S: Screenwriting contest or competition
V: VR showcase or category
P: Pitch competition or facilitated sessions
Wilmington, North Carolina / November 10–14, 2021
Founded in 1994 by Twinkle Doon, a collective of independent filmmakers, the Cucalorus fest started out as a raucous one-night film party held at the now-defunct Water Street Restaurant. The Cucalorus of today, under the conservatorship of longtime chief instigating officer Dan Brawley, has grown considerably to include many screening venues, a packed program of about 100 films (culled from roughly 1,200 submissions a year), and year-round meetups and other events. But the rigorously independent, community-over-competition ethos remains intact. Cucalorus scaled down in 2020 to consult with its tight-knit alumni network to find out what moviemakers actually needed in the moment. That resulted in a profit-sharing pledge (“Every time we share a filmmaker’s work,” Brawley says, “we pay them”), and more intentional programming of Black, brown, and indigenous moviemakers, whose films comprised over 50% of those screened in 2020.
Montreal, Quebec, Canada / August 5–25, 2021 / P
Fantasia is one the premier genre festivals in the world, offering first looks at many of each year’s most anticipated horror, fantasy, crime, and other films to movie lovers and the marketplace alike. Last year, though attendees could not be enveloped in beautiful Montreal, the virtual festival still packed a global punch, showcasing 25 world premieres among 100 features and 190 shorts. In order to ensure “a sense of community and connection,” in the words of artistic director Mitch Davis, Fantasia made all of its panels, workshops, and Q&As free, internationally accessible, and capped at 500 viewers. Highlights included a live-streamed lifetime achievement award ceremony for early Fantasia supporter John Carpenter, and an artist’s talk by The Haunting of Hill House creator and Doctor Sleep writer-director Mike Flanagan.
Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada / March 4–8, 2022 / S, P
The formidable Female Eye Film Festival played out its whole 2020 festival in person, just shy of the first lockdown orders in March. This year, Female Eye resumed its new post at TIFF Bell Lightbox in downtown Toronto as a hybrid event that commenced on International Women’s Day. The festival is dedicated to repairing the gender inequity in all realms of contemporary moviemaking, from production to distribution to exhibition. Films are programmed into screening blocks like Indigenous Feature Documentary, Socio-Political Shorts, and Gender Equity, and a bonanza of industry, educational, and strategic events help female moviemakers springboard over industry obstacles.
Provo, Utah / October 15–23, 2021 / S
In advance of its annual fall fest, FilmQuest queried would-be 2020 participants and found that they overwhelmingly preferred to wait for the “real deal,” rather than go virtual. So this year, FilmQuest contenders and audiences alike can look forward to not one, but two festivals—a makeup 2020 lineup in the spring, and the usual 2021 lineup in the fall. Both events will have a virtual component, and the in-person festivities will implement strict health guidelines, including arranging spaces by proof of vaccination and daily rapid testing. FilmQuest’s 240-film lineup (and that’s just for the makeup event) is impressive, but its array of events is even better. “We’ve learned that panels aren’t everyone’s favorite,” says founder and festival director Jonathan Martin. So FilmQuest opts for labs and workshops like Independent Film Financing with David Wardle of Saban Films, and the Writing Horror Lab with screenwriter Matt Greenberg (1408, Pet Sematary).
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada / September 16–23, 2021
Last year, Nova Scotia’s FIN Atlantic International Film Festival weighed the various considerations of virtualizing an entire film festival — accessibility vs. integrity, recreation vs. innovation — and opted toward security. The FIN team built a streaming platform called FIN Stream, through a collaboration with CineSend, that utilizes studio-grade Digital Rights Management technology to geoblock screenings to Canada’s Eastern seaboard. FIN Stream also, no pun intended, streamlined the remote industry experience by platforming the annual FIN Partners co-production/co-financing market in one interactive, easy-to-use space. Alongside a 115-film program (81 from submission), the FIN Partners CNXN event offered the RBC/Telefilm Canada Script Development Program, the Director’s Guild of Canada Visionaries masterclass program, and nightly Gala Hangouts organized around individual films.
