50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, 2016

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Audience in Fletcher Hall before Meru. Courtesy of Full Frame.

Audience in Fletcher Hall attend a Full Frame 2015 screening of Meru. Photograph by Alex Boerner

FULL FRAME DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL

Durham, North Carolina / April 7-10, 2016/ fullframefest.org

This is “not an industry-centric festival,” says Full Frame Communications Manager Lindsay Gordon-Faranda. Instead, its focus is squarely on the craft of documentary, with “rigorous curation” and a sharp set of panels. The medium’s future stars are nurtured with the Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grant (a mentorship for first-time works-in-progress) and School of Doc bootcamp. Competition winners come away with cash prizes ranging between $2,500-10,000.

 

Emily Blunt in conversation. Courtesy of Getty Images.

Emily Blunt in conversation at the Hamptons International Film Festival. Courtesy of Getty Images

HAMPTONS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

East Hampton, New York / Oct. 6-10, 2016 / hamptonsfilmfest.org

The latest edition of HIFF boasted appearances from an impressive slew of distributors (some of whom picked up a film or two), including Sony Pictures Classics, Fox Searchlight, Oscilloscope and The Weinstein Company. The festival turns the area into a close-knit “melting pot,” says Executive Director Anne Chaisson; if you’re as lucky as one 2015 attendee, you might even run into Steven Spielberg and ask him for career advice.

 

Room director Lenny Abrahamson Skypes into the 2015 Heartland Film Festival. Courtesy of the Heartland Film Festival

Room director Lenny Abrahamson Skypes into the 2015 Heartland Film Festival. Courtesy of the Heartland Film Festival

HEARTLAND FILM FESTIVAL

Indianapolis, Indiana / Oct. 20-30, 2016 / heartlandfilm.org

“We hear that the films we showcase have never looked better on the big screen,” says Greg Sorvig, director of marketing and public relations, about Heartland’s commitment to exhibition quality. Since 1991, the Academy-qualifying festival has awarded $3 million in prizes, more than any other festival in the U.S. Post-screenings, mosey over to the new Premiere Pavilion party area, which hosts musical acts, a bar and more to come in 2016.

 

Courtesy of HollyShorts.

The team behind “Shok” are the overall winners at HollyShorts 2015. Courtesy of HollyShorts Film Festival

HOLLYSHORTS FILM FESTIVAL

Hollywood, California / Aug. 11-20, 2016 / hollyshorts.com

Located at Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatres, HollyShorts sees many a distributor pass through its doors. If your film doesn’t end up on one of their platforms, try the new HollyShorts-launched site Bitpix, which showcases accepted shorts beyond the festival dates. While travel and lodging isn’t provided, generous prizes run the gamut from equipment rentals and post services, to grants and $15,000 cash for the grand prize winner.

 

Kent Osborne and Skiz Cyzyk. Courtesy of Indie Memphis Film Festival.

Moviemakers Kent Osborne (front) and Skizz Cyzyk at Indie Memphis 2015. Courtesy of Indie Memphis Film Festival

INDIE MEMPHIS FILM FESTIVAL

Memphis, Tennessee / Nov. 2016 / indiememphis.com

“We connect the independent film community to our music community to nurture collaboration,” says Indie Memphis Executive Director Ryan Watt. That means plenty of live music at screenings and parties, and a soundtrack created each year and sent to music supervisors and composers. The focus isn’t all on music, of course; Indie Memphis hands out a comprehensive range of awards every year, including the unusual Best Poster Design.

 

Iris Prize Ashleigh Taylor, Mikey Lewis and Adrian Naik Photo by Jon Pountney.

Ashleigh Taylor, Mikey Lewis and Adrian Naik at Iris Prize Film Festival 2015. Photograph by Jon Pountney

IRIS PRIZE FILM FESTIVAL 

Cardiff, United Kingdom / Oct. 12-16, 2016 / irisprize.org

“Twenty-nine percent of our audience identify as straight,” says IPFF Outreach Administrator and Events Coordinator Jamie Williams, “a high percentage for an LGBT festival.” While the fest accepts both features and shorts, there’s a definite emphasis on the latter: Besides IPFF’s direct submissions, 25 partner festivals each nominate a short for the Iris Prize—a £30,000 (US$42,700) award that allows the winner to produce his or her next short.

 

One of the venues.  Courtesy of Digital Dubuque.

A venue at the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival lights up. Courtesy of Digital Dubuque

JULIEN DUBUQUE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Dubuque, Iowa / April 21-24, 2016 / julienfilmfest.com

JDIFF takes pains to showcase moviemakers in the press, arranging print, online, TV and radio interviews for participants. The 6-year-old festival hands out a healthy $40,000 in cash prizes. (Winners must be present to accept their bounty—thankfully, the fest funds the trip for finalists.) Films are screened up to four times in downtown Dubuque’s accessible venues. Want to venture off track? Use the festival shuttle to tour the city.

 

Filmmakers all trying to squeeze into one step and repeat picture. Photo by Joseph Marone.

Filmmaker lovefest at the 2015 Mammoth Lakes Film Festival. Photo by Joseph Marone

MAMMOTH LAKES FILM FESTIVAL

Mammoth Lakes, California / May 25-29, 2016 / mammothlakesfilmfestival.com

“We take over a college student apartment building and give the filmmakers their own studio or one-bedroom apartment,” says MLFF Executive Director Shira Dubrovner. “This creates an amazing community spirit.” Besides forging fast friendships (dorm party, anyone?), the festival gave out over $35,000 worth of prizes last year, including a Red camera and a $10,000 Panavision rental, to its four award categories (two more to come in 2016).

 

Courtesy of Napa Valley Film Festival.

10 to Taste, the “ultimate film, food and wine experience” in Napa. Courtesy of Napa Valley Film Festival

NAPA VALLEY FILM FESTIVAL

Napa Valley, California / Nov. 9-13, 2016 / napavalleyfilmfest.org

Fest in style in Napa Valley: Filmmakers in competition are put up in a five-star resort for an Artists in Residence program, complete with networking and mentoring sessions. The gorgeous location (not to mention the lavish food and wine on offer all five days) lends itself to a strong distributor, press and filmmaker presence. There’s also a pitch contest, which earns its winner $1,000 and a meeting with The Weinstein Co. in L.A.

 

Red carpet treatment at the 2015 Nashville Film Festival. Courtesy of the Nashville Film Festival

Red carpet treatment at the 2015 Nashville Film Festival. Courtesy of the Nashville Film Festival

NASHVILLE FILM FESTIVAL

Nashville, Tennessee / April 14-23, 2016 / nashvillefilmfestival.org

This generous Academy-qualifying festival offers prizes ranging from finishing funds, to a Gibson guitar (“It is Music City, after all,” says Artistic Director Brian Owens), to a $20,000 scholarship to the local Watkins School of Film, Art & Design for a moviemaker under 18. What’s new in 2016? An increased distributor presence, for one; also, a local talk show dedicates two full episodes to interviewing festival participants.

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