50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, 2016
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.