Film festivals require a strategy. It’s accepted as gospel among independents that a feature film is the result of dogged commitment to a singular vision. And it should be. Yet, once a finished project is ready to hit the festival circuit, many moviemakers discard the patient focus that enabled them to finish it in the first place, and submit to any and every film festival without much thought.
The problem is, desperation isn’t a strategy, and submitting to film festivals is not the same as buying up the most scratch-offs at your local 7-Eleven. Sure, some good luck can be a tipping point in your creative career—it almost always is—but the same careful deliberation that went into your artistic and financial decisions during production still needs to guide each of your fest applications. You owe yourself, and your work, at least that much.
So, if you’re not playing to win Wonka’s Golden Ticket, what are you playing for, exactly? When we at MovieMaker compile our yearly list of the 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, we’re not spoon-feeding you a catch-all answer to that perennial question, but setting the table for you to find the answer yourself. For one submitter sitting at that proverbial table, an ideal film festival audience consists of a few industry decision-makers; others are seeking film festivals made up of thoughtful, engaged cinephiles; and for some, the perfect fest includes a group of professional peers with whom you can bounce ideas.
Already know which film festival audience is yours? Great, dive into this list. Don’t? Figure it out first and come back later—we’re not going anywhere. On the day you do get an invite to fest with the best of ’em, the door will open to a wealth of benefits—networking summits, intimate retreats, high-stakes pitch sessions, competition (both fierce and friendly), and last but never least, comped travel and lodging. As ever, we score each of the selected film festivals that follow based on how well they deliver those things and much more. While some we’ve chosen don’t include all of the above, the overall experiences they offer have earned our vote of confidence. We believe they’ll earn yours, too. — MM Editors
S: Screenwriting contest or competition
V: VR showcase or category
P: Pitch competition or facilitated sessions