Stamping the MovieMaker seal of approval on each destination in our annual guide to the 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee is only the beginning.
It’s a risky endeavor, doubling down on the decisions we reach to figuratively—and, as has often been the case over the years, quite literally—send our readers packing to a festival that could affect not only their trust in our endorsements, but also their next pitch session, distribution deal, and very career trajectory. But double down we do, with a deep faith in the way we’ve distilled our secret scoring sauce.
As the late, great Roger Ebert said of his film reviews based on the star rating system, “stars are relative, not absolute.” The same principle stands when considering our criteria for which festivals give that coveted bang for your buck. If a festival is utterly uninterested in, say, cultivating market activity, but pathologically committed to bringing creative partnerships to fruition, do its rights negate its wrongs? Perhaps. If a festival spares no expense to fund unfinished projects and arm independents with equipment that’s out of their price range, but can’t afford to fly and house all its attendants, do we dock points because it’s “cheap”? Probably not. If a festival hosts a bevy of practical workshops but falls short of being a programming paradise, does its DIY-friendly awe override its screening schedule’s flaws? We think so.
Don’t misread us—the festivals we’ve handpicked here aren’t teeming with setbacks to apologize for, far from it. But none is perfect, either, and that’s why we’ve taken great pains to grade them to scale, based on how well they do what they set out to do, and how compatible they’ll be with the needs of disparate moviemakers.
So, what things do we deem irredeemable? Programmed submissions can’t take a back seat to films programmed by other means. Networking can’t just be relegated to post-screening chatter. “New media” can’t just be ghettoized in a few novelty discussions as episodic indies, web series, and VR continue to redefine storytelling capabilities. And a record of mere press and distributor presence can’t qualitatively measure how that presence is impacting moviemakers’ bottom line.
If those are some of a film festival’s dos and don’ts, the question for you, dear moviemaker, to ask now is: What are my own? We hope that for every long and short-term goal you identify—be it finding your film’s proper audience, garnering tricks to be a better collaborator, or announcing your official “arrival” with an awards sweep—we’ve also identified a place where you can make it all happen. — Max Weinstein
S: Screenwriting contest or competition
V: VR showcase or category
P: Pitch competition or facilitated sessions