The 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World, 2014

  • Fantasia International Film Festival // Montreal, Quebec, Canada // July 16 – August 4, 2015 // fantasiafestival.com

At a whopping 22 days (just shy of Seattle’s 25) Fantasia is one of the bigger fests on this list, regularly attracting more than 100,000 attendees. The North American ground zero of the Asian genre film scene, the fest launched director Takashi Miike to the world stage back in 1997, and he’s been a godfather-like presence ever since. Also, genre fans are nice: As one panelist tells it, “the programmers are lovely and passionate and slather you with hospitality, and the audiences are insane. They are huge and inquisitive and super-interactive.”

 

You could build a checklist of cool out of one panelist’s enthusiasm for Fantastic Fest. “More awesome movies than you can handle?” Check. “Highly anticipated premieres?” Check. “A crazy amount of talent in person?” Check. “A party around every corner?” Check. “Celebrity boxing?” Uh… check. In summary: “Holy wow. If a full-blown interactive festival experience is what you’re looking for, look no further. This is the genre-lovers’ dream.”

 

  • Full Frame Documentary Film Festival // Durham, NC // April 9-12, 2015 // fullframefest.org

With a board that includes Martin Scorsese, Ken Burns, and Barbara Kopple, Full Frame is an Academy-qualifying four-day affair with round-the-clock panels, discussions, and screenings of over 100 films. “Nicely complemented by refreshing spring weather and the area’s boom in great restaurants,” one panelist puts it, the festival’s “superbly curated line-up” is “matched to smart and appreciative audiences.” Off-season, Full Frame runs an educational doc-making summer camp and a doc-screening road show—both entirely free!

 

Coolness is more about personality than size, which is why Flyway represents the best of small-town American fest-ing. After citing the “exceptional” programming, a panelist paints the experience in a truly idyllic light: “They have a potluck on opening night and it seems everyone in town is an exceptional home chef. Most of the festival centers around Pepin’s beautiful winery, and the screening venue is above the Stockholm Pie Company, which has been called the best pie in America. It feels like a long weekend away in the woods.”

 

Actor Woody Harrelson celebrates at the Galway Film Fleadh

Actor Woody Harrelson celebrates at the Galway Film Fleadh

 

“A great market to meet industry execs by day, and drink whisky with them overlooking the river by night,” says a panelist of this “hilariously fun,” smartly-curated Irish festival. “Be careful—the sun comes up early and can catch you with a drink in hand.” We doubt that guests, like local folk Brendan Gleeson and Saoirse Ronan, will mind. (Just ask them how to pronounce “fleadh.”)

 

  • Hong Kong International Film Festival // Hong Kong, China // March 2015 // hkiff.org

With one of the world’s most prodigious film industries as a backdrop, it’s no wonder this 38-year-old festival presents such a wide-ranging, cosmopolitan spread of programming. Speaking of spreads, “just the breakfast included in the hotel room is enough reason to show up at this festival… a full-on magical dim sum experience,” says a panelist, whose priorities are clearly in the right place.

 

  • Indie Memphis Film Festival // Memphis, TN // October – November 2015 // indiememphis.com

“In 2011, I was stuffed in a van with a cooler of beer and a bucket of fried chicken and driven over an hour to a private residence called ‘Graceland Too.’ This fire-hazard of a home was filled to the brim with Elvis memorabilia and owned by a gun-toting crazy person.” The opening of a horror movie? No—one panelist’s fondest memory of Indie Memphis. The regional festival is a four-day carnival of film and music both homegrown and world-class. When a festival spans Halloween, you know you’re in for a good time.

 

Opening night celebrations of the Kustendorf International Film and Music Festival in January 2014

Opening night celebrations of the Kustendorf International Film and Music Festival in January 2014

An MM staff member, speaking of Küstendorf, once said, “Definitely the coolest fest I’ve ever been too, because I like absurdity and accordions, strong drink, strange food and I can tolerate cigarettes. Oh, and there are wonderful films by young filmmakers and great access to celebrity guests. It’s a beautifully bizarre event.” Which pretty much nails it. The Eastern European fairytale fortress of auteur Emir Kusturica, Drvengrad is a veritable artistic enclave every January, with prestigious international screening selections and a student shorts competition in a gorgeous, but relaxed, environment.

 

This fall festival, named after the two cinematically pioneering brothers, is “a thrilling collection of cineastes, townsfolk, and a lovingly assembled selection of restored films from every genre,” a panelist enthuses. “Major filmmakers attend to be feted and to select movies that have had an impact on their lives and bodies of work.” Besides their cinephile-satisfying screenings, the festival hosts a nightly club (on a modified oil barge moored on the Rhône riverbanks!) with concerts, DJs, and free entry to everyone.

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12 Comments

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  2. Michael

    November 22, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    This is pretty lame list MovieMaker Mag! Last year you had it right when you had your READERS vote for the top 25 coolest festivals…. this year you have a small panel of judges… none of which have been to Dances With Films in Los Angeles (which, btw, was the ONLY film festival that was in the top 25 last year remotely close to Los Angeles)…. be that as it may…. having a tiny group of judges is completely stupid because: 1] They have not been to all the festivals in the world (duh)… and 2] They undoubtedly have bias. A list is a list is a list… and they are all subjective… but seriously?… no, really… seriously?

  3. Kate McClintic

    November 22, 2014 at 11:10 am

    Maybe not the “coolest” this year though it has been previously, certainly one of the loveliest, most gracious, most convenient, and most enjoyable film fests in the world is the Beaufort, SC, International Film Fest in Beaufort, SC (between Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC). Beside great films, there are wonderful restaurants, a variety of places to stay, shops, and historic sites–all within walking distance. Also great hiking, biking, kayaking (on three of the cleanest rivers in the US) and a golf course within spitting distance in all directions to suit all budgets. If you haven’t seen the South, this is the way to see it!

  4. James

    November 18, 2014 at 11:15 pm

    I have been going to the Hong Kong International Film Festival for the past 13 years. It is many things, but cooler than festivals absent from your list like Sitges, PiFan, Yubari and FrightFest? I think not.

  5. Eric Freeman

    November 18, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Great list, however, filmmakers don’t care if a film festival is “cool”. They want to sell their movie so they can make another movie. How about making a list of festivals where a filmmaker can actually have a chance at selling their film? You know, a truly independent festival that isn’t just a joke like Sundance.

  6. Robert Cano

    November 18, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Filmmakers and guests consistently tell us year after year that The Long Beach Q Film Festival is the most intimate and enjoyable film fest that they have attended.

  7. Hilary McCarthy

    November 18, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    not forgetting the weird and wonderful Corona Fastnet Film Fest in Schull, West Cork in May!

  8. Maggie jury

    November 18, 2014 at 3:23 am

    Great piece to see and if anyone would like to come over to the Galway Film fleadh, it’s usually on in July along with a few other festivals we have here.

    We’d love to have you for the month 🙂

  9. son

    November 18, 2014 at 2:58 am

    Coolest Film Festivals in the World? and the reason is thet there were the only festivals were Judging Panel were probable.

  10. Szymon

    November 18, 2014 at 2:05 am

    Nowe Horyzonty in Wrocław (Poland) is a really great festival.

  11. Gerhardus

    November 17, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    Rotterdam.

  12. Kristian Berg

    November 17, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Yeah, well, um – Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival – Taos Shortz Film Fest – Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival – Woodstock Film Festival. My two cents.

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