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50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2018

50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2018

Annual Lists

Chagrin Documentary Film Festival

Chagrin Falls, Ohio / October 3-7, 2018 / 

Photograph courtesy of Chagrin Documentary Film Festival

In the quaint, 4,000-resident, arts-friendly town of Chagrin Falls on the outskirts of Cleveland, Chagrin Documentary Film Festival somehow manages to turn out crowds that exceed its local population. CDFF provides lodging for imported moviemakers with its home stay program. 2017’s panoply of hard-hitting, socially conscious discussions among nonfiction creatives addressed domestic violence, advances in autism awareness, human trafficking, and other subject matter ripe to explore in documentary format.

Citizen Jane Film Festival

Columbia, Missouri / November 1-4, 2018 / / V

Photograph by Citizen Jane Film Festival

Championing women’s stories is the only victory sought at Citizen Jane Film Festival, a four-day fall showcase devoid of awards but stacked with workshops designed to foster collaboration among female filmmakers. French New Wave Godmother Agnes Varda’s Spirit Award-winning Faces Places, Rachel Wolther and Alex Huston Fischer’s uber-weird Snowy Bing Bongs Across the North Star Combat Zone, and others saw regional premieres at CJFF 2017, and panels put the spotlight on trend-setting women, co-directing teams, and web series creators.

Cucalorus Film Festival

Wilmington, North Carolina / November 7-11, 2018 / / V

Performance artist Amanda Cordner’s “Body So Flourescent” show graced the stage for one night only at Cucalorus Film Festival 2017. Photograph courtesy of Cucalorus Film Festival

“Competition sucks,” declares Cucalorus Film Festival Chief Instigating Officer Dan Brawley. Instead of tense, prize-centric showdowns, this medium-sized North Carolinian creative retreat of sorts devotes its precious time to moviemaker-to-moviemaker bonds formed during late nights at its pastel-painted flagship theater, Jengo’s Playhouse, or at off-beat events like 2017’s interactive installation, where attendees were frosted like living cakes. Post-fest, Cucalorus’ residency program affords moviemakers anywhere from 10 days to three weeks to develop new work.

DC Shorts Film Festival 

Washington, D.C. / September 7-16, 2018 / / S

Monique Diop, a Ward 8 Commissioner serving the Bellevue Community in the D.C. area, tells her stories to crowds at DC Shorts Film Festival 2017’s #RealtoReel live performance series. Photograph courtesy of DC Shorts Film Festival

Having your film selected at DC Shorts Film Festival is a gift that keeps on giving—specifically, in the form of the sustained audience exposure that comes from its year-round, one-off screening events. Plus, accepted or not, submitting guarantees you at least two (if not more) pieces of feedback. Additions to DCSFF in 2017 included special showcases on politically charged “ripped-from-the-headlines” films and hefty hardware and software-stuffed prize packages.

deadCenter Film Festival

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma / June 7-10, 2018 / / V, P

Honored guest Gary Busey parks in between Oklahoma City’s Thunder Girls at deadCenter Film Festival 2017. Photograph courtesy of deadCenter Film Festival

Nearly 100 percent of the films deadCenter screened in 2017 were from their submissions pool, making its programming recipe an independent’s best friend. Once on the inside, moviemakers work with the festival’s fully staffed PR committee to orchestrate press campaigns that best suit their needs. Equipping moviemakers with sales-savvy market know-how is one of deadCenter’s motivating goals, made possible with the support of its Distribution Forum co-presenters, the Oklahoma Film & Music Office.

Denver Film Festival

Denver, Colorado / October 31-November 11, 2018 / / S, V

Photograph by Coreen Zuniga, courtesy of Denver Film Festival

Narrative, documentary, experimental, and even Italian moviemakers all vie for hefty cash prizes in their respective competition categories at Denver Film Festival, and travel, lodging, transport, and the promise of waived future submission fees await all feature directors upon acceptance. DFF’s 2017 run also saw the addition of a live script read with partner festival SeriesFest, a robust VR section, immersive theater events, and the Young Filmmakers’ Workshop. Plus, the festival’s Music on Film- Film on Music grant program provides $20,000 annually in finishing funds for U.S.-based doc productions that need music licensing, scoring, and composition. (Talk about a perfect score.)

