50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, 2016

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“Big Wednesday” cast reunion at 2015 Surf Nite in SLO: 2nd unit director Greg MacGillivray, Gary Busey, Rick Dano, Denny Aaberg, Lee Purcell and William Katt. Courtesy of SLOIFF Alan Fraser/Sonrisa Photography.

The Big Wednesday cast and crew reunion at 2015’s Surf Nite in SLO: Greg MacGillivray, Gary Busey, Rick Dano, Denny Aaberg, Lee Purcell and William Katt. Courtesy of SLOIFF and Alan Fraser/Sonrisa Photography

SAN LUIS OBISPO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

San Luis Obispo, California / March 2017 / slofilmfest.org

Participants at SLOIFF’s 2016 edition enjoyed a new festival tent, which hosted live music, breakfast panels and networking; meanwhile, tours of San Luis Obispo County showed off possible shooting locations (and local wine). Also new this year: Selected films were made available to industry and pass-holders on VOD player FilmFest TV after the festival closed. SLOIFF waives the entry fee for alumni, many of whom return to subsequent editions.

 

Gena Rowlands and Chris-Eyre, director of "Smoke Signals." Courtesy of Santa Fe.

Actress Gena Rowlands and director Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals) in Santa Fe. Courtesy of Santa Fe Independent Film Festival

SANTA FE INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL

Santa Fe, New Mexico / Oct. 19-23, 2016 / santafeindependentfilmfestival.com

Last year’s SFIFF screened the U.S. premiere of The Seventh Fire (subsequently acquired by Film Movement), as well as 2015 festival hits Songs My Brothers Taught Me and Krisha. The best thing about this fest, though, may be its loyal and eclectic community, from yearly favorites like cinematographer Lee Daniel and writer George R. R. Martin to visitors like (in 2015) Amazon’s Ted Hope and special tribute honoree Gena Rowlands.

 

Opening night, Sarasota Film Festival 2016. Courtesy of Sarasota Film Festival

Partying hard for opening night at Sarasota Film Festival 2016. Courtesy of Sarasota Film Festival

SARASOTA FILM FESTIVAL

Sarasota, Florida/ April 1-10, 2016/ sarasotafilmfestival.com

The winner of Sarasota Film Festival’s Independent Visions Competition receives a distribution deal with Factory 25. While airfare and lodging is available to all competition moviemakers, those out of competition are eligible for a stipend to help cover expenses. Expect many official and unofficial parties and events—as programmer Caley Fagerstrom claims, “We are the best at karaoke!”

 

Actor Alfie Allen received the Rising Star Award at the 2015 Savannah Film Festival. Courtesy of SCAD

Actor Alfie Allen receives the Rising Star Award at the 2015 Savannah Film Festival. Courtesy of SCAD

SAVANNAH FILM FESTIVAL

Savannah, Georgia / Oct. 22-29, 2016 / filmfest.scad.edu

Despite a reputation for a warm, relaxed atmosphere, the Savannah Film Festival takes its technical organization very seriously—participants rave about the flawless projection at the festival’s gorgeous venues. Now in its 19th year, the festival has expanded its competition programming with added shorts blocks and features, and the recently launched “Docs to Watch” section of the year’s best nonfiction, curated by The Hollywood Reporter.

 

Happy Slamdancers at the Carhartt Happy Hour. Courtesy of Slamdance.

Happy Slamdancers at the Carhartt Happy Hour event, 2016. Courtesy of Slamdance

SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL

Part City, Utah / Jan. 20-26, 2017 / slamdance.com

Slamdance holds its own with comprehensive year-round programs that foster its talents: You might take advantage of its VOD partnership with Hulu, or Slamdance Cinema Club, the year-long presentation of alumni films at Arclight Cinemas (expanding to Chicago this year in addition to L.A.). Or you might capitalize on your film’s odds of being picked up by one of the dozens of distributors hanging around Park City’s Treasure Mountain Inn in January.

