Florida Film Festival

Orlando, Florida / April 2020 / floridafilmfestival.com / A

This festival is all about making connections in relaxed surroundings with unjaded audiences. It is the only festival in Florida with Oscar accreditation in live action, animation, and documentary shorts categories. Screened in 2018 was Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter’s Negative Space, which received an Oscar nomination. The festival is happy to provide feedback to submitters. Out of 1,994 submissions, 180 films were programmed. Distributors included Gunpowder & Sky, Greenwich Entertainment, and Magnolia Pictures. Competition feature and documentary feature contenders receive airfare, and all submitters receive at least two nights’ accommodation. The Eden Bar has proven to be a fecund venue for making connections.

Heartland International Film Festival

Indianapolis, Indiana / October 10-20, 2019 / heartlandfilm.org / A

This sprawling festival screens over 290 films from around the world. Generally, stipends are only offered to filmmakers who get into its Official Selection or are awards finalists. Festival staff ensure that filmmakers can navigate the festival, and enjoy their spare time. In addition, Heartland offers generous cash prizes, with top prizes of $25,000 for the Narrative Feature Grand Prize or the Documentary Feature Grand Prize.

HollyShorts Film Festival

Hollywood, California / August 8-17, 2019 / hollyshorts.com / A, S, V

Photo by Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

You might think that holding a short film festival at the legendary TCL Chinese Theatre, in the heart of Hollywood, would be an advantage in terms of industry interest and involvement… and you’d be right. HollyShorts is an Oscar-qualifying fest, and offers prizes to moviemakers including a Panavision camera package and equipment rentals. Select shorts are also programmed on the festival’s streaming website, bitpix. On top of that, and a wealth of panels and awards offered, the fest has implemented a new Industry Content Creators First Look Development Lab with Greg Silverman’s Stampede Ventures. If your long-term goal is to develop your successful short into a feature, start here.

Indie Memphis Film Festival

Memphis, Tennessee / October 30-November 4, 2019 / indiememphis.com 

Indie Memphis Film Festival 2018 keynote speaker, Sorry to Bother You writer-director Boots Riley, in front of The Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Photograph by Jonathan Thomason, courtesy of Indie Memphis Film Festival

Despite being a local-minded festival, Indie Memphis still has the pull to bring in major well-known talent. Last year’s fest featured Boots Riley, Amy Seimetz, and the great Chris Elliott. Beyond movies the festival takes advantage of the vibrant local music scene, arranging for musicians to perform before every screening and showing movies with live musical accompaniment. In addition to offering many awards, including those for local projects, Indie Memphis offers three $13,000 cash/in-kind equipment rental IndieGrants (one doc and two narrative) to local moviemakers.

Mammoth Lakes Film Festival

Mammoth Lakes, California / May 22-26, 2019 / mammothlakesfilmfestival.com 

Mammoth Lake Film Festival’s class of 2018. Photograph by Joseph Marrone

It might be small, but in addition to its gorgeous setting, the Mammoth Lakes Film Festival is unique in its efforts to bring moviemakers together. Most accepted moviemakers are reimbursed for travel expenses, and lodging and transportation are taken care of once they arrive. They’re all housed at the same location and treated to breakfasts, nightly events, parties, and even a bowling night. This atmosphere encourages bonding. “Because of this,” says founder and festival director Shira Dubrovner, “we’re able to create a fun and friendly, nurturing and inspiring atmosphere with tons of moviemakers in attendance.” The festival has a knack for documentary programming. Last year, acclaimed docs Minding the Gap and Crime + Punishment screened at MLFF, as well as On Her Shoulders and Abducted in Plain Sight. All were picked up for distribution.

Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival

Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts / September 3-8, 2019 / mvfilmsociety.com 

Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival director Richard Paradise sings in the rain on opening night. Photograph by Jeanna Shepard

Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival is one of the most selective film festivals in the country. Features are curated, and only 10 shorts are selected for competition, with a handful more selected to screen before features. Just getting in is an accomplishment, and it is rewarded. The festival is able to fly moviemakers in and house them, and they’re given festival passes for access to films, theater events, and free meals. Sailing excursions and hikes give visiting moviemakers a sense of the beautiful island, and moviemakers are assigned guides. Because the elite vacation here, some industry heavy hitters are around to network with.

Nashville Film Festival

Nashville, Tennessee / October 3-12, 2019 / nashvillefilmfestival.org / A, S

The Nashville Film Festival, or NashFilm, takes advantage of the town’s musical heritage, programming a slew of music-related features as a part of a comprehensive schedule of features, shorts, episodic work, and VR. The festival brings musicians, including accomplished and well-known performers, and moviemakers together in a unique way to help spur collaboration. NashFilm hosts industry-relevant panels, gives awards for shorts and features, and includes a competitive screenwriting competition. The festival also gives accepted feature moviemakers vouchers for travel and lodging.

Nevada City Film Festival

Nevada City, California / August 23-30, 2019 / nevadacityfilmfestival.com

Set in a small scenic historic mining town, the Nevada City Film Festival is unique in its intense focus on short films, and in its efforts to make moviemakers feel welcome and inspired. That means supporting accepted moviemakers with travel to the festival and lodging, and it also includes hikes, mountain bike rides, and historic tours. The festival also hosts an annual residency for established feature moviemakers working on their third or fourth feature. Per festival director Jesse Locks, “We may not have distributors in bidding wars for films, but we make up for it with an authentic and supportive environment.”

New Hampshire Film Festival

Portsmouth, New Hampshire / October 17-20, 2019 / nhfilmfestival.com  

Located in a charming city, the festival features engaging venues, centered at the historic Portsmouth Music Hall. Panel discussions and Q&As offer the chance for networking and interacting with audiences. In 2018, the festival received 1,012 submissions, with 98 films accepted. On request, the festival provides feedback to submitters. Winners need to take into account how to transport the 15-pound granite awards home. Transportation is provided for filmmakers from Boston and New York City. Last year’s festival saw eight distributor reps in attendance, including A24, ESPN Films, FilmRise, IFC Films, Magnolia Pictures, and Oscilloscope Laboratories. Collin Schiffli’s All Creatures Here Below earned a distribution deal from Samuel Goldwyn Films soon after the festival. The annual Insiders Panel gathers industry reps who discuss the latest trends in the business of film.

New Orleans Film Festival

New Orleans, Louisiana / October 16-23, 2019 / neworleansfilmsociety.org/festival / A, S, V P

Moviemakers Katie Malia (L) and Saleem Reshamwala (R) throw up deuces at New Orleans Film Festival 2019. Photograph by Aaron Sarles, courtesy of New Orleans Film Festival

Set in an amazing and popular travel destination, the New Orleans Film Festival has no problem persuading big-time moviemakers and industry leaders to attend (Green Book and Roma had their regional premieres here). The festival’s laudable commitment to choosing its lineup mainly from submissions and its embrace of VR have only added interest. The NOFF helps out accepted feature moviemakers with travel expenses, and a VIP badge will get you most meals for free. The NOFF Industry Exchange, featuring 10-minute ‘speed dates’ for moviemakers and industry professionals, offers a unique way to promote your film and seek out new collaborators. (So you have someone to take to even more film festivals.)

Continue for more of MovieMaker‘s 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, 2019

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