Omaha Film Festival

Omaha, Nebraska /March 2020 / omahafilmfestival.org / S, V

Attendees take their seats at the 2019 Omaha Film Festival. Photograph by Daniel Dunlap, courtesy of Omaha Film Festival

Omaha is hardly a small town, but the Omaha Film Festival does provide that welcoming, family-like atmosphere for its guests. The festival offers unique features, including the OFF Academy, a two-day conference for high school students, who get to learn from industry professionals. The festival has also embraced VR in a big way, with a state-of-the-art facility featuring Oculus Rift, PlayStation, and HTC Vive headsets. The OFF’s screenwriting competition offers finalists a chance to see their screenplays read aloud by professional actors in front of an audience, with a discussion afterward.

Oxford Film Festival

Oxford, Mississippi / March 18-22, 2020 / oxfordfilmfest.com

Memphis punk band Negro Terror performs live during the screening of their documentary, Negro Terror, which won Best Documentary at Oxford Film Festival 2019. Photograph by Bill Dabney, courtesy of Oxford Film Festival

The Oxford film team defines southern hospitality. From arranging shuttles to making sure filmmakers have everything they need, this small festival encourages genuine interactions. The festival actively encourages female filmmakers to submit, with films directed by women receiving a 50 percent application fee discount. There is also a $1,000 female filmmaker award. Of interest to short filmmakers is the $15,000 Artist Vodka Award for best short. At the most recent festival 207 films were selected from 1,600 films.

Portland Film Festival

Portland, Oregon / October 14-20, 2019 / portlandfilmfestival.com

There may be thousands of film festivals, but there’s only one Portland. Rose City’s hip, laid-back atmosphere is part of the Portland Film Festival’s appeal. What other festival can boast daily moviemaker coffee chats at the world’s largest independent bookstore, Powell’s Books? Or a party for moviemakers at the historic Pittock Mansion? There are also daily networking events. These offerings allow accepted moviemakers to communicate with enthusiastic audiences, fellow artists, and movie industry pros. The festival is an eclectic blend of submitted and curated films, and usually generates a good deal of press interest.

San Diego Underground Film Festival

San Diego, California / August 22-25, 2019 / sdundergroundarts.org

Melissa Ferrari operating her magic lantern at SDUFF 2018. Photograph by Jenna Caravello, courtesy of San Diego Underground Film Festival

The San Diego Underground Film Festival may be the only one in the U.S. that pays accepted moviemakers an artist fee whether or not they can attend. That said, why wouldn’t you want to visit the gorgeous seaside city? Every block of films is paired with a live performance. In 2018, the SDUFF moviemaker party was held at the wedding and reception of its Festival Director and its Head Programmer. The festival features an expanded cinema section, including performances mixed with visual media, and the occasional magic lantern show. One artist each year is given the Most Metal award, a celebration of the spirit of freedom that permeates the fest.

San Luis Obispo International Film Festival

San Luis Obispo, California / March 2020 / slofilmfest.org

The SLO Film Festival is centered around its Hospitality Lounge, where moviemakers, press, and VIP passholders can mingle. Food and drink (from local breweries and wineries) is available, and the venue also hosts musical performances and weekend breakfast panels. Each moviemaker is assigned a volunteer Filmmaker Concierge. Festival Director Wendy Eidson says, “These volunteers make sure each guest knows when and where their screenings are happening, answer any questions, and generally ensure their guests are comfortable and content.”

Santa Barbara International Film Festival

Santa Barbara, California / January 15-25, 2020 / sbiff.org 

Viggo Mortensen arrives at the Arlington Theatre to receive the American Riviera Award at Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2019. Photograph by Emma McIntyre, courtesy of Santa Barbara International Film Festival

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival is a staple of the international festival circuit. Nearly 200 films are shown each year, half of which come from submissions, including many premieres. Nestled between the Santa Ynes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, the festival has no trouble drawing press and industry heavyweights. It’s an Oscar-qualifying festival that offers many free educational panels. Among the 10 generous awards on offer, the winner of the Panavision Spirit Award for Independent Cinema receives a camera package worth $60,000.

Santa Fe Independent Film Festival

Santa Fe, New Mexico / October 16-20, 2019 / santafeindependentfilmfestival.com 

film festivals

Love Story star Ali MacGraw (L) and On Her Shoulders director Alexandria Bombach (R) at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival. Photograph by Linda Carfagno, courtesy of Santa Fe Independent Film Festival

The Santa Fe Independent Film Festival is another destination fest. It takes place “in a picturesque adobe town nested beneath the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains as the aspens are still changing colors in mid-October,” per co-founder and Artistic Director, Jacques Paisner. Like many of the film festivals on this list, it draws its share of successful moviemakers and other celebrities. Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin bought the treasured local indie theater, the Jean Cocteau Cinema, in 2013. Some of the screenings are held there, and Martin has been a frequent guest at the festival.

Seattle International Film Festival

Seattle, Washington / May 16-June 9, 2019 / siff.net / A, S, V

This is a massive festival, spanning three weeks, and its moviemaker parties and panels take advantage of the location and the big names SIFF is able to pull. As expected of a larger festival, jury prizes are bigger than most. All feature competition winners get a $5,000 prize, while the tops in short categories earn $2,500. The festival also features a 4th World Indigenous Media Lab for indigenous moviemakers, and a VR Zone with 90 minutes of VR and 360 videos. There are panels on the weekend, and works-in-progress are screened for audience and professional feedback.

SENE Film, Music & Arts Festival

Providence, Rhode Island / May 15-18, 2019 / senefest.com 

SENE Film, Music & Arts Festival 2018’s Limelight Awards Party and Art Exhibit. Photograph by John Pitocco

The SENE (Southeast New England) Film, Music & Arts Festival brings together foreign and independent moviemakers, musicians, and other artists. For a modestly sized festival, they give out a lot of awards, categorizing films by genre, including Best LGBT Film and awards for student films and New England moviemakers. In total, they dish out over 50 jury awards and 20 audience awards. Features and shorts are offered stipends for travel from outside New England, and every paid submission gets two festival passes for all film screenings, regardless of whether the film gets in. Select films could also be included in the festival’s traveling Limelight Series.

Slamdance Film Festival

Park City, Utah / January 24-30, 2020 / slamdance.com / A

film festivals

Courtesy of Slamdance Film Festival

Slamdance uses the tagline, “For Filmmakers, By Filmmakers,” and they certainly walk the talk. Like many fests, Slamdance invites alumni back to submit their new films, or participate in panels, but Slamdance also has around 200 alumni moviemakers who work as programmers for the festival, and many of their year-round staff are also alums. In addition to the prizes for audience and jury favorites, two of Slamdance’s alumni, Joe and Anthony Russo (Avengers: Endgame), have created a fellowship for one lucky moviemaker who will receive mentoring from the brothers, an office at their new facility in Los Angeles, and a stipend for one year. Slamdance is one of the most well-attended festivals, with industry folk, press, and audiences traveling to Park City to attend it and the overlapping Sundance Film Festival.

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

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