 

Tacoma Film Festival's 2015 25 New Faces of Film with fest Executive Director Philip Cowan (lower right). Courtesy of Tacoma Film Festival

Tacoma Film Festival’s 2015 25 New Faces of Independent Film, with fest Executive Director Philip Cowan (lower right). Courtesy of Tacoma Film Festival

TACOMA FILM FESTIVAL

Tacoma, Washington / Oct. 6-13, 2016 / tacomafilmfestival.com

At Tacoma, you’ll see a cross-section of the year’s festival favorites. You might even catch the next year’s hits, with excellently curated secret screenings in store for savvy audiences. That kind of prescience is no doubt boosted by TFF’s annual 25 New Faces of Independent Film program, which brings creators on the cusp of stardom together for a week of dialogue.

 

Outside the Orpheum Theater at the Tallgrass Film Festival. Photograph by Tallgrass Press Corps

“Sidewalk of fame” outside the Orpheum Theater at the Tallgrass Film Festival. Photograph by Tallgrass Press Corps

TALLGRASS FILM FESTIVAL

Wichita, Kansas / Oct. 12-16, 2016 / tallgrassfilmfest.com

“Tallgrass might not be the biggest fest, but it’s scrappy and warm and inventive,” says Kevin Pang, co-director of For Grace. Visiting directors receive a star on the “sidewalk of fame” outside festival venues. (Talk about leaving a mark.) The fest’s top honor is the Vimeo Stubbornly Independent Gala, the winner of which gets a spotlight screening, a $5,000 cash prize and more.

 

Courtesy of Tallinn Film Festival.

The closing ceremony of the 2015 Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. Photograph by Ahto Sooaru

TALLINN BLACK NIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL 

Tallinn, Estonia / Nov. 11-27, 2016 / 2016.poff.ee/eng

Describing TBNFF’s “phenomenally diverse” line-up, Press Officer Hannes Aava reports that the 2015 edition “saw films from 78 countries, including two countries that don’t exist anymore.” If you thought Estonia an unlikely setting for such formidable industry events as the European Film Forum Tallinn conference and the Industry@Tallinn summit, you’re in for a surprise at this heavyweight festival.

 

Acrobatic troupe Made in Alchemy perform at the Victoria Film Festival’s 2016 opening gala. Photograph by Amalis Riera

Acrobatic troupe Made in Alchemy perform at the Victoria Film Festival’s 2016 opening gala. Photograph by Amalis Riera

VICTORIA FILM FESTIVAL

Victoria, British Columbia / Feb. 2017 / victoriafilmfestival.com

Well-curated global programming is a hallmark of this festival—its belief in equality and inclusivity manifests, for example, in special programs for indigenous and French Canadian films. Participants enjoy the promotional services of a dedicated press liaison who works with outlets both Canadian and otherwise. And SpringBoard, VFF’s industry networking event series, has pushed a number of projects into development over the years.

 

Courtesy of Woods Hole Film Festival.

A filmmaker trip to the lake. Courtesy of Woods Hole Film Festival

WOODS HOLE FILM FESTIVAL

Woods Hole, Massachusetts / July 30 – Aug. 6, 2016 / woodsholefilmfestival.org

This quarter-century-old festival runs a relaxed eight days in late summer, giving plenty of time for films to resonate with audiences in Woods Hole’s intimate setting. Moviemakers speak highly of this chance to bond with other top indie thinkers; no wonder many alumni return as filmmakers in residence (2015 names include Maya Forbes of Infinitely Polar Bear and Richard Ray Perez of Cesar’s Last Fast) and festival advisors. MM

50 Worth Spots

What festivals did we miss this year, and what should be on next year’s list? Share your opinions and festival circuit anecdotes in the comments below! Revisit 2015’s 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee here. This article appears in MovieMaker’s Spring 2016 issue, hitting newsstands April 19, 2016. Illustrations by Adam Hayes.


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