S: Screenwriting contest or competition
V: VR showcase or category
P: Pitch competition or facilitated sessions
Memphis, Tennessee / October 20–28, 2021 / S, P
The Indie Memphis team isn’t content to just invite moviemakers from around the world to one of the cultural capitals of the country. Indie Memphis breaks down the borders that sometimes form between a festival and its host town by holding forums not just in theaters, but in bars and clubs. Each year, the fest features events like the Black Creators Forum, a packed, two-day festival-within-the-festival aimed at “easing the barrier of entry for Black filmmakers,” says former executive director Ryan Watt. The festival admits around 200 filmmakers each year, and they receive tens of thousands of dollars in awards and grants, including a $15,000 screenwriting residency grant.
Dubuque, Iowa /April 18–25, 2021
Don’t live anywhere near Iowa? Not a problem. The organizing team will handle it for you. Julien Dubuque fronts travel and accommodations for the top nominees in each competitive category every year, and arranges lodging for others through a home-stay program. JDIFF’s executive director, Susan Gorrell, personally notifies all who submit about whether they’ve made the cut — and if you’ve been through the process before, that means a lot. An in-person festival is the plan for 2021, but if that isn’t possible, JDIFF’s organizers are prepared to virtualize the roughly 120 films, and many fabulous events, that made 2020 such a success.
Shreveport, Louisiana / October 2021
The Louisiana Film Prize is a very specific, dynamic, and exciting event held every year in Shreveport beginning in January, with virtual events programmed for the rest of the year. The Prize invites moviemakers to shoot a 5- to 15-minute narrative short to compete for a $25,000 cash prize. (Last year it was cut from $50,000 due to the pandemic). The submissions are all screened by the full jury, and 20 films are selected to compete for the big prize in the October festival. The top five are awarded automatic distribution from Shorts International. Since LFP has always utilized virtual exhibition, it made an elegant shift online, offering mentor roundtables, panel discussions, and year-round competitor meet-ups. It went so well that the Prize’s online platform will return in 2021.
Mammoth Lakes, California / September 22–26, 2021 / S
Like the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, the Mammoth Lakes Film Festival boasts the unbeatable allure of being held in a gorgeous resort town — albeit of a wildly different type. You’ll soak in world premieres (Marjorie Conrad’s vampire thriller Desire Path was picked up by Amazon) and indie discoveries with the likes of Rachel Winter (producer, Dallas Buyers Club). It was irrepressible last year, screening 60 films online (56 from submissions), and hosting live Q&As with every feature. Nightly online hangouts and two disco parties approximated the MLFF experience the fest hopes to re-capture with its 2021 event, planned for September.
Miami, Florida / April 14–29, 2021
The Miami Jewish Film Festival, held for over 20 years amidst the vibrant, reconverted warehouses of the Wynwood Arts District, gathers up each of the rich strands that make up multicultural Miami and intertwines them around an annual slate of the best new Jewish-made, Jewish-led work in international cinema. Last year MJFF launched an initiative called “Building Bridges, Breaking Barriers,” dedicated to screening films and programming events that speak out against all forms of racism, bigotry and xenophobia. Executive director Igor Shteyrenberg says the program “serves as a reminder that we must all engage in the Jewish concept of ‘tikkun olam,’ or ‘repairing the world,’ and do so in the pursuit of social justice.” 2020 guests included Jesse Eisenberg, Udo Kier, Bella Ramsey (IFC Films’ Resistance), and The Painted Bird director Václav Marhoul.
Nashville, Tennessee / September 30–October 6, 2021 / A, S
The Nashville Film Festival has brought together the best in international cinema and local music for over 50 years. It includes three legacy initiatives: the Music Supervisor’s Program, which arranges one-on-one mentorships between musicians and industry insiders; the Creator’s Conference, featuring 12 live-streamed panels with participants from HBO, Regal Cinema, and others; and the Screenwriting Competition, which logs over 2,000 submissions and confers eight unique awards per year. Where 2020 went 99% virtual (save one charity screening of Medicine Man: The Stan Brock Story), NFF is committed in 2021 “to presenting a festival that includes in-person screenings,” says programming manager Lauren Ponto.
Nevada City, California / August 27–September 10, 2021
Don’t let the name mislead you: Nevada City is a very Californian mountain village known for its rich, mystical-leaning arts scene, which provides a magical backdrop to the festival. NCFF hosted its entire program of more than 80 films online last year, via Festival Scope. It also doubled the capacity of its drive-in theater, which ran back-to-back screenings for eight nights. It plans a return to that model this year. Nevada City’s relative remoteness hasn’t stopped moviemakers like Mike Mills, Miranda July and Tim Heidecker from attending, and it has earned press coverage from the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and McSweeney’s.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire / October 14–17, 2021 / S
We celebrated the New Hampshire Film Festival’s 20th anniversary on the last edition of our list, and we’re going to do it again this year. NHFF shuttered its 2020 fest in response to COVID, and plans a full, in-person redo in 2021. Beautiful, coastal Portsmouth has small-town charm galore, but NHFF is a major regional force, filled with networking events. Attractions include workshops, industry panels and awards like all-expenses paid trips to New York City for meetings with Oscilloscope. Plenty of films find distribution, and 2019’s highlights include Andrew Ahn’s Driveways, picked up by FilmRise, and Bob Byington’s Frances Ferguson, picked up by Amazon.
New Orleans, Louisiana / November 5–21, 2021 / A, P
Ordinarily, artistic director Clint Bowie and company offer an unbeatable care package: full airfare for more than 50 contending moviemakers, two nights of lodging in vibrant, walkable downtown New Orleans, and over $150,000 in cash, equipment and post-production services prizes. Last year, NOFF paid out its entire travel and hospitality budget of close to $40,000 directly to moviemakers through screening fees and honoraria. The “introspective work around who and what we want to be as an organization,” says Bowie, “shaped much of our response to both the pandemic and the uprising for Black lives.”
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada / September 22–26, 2021 / A, S, P
The only animation fest to make our list this year, the Ottawa International Animation Festival has no entry fee, and is a top networking and market destination for the animation industry. Held in Canada’s historic capital city, OIAF sets moviemakers up for five days in a local hotel and provides them with an artist fee at acceptance. That kind of treatment is just the start of the convivial, and professional atmosphere. Industry professionals from heavy hitters like Netflix, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon attend year after year to seek out new talent.
Continue for more of MovieMaker’s 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2021