50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, 2015
OMAHA FILM FESTIVAL
Omaha, Nebraska / Winter 2016 / omahafilmfestival.org
One of Omaha Film Festival’s biggest attractions is its screenplay competition, with industry successes—such as Steve Faber (writer, Wedding Crashers) and Leslie Dixon (producer of Limitless and Gone Girl) in 2014—heading panels. Screenplay finalists see their writing brought to life by professional actors at OFF’s Writer’s Theatre.
OXFORD FILM FESTIVAL
Oxford, Mississippi / Winter 2016 / oxfordfilmfest.com
With this four-day fest serving three meals a day and complimentary alcohol, no wonder all attendees “tend to end up doing karaoke together at the Saturday late-night party every year,” according to development director Melanie Addington. Alumni enjoy waived submission fees for future editions.
PALM SPRINGS INTERNATIONAL SHORTFEST
Palm Springs, California / June 16-22, 2015 / psfilmfest.org
Last year’s ShortFest line-up saw a master class lecture with Ted Hope, a session on publicity for first-timers, one-on-ones with industry pros, and a “Meet the Programmers” panel with a host of top festival gatekeepers. The festival also offers over $115,000 worth of cash and in-kind prizes, in 14 juried categories and four audience ones.
PORTLAND FILM FESTIVAL
Portland, Oregon / Sept. 1-7, 2015 / portlandfilmfestival.com
The winner of Portland Film Festival’s 20K Screenplay Prize gets (you guessed it) $20,000 in resources to produce their film. Also up for grabs: plain ol’ fun. The festival organizes such inherently “Portland” activities for filmmakers as a craft beer bike tour and “Oregon Games, including axe-throwing, wood-chopping and tree-climbing,” says festival director Josh Leake.
RHODE ISLAND INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Providence, Rhode Island / Aug. 4-9, 2015 / film-festival.org
Short filmmakers take note: This Academy-qualifying fest has a history of superb programming, with five alumni shorts nominated at the 2015 Academy Awards. One entry fee gets you into three submission pools (besides the main fest, there’s the Rhode Island International Horror Film Festival and Roving Eye Film Festival), plus consideration for an array of addendum screening series.
New York, New York / Summer 2015 / rooftopfilms.com
Designed as a summer series rather than a traditional festival, Rooftop Films doesn’t hold panels or offer juried awards; instead, they hand out over $125,000 in cash in service grants to alumni (like Benh Zeitlin and Ana Lily Amirpour). No wonder Rooftop isn’t so easy to get into (last year’s edition received 3,000 submissions, with 150 accepted). Industry and audience interaction peaks at huge after-parties-come-musical events.
SANTA FE INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL
Santa Fe, New Mexico / Oct. 14-18, 2015 / santafeindependentfilmfestival.com
Enjoy a “varied and unpretentious festival experience” (as festival director Liesette Paisner puts it) in this lively New Mexico town. Panels and workshops allow close interaction with local celebrities like George R. R. Martin and Wes Studi—and with many returning alumni, whose submission fees are waived.
SAVANNAH FILM FESTIVAL
Savannah, Georgia / Oct. 24-31, 2015 / filmfest.scad.edu
Savannah Film Festival is consistently praised for its projection quality—“the best I’ve seen at any festival, ever,” says director Eric Anderson of 2014 short “The Looking Planet.” The grandiose setting in the festival’s huge Trustees and Lucas theaters helps, too. And both student films and animation entries get free submission for a few months every year.
SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Seattle, Washington / May 14-June 7, 2015 / siff.net
You’re in for a happy (though lengthy) stay at the nearly month-long SIFF, which assists with everything from travel arrangements to publicity and community outreach. The fest offers more than 20 panels, forums and masterclasses, carefully curated programming, and a long roster of attending distributors including 20th Century Fox, IFC Films and Roadside Attractions.
Sheffield, England / June 5-10, 2015 / sheffdocfest.com
Festival staff describes Sheffield as the ideal combination of “unparalleled expertise with a rebellious streak.” Over 100 events (including interactive workshops, debates—and a roller disco) are led by the likes of Martin Scorsese and Morgan Spurlock. The fest’s pitching forum, MeetMarket, facilitated 1,500 meetings in 2014.