San Francisco, California / June 10–27, 2021
Frameline is simply an institution. Founded in 1976 as a modest storefront video event, it has grown to command intense loyalty from its attendees, and has retained such technical, organizational and historical expertise among its staff that it was able to seamlessly transition to a virtual festival, again via CineSend, and stream to upwards of 89,000 attendees. Frameline connects LGBTQ+ moviemakers not just with audiences and industry representatives, but also with the festival’s ample network of affiliates. Frameline Distribution, the festival’s non-profit distributor, maintains relationships with universities, libraries and festivals around the world, and the Frameline Completion Fund awards annual grants to moviemakers in their final editing and lab stages.
East Hampton, New York / October 7–13, 2021 / A, S
More of an audience festival than a moviemaker’s festival (only 13 films were programmed from a whopping 1,400 submissions), the Hamptons International Film Festival is nevertheless a major exhibitors’ force on the East Coast. Last year, Hamptons hosted the U.S. premieres of both Francis Lee’s Ammonite and the documentary I Am Greta, and welcomed a staggering collection of industry reps, from Netflix, A24, NEON, Sony Pictures Classics and ESPN. Variety has dubbed it “Telluride East.” Over $100,000 in cash, film production packages, and in-kind goods and services are awarded to moviemakers each year, in the luxuriant splendor of East Hampton no less, so if you can manage to slip through that sieve of an acceptance ratio — go.
Indianapolis, Indiana / October 7–17, 2021 / A
Perhaps the coolest event from any festival last year was Heartland’s drive-thru Red CARpet, which allowed moviemakers to coast through on Harleys and in Cadillacs to get their pictures taken in a safe, socially distanced manner. The Heartland International Film Festival, held annually in Indianapolis, does not mess around. It regularly programs internationally anticipated titles (like Minari and MLK/FBI), premieres films that get scooped up for lucrative distribution deals (MTV Documentary Films acquired Hao Wu and Weixi Chen’s 76 Days), and gifts $20,000 each to its Narrative Feature and Documentary Feature award winners. With a 10% acceptance rate — 64 films from 635 FilmFreeway submissions — moviemakers have a decent shot at screening for market people and actually getting a deal. Heartland also presents the widely loved Indy Shorts International Film Festival, the largest short film fest in the Midwest.
Hollywood, California / August 12–21, 2021 / A, S, P
If you live in Los Angeles and haven’t been to HollyShorts, commit yourself in 2021. HollyShorts is, as you might have guessed, a short film festival that takes place each year in Hollywood, at the TCL Chinese 6 theatres on Hollywood Boulevard. Since 2015, the HollyShorts team has been beta testing virtual capabilities on BitPix, which took the form of a beloved monthly screening series. Co-founder/director Theo Dumont says that when it became clear during the pandemic that “no one was traveling and people were looking for fresh content,” the HollyShorts team rushed its virtual transition to completion and pulled off a 418-film, seven-day festival complete with a packed roster of panels, a screenplay competition, and a new film market — all online.
Hot Springs, Arkansas / October 8–16, 2021 / A, P
Hot Springs National Park is known as America’s first resort town, a therapeutic vacation destination that the sick and weary have been traveling to for over eight centuries, according to indigenous historical records. The Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival has been hosting a uniquely restorative and comprehensive documentary film event within the park since 1992. A festival whose identity is so entwined with its location can’t very well go fully virtual, so HSDFF opted for a drive-in/online hybrid event, and presented 110 films from 30 countries over nine days. Back at home base—and this is a preview of what 2021 hopefuls can look forward to — HSDFF kicked off a new “Self-Care Series,” a mental health program featuring bike parades, inspiration hikes, outdoor guided meditation, and of course, dips in the famous hot springs.
Continue for more of MovieMaker’s 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2021