50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, 2015
GASPARILLA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Tampa, Florida / March 2016 / gasparillafilmfestival.com
Gasparilla is known for a creative party scene: Filmmakers and industry attendees have, in past years, mingled in a specially-renovated 1920s-era department store, and around a functional, truck-sized Magic 8 Ball. With financial assistance for airfare, lodging and transportation, accepted filmmakers can seize the night without breaking the bank.
HEARTLAND FILM FESTIVAL
Indianapolis, Indiana / Oct. 16-25, 2015 / heartlandfilm.org
With over $100,000 in prize money awarded every year, and Academy-qualifying status for shorts, a filmmaker’s road to Hollywood could very well start at the Heartland Film Festival. Young filmmakers take notice: Heartland’s High School Film Competition encourages the next generation of storytellers with a $3,000 prize.
HOLLYSHORTS FILM FESTIVAL
Hollywood, CA / Aug. 13-22, 2015 / hollyshorts.com
Looking beyond HollyShorts’ $100,000 in production and post-production prizes for a second, you’ll find the fest a major hub for short film distribution: More than 40 distributors attended last year, picking up north of 50 short films at the festival. Participants also enjoy the simultaneous HollyShorts Film Conference, with presentations, panels and workshops every day of the fest.
HOT SPRINGS DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL
Hot Springs, Arkansas / Oct. 9-18, 2015 / hsdfi.org
The eccentric history of this spa city means that a HSDFF event may well happen in a 1920s bathhouse, the Gangster Museum of America, or the Arlington Hotel (the festival’s main screening and accommodation venue). An Academy-qualifier for documentary shorts, HSDFF welcomes many of the year’s strongest docs; 2014’s selection included An Honest Liar, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, and Meet the Patels.
LONE STAR FILM FESTIVAL
Fort Worth, Texas / Nov. 2015 / lonestarfilmfestival.com
The Lone Star Film Festival stands out for its strong alumni relations and heavy-duty press-wrangling. An in-house publicist helps films get coverage in local and regional outlets. On top of that, the festival conducts its own professional photo shoots and interviews with participating filmmakers for year-round online promotion.
NASHVILLE FILM FESTIVAL
Nashville, Tennessee / April 16-25, 2015 / nashvillefilmfestival.org
At 46 years old, 3,500 submissions a year, 220 screenings, 42,000 visitors, 500 volunteers, a staff of 30, more than 100 attending media outlets, $45,000 in cash prizes, the numbers suggest that there’s nothing small about the Nashville Film Festival. Yet the fest excels at the personal touch—each submission, viewed at least twice, receives comments that are made available to all filmmakers, accepted or not.
NEW HAMPSHIRE FILM FESTIVAL
Portsmouth, New Hampshire / Oct. 15-18, 2015 / nhfilmfestival.com
Festival executive director Nicole Gregg quips, “We don’t think that when the city was settled in 1623, they had NHFF in mind, but the layout of downtown Portsmouth couldn’t be better suited for it.” The festival is often praised for its energy—its staff will even coordinate custom events for filmmakers who have materials to present beyond just their films.
NEW ORLEANS FILM FESTIVAL
New Orleans, Louisiana / Oct. 15-22, 2015 / neworleansfilmfestival.org
Yes, the wacky parties are great, but New Orleans Film Festival goes above and beyond to add value to moviemakers’ experiences. 2014 saw the launch of a community outreach initiative, where an outreach specialist helped target filmmakers’ desired audiences, incentivizing attendance with free tickets. The staff also connects alumni films with bookers for New Orleans-area theatrical runs. Plus, John Goodman’s on the board!
NEWPORT BEACH FILM FESTIVAL
Newport Beach, California / April 23-30, 2015 / newportbeachfilmfest.com
Just south of L.A., swanky Newport Beach sees high levels of distributor and celebrity attendance. Subsequently, festival events feature top-quality talent: Last year’s included a master class with cinematographer Matthew Libatique, and an editing seminar by Joe Walker of 12 Years a Slave. Special programming highlights female directors, LGBT narratives and filmmakers under 18.
Oaxaca, Mexico / Oct. 9-17, 2015 / oaxacafilmfest.com
You’ll have fun with Oaxaca FilmFest’s networking opportunities, like its intense after-parties and free daily tours of the surrounding area. Known for its hospitality, the festival offers lodging, transportation, and a per diem for feature filmmakers. Post-festival, films are screened in the mountain and coastal regions of rural Mexico for audiences without access to cinema.