Oates Wu in Park City, January 2017. Photograph by Ian Stroud

Slamdance gets thousands of submissions each year from moviemakers vying for a piece of that Park City pie, but if you’re a first-time feature director (whose budget is under $1 million), there’s probably no better way to burst onto the scene. Multiple films from this January’s edition have received distribution offers, and the festival’s partnership with ArcLight Cinemas offers alumni films theatrical screenings throughout the year. Plus, attend the Slamdance Polytechnic Program events during the fest for lessons focused on technology and DIY craft.

Stony Brook Film Festival

Stony Brook, New York / July 20-29, 2017 /

No Pay, Nudity stars Loudon Wainwright III, Nathan Lane and Donna Murphy, director Lee Wilkof and SBFF founder and director Alan Inkles. Photograph by Rebecca Uliasz

With only about 40 films playing SBFF it’s definitely a quality-not-quantity situation. The fest, presented by Island Federal Credit Union, spans 10 days, which results in a relaxing pace. “Every film we show is a priority,” says Marketing and PR Director Julie Rulon Greene. “We show one film at a time, all on our 1,000-seat Main Stage theater, on a 40-foot screen.” That’s right: You’ll get the same treatment A Man Called Ove director Hannes Holm and No Pay, Nudity star Nathan Lane did last year.

Tacoma Film Festival

Tacoma, Washington / October 5-12, 2017 / / V

A VR studio known as The Veldt at Tacoma Film Festival 2016. Photograph by Kris Crews

An arts haven in Southern Washington’s Puget Sound area, Tacoma is home to a blossoming creative scene that swells come October with visiting artists—like Filmmaker Magazine’s annual class of 25 New Faces of Independent Film. (Pro tip: That’s who you should be networking with.) TFF offers cash prizes up to $5,000 for award-winners. Also up for grabs: Valuable feedback from submissions judges upon request, and, once you’re an alumnus, unlimited fee waivers for future editions.

Tallgrass Film Festival

Wichita, Kansas / October 18-22, 2017 /

Doing Wichita proud… Courtesy of Tallgrass Film Festival

A Tallgrass tradition: the Stubbornly Independent Award, which gives one selected film (made for under $500,000 and lacking distribution) a grand gala night screening and $5,000 in cash, amongst other prizes. New this year: DoXX, a program for female-directed documentaries. Between the old and the unprecedented are a wealth of things done right, like educational opportunities (workshops and town hall discussions) that are free to the public, and have an entrepreneurship theme this year.

Twister Alley International Film Festival

Woodward, Oklahoma / April 27-29, 2017 / / S

Talent takes the stage at Twister Alley Film Festival. Courtesy of Twister Alley Film Festival

This young festival in Northwest Oklahoma (it turns three this April) is well on its way to becoming a regional gem, so get in while you can, we say. The line-up last year included Oscar-nominated shorts “We Can’t Live Without Cosmos” and “Everything Will Be Okay.” All screenings take place at the vintage 500-seat Woodward Arts Theatre, making for some concentrated networking. Alumni praise the staff’s effective communication and attention to detail.

Vancouver International Film Festival

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada / September 28 – October 13, 2017 /

“Cabbie” directors Jennifer Chiu and Jessica Parsons win the $20,000 VIFF 2016 Ignite Award. Photograph by Alisha Weng / Courtesy of Vancouver International Film Festival

Like any festival worth its salt, VIFF employs what it calls a “film plus” model—the “plus” referring to extracurriculars like last year’s inaugural Sustainable Production Forum, exploring all facets of green moviemaking (with a keynote address by The X-Files creator Chris Carter). As for the “film” part, the festival reports high levels of viewer engagement; no surprise, with its marketing department deploying an arsenal of special interest contact lists for laser-precise audience targeting.

Victoria Film Festival

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada / February 2-11, 2018 / / V

Star Duane Howard answers audience questions after Kirsten Carthew’s The Sun at Midnight screens at Victoria Film Festival 2017. Courtesy of Victoria Film Festival

Another British Columbia stunner, Victoria Film Festival is intent on moviemakers getting to know each other. Every party is preceded by a filmmaker happy hour to facilitate bonding; VFF’s director also invites small groups of moviemakers to lunch or dinner throughout the festival. As for the audiences, they get to participate in film discussion groups with the fest’s head programmer over drinks. A recent development is VFF’s newfound focus on technology and new media, with presentations exploring interactive and immersive storytelling.

Washington West Film Festival

Washington, D.C. / October 25-30, 2017 /

Chris King, director of short film “Birthday,” with actor Robert Duvall at WWFF 2016. Courtesy of Washington West Film Festival

Screen your film at WWFF, do a good deed. The festival donates 100 percent of its net box-office proceeds to charities fighting malnutrition, disease and lack of education for children. “Our festival president was told by big name festivals that this business model was festival suicide,” says Director of Programming Ariel Lee, “but here we are, seven years later, and growing!” If that’s not enough of a draw, we hear that the fest also puts on a filmmaker-only oral storytelling event—with whiskey involved.


Woods Hole Film Festival

Woods Hole, Massachusetts / July 29 – August 5, 2017 / / S

Scott D. Rosenbaum’s feature documentary Sidemen: Long Road To Glory plays at the Woods Hole Film Festival 2016. Photograph by Kris Marie Photo and Gene Chambers

The scientific community of Woods Hole often gets involved in this 26-year-old festival, joining panel discussions for science-centered films, for example. Add that to the home stay program for visiting moviemakers, the village’s walkable nature, and the gatherings organized in local restaurants and residences, and no wonder this Cape Cod fest is known for its intimate, friendly atmosphere. Most of the titles in the line-up come from submissions, and written feedback can be requested from programmers.

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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!

  9. Zack Han says:

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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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