The 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World, 2014

The chance to meet John Waters. Not enough? OK, listen to this panelist: “Everybody shows up because everybody else is showing up because Maryland is paying for the train and airfare! More and more, we will find this fest world-premiering the best of indie cinema, because they are regularly drawing filmmakers in for a one-of-a-kind weekend of parties and delicious food. Plus, filmmakers can attend their Filmmaker Conference and get confidential inside information on the industry, directly from other filmmakers. A priceless resource.”

 

  • Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival // Los Angeles, CA // July 2015// outfest.org

Having just celebrated its 32nd birthday (making it six years younger than its San Francisco counterpart, Frameline), this 11-day festival has venues all over Los Angeles, colonizing the city’s array of gay bars for its extensive reception-and-party schedule. (Free-flowing alcohol, singing and dancing traditionally abound.) Attendees get to see practically every notable queer film on the circuit. Outfest, the festival’s parent nonprofit, also partners with the UCLA Film & Television Archive to preserve LGBT moving image media.

 

This week-long fest, like its home city, has a low-key, idiosyncratic charm—hipster, but not as much as, say, SXSW (one party invite tells guests to “dress up—whatever that means to you! This is Portland, after all.”) The region’s notorious dampness sometimes competes with some of the more inventive outdoor events. When Mother Nature smiles, however, guests enjoy screenings and concerts in parks, and a walking tour of Portland’s film landmarks (and when she doesn’t, they can attend a DSLR panel with the team from Road to Paloma).

 

Sidewalk wows with its sheer comprehensiveness—to Birmingham, it’s more than just a festival. Beyond their top indie fare and educational panels, the soirees are legendary: This year saw a funky street party with a seafood boil and bluegrass, a Sixteen Candles­-themed party at the top of Red Mountain, and “parties at [lead programmer] Rachel Morgan’s house. That is all” (says a panelist). Outside of August, the festival holds regular networking events, a screenplay competition, quarterly practical workshops (zombie make-up, anyone?) and the “Sidewalk Scramble,” a 48-hour filmmaking contest.

 

  • Seattle International Film Festival // Seattle, WA // May 14 – June 7, 2015 // siff.net

Let’s face it: At three times the length of most other festivals, SIFF gives itself three times the chance to be cool (Nope, it’s not fair). “Who doesn’t love nearly a month of movie-binging?” asks one panelist. “What’s so great about this is that attendees get the chance to watch nearly every film they’d like to with its versatile, long schedule.” Another panelist raves about the extracurriculars: “They have a filmmaker education program called Catalyst that had some of the coolest panels I saw all year.”

 

  • South by Southwest // Austin, TX // March 13-22, 2015 // sxsw.com

SXSW is a standout among festivals with pretty much the coolest offerings in new film, music, interactive media—and parties. It’s where young talent shines brightest: The 27-year-old event “leads the way in bringing up-and-coming filmmakers to the masses.” “If you’re looking to quit your day job, this heavy networking and exposure festival is a must-stop for you,” declares one panelist (Another confirms this: “I basically owe my entire career to South by Southwest.”)

 

“Location, location, location” perfectly sums up the allure of the Stanley Film Festival. Named for its setting in the hotel where Stephen King found inspiration for and wrote The Shining, this three-year-old horror film fest nails atmospheric charm on the head, showcasing both classic and contemporary indie cinema. As one panelist says, “There’s nothing like taking in some of the most stellar horror film programming while breathing in fresh (and maybe haunted) mountain air. Just watch out for those twin girls that hang out in the hallways. They’re a little unnerving.”

 

Want to “watch five groundbreaking films with filmmakers in attendance, catch a secret trip out to [famed Mexican restaurant] Casa Bonita, and end your night with some karaoke?” That’s all in a day’s work at the Starz Denver Film Festival. Screening over 200 films in 12 days, this fest boasts quite the reputation “for its filmmaker and guest relations,” with over 150 industry guests attending this year.

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  3. 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?

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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 🙂

  10. 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.

  11. Szymon

    November 18, 2014 at 2:05 am

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

  12. Gerhardus

    November 17, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    Rotterdam.

  13. 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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