Fantasia International Film Festival

Montreal, Québec, Canada / July 12-August 1, 2018 / / V, P

Ben Safdie (L) and Robert Pattinson (R) introduce the North American premiere of Good Time at Fantasia International Film Festival 2017. Photograph courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

At last year’s Fantasia, Ben and Josh Safdie and Robert Pattinson’s hosting of the North American premiere of Good Time could’ve been a metaphor for the invariably good time had by genre moviemakers at this three week-long (not a typo) buffet of bizarre cinema. Why the length? “We refuse to have five or six cinemas screening titles against each other—which would result in many films getting lost, or clobbered, when indies screen opposite larger titles. To ensure that every film makes an impact, we never have more than three screens going—and we often limit it to just two,” says Co-Director Mitch Davis. Likewise, both small and large-scale moviemaking teams are afforded a wealth of opportunities by Fantasia’s co-production market, Frontières, where career-making deals and partnerships are sealed annually.

Female Eye Film Festival 

Toronto Ontario, Canada / June 21-26, 2018 / / P

Photograph courtesy of Female Eye Film Festival

Toronto-based Female Eye Film Festival isn’t just preaching to the choir on the importance of amplifying indie women’s cinematic voices—it’s devoted to finding them an audience, too. FeFF is ready to launch its Hollywood Suites Acquisition Prize this year, and will rain down a cool $5,000 on the makers of an award-winning feature. The festival’s competitive live pitch session also grants its champion a hefty cash prize, and connects participants with funders, producers, broadcasters, and other stakeholders to help female DIY moviemakers tell their stories far and wide.

Florida Film Festival

Maitland, Florida / April 6-15, 2018 / / A

A festival-goer brings the ruckus outside the Enzian Theater at Florida Film Festival 2018. Photograph by David Martinez, courtesy of Florida Film Festival

Floridian film culture is graced by a wonderful web of festival-runners and goers, yet plagued by its unsupportive local legislature. But the 27-year-old Florida Film Festival has never let lagging lawmakers slow down their mission. FFF is the only fest in the state with Oscar accreditation—up for grabs in its live action, animation, and documentary shorts categories. (Bill Plympton’s animated short “Cop Dog” had its world premiere at last year’s FFF before qualifying for Academy gold.) Bonds between new and returning attendees take root beneath weeping oaks that enshroud the Enzian, the single-screen theater that houses the FFF’s daily screenings and the buzzing Eden Bar.

Golden Door Film Festival

Jersey City, New Jersey / September 20-23, 2018 /

Moviemakers gather in Golden Door Film Festival’s historic Loew’s Theatre in Jersey City, NJ. Photograph courtesy of Golden Door Film Festival

Improving the state of the state’s moviemaking infrastructure is a top priority at Founder Bill Sorvino (of the Sorvino acting family) and Executive Director Michele Sorvino’s Jersey City hub, whose name draws inspiration from the last line of Emma Lazarus’ ode to America’s immigrants, “The New Colossus.” (I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”) In 2017, Golden Door hosted policy-driven panels that focused on working with Senator Loretta Weinberg and Governor Phil Murphy to bring back tax credits to New Jersey, and on equipping east coast moviemakers with the resources at the NJ film commission’s disposal. Add to those initiatives GDFF’s philanthropic arm, which raises autism awareness through moviemaking, and it’s clear that this homegrown affair has a handful of causes worth rallying behind.

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  1. Jon Deo says:

    Really? No gay film festivals. Try again.

    • Filmmaker says:

      “Iris Prize Film Festival’s namesake is indeed its calling card—IPFF continues to dole out the largest LGBT short film prize (£30,000) on the planet”

    • Caleb, Asst Editor says:

      Hi Jon,

      Thanks so much for your feedback. Keep an eye out for our upcoming “25 Coolest Film Fests” in our Summer issue (newsstands 7/24). Lots of LGBT Fest representation!

  2. Max Weinstein says:

    Fixed, thanks for your feedback.

  3. Agree, remember to have your gold professionally graded and you should ensure that you organise the correct level of insurance to cover your investment.

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