50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2017
Chagrin Documentary Film Festival
Chagrin Falls, Ohio / October 4-8, 2017 / chagrinfilmfest.org
CDFF is less competitive, submissions-wise, than many big doc festivals, and it’s the personal touch that sets this small town apart. Last year’s audience was 10,000-strong, and is unusually involved with the festival: Lodging is provided via a home stay program, while the fest holds daily “Meet the Filmmaker” events and publishes a “Who’s in Town” flier. CDFF happily provides feedback on all submissions when requested—“a record number of filmmakers took advantage of this in 2016,” says Executive Director Mary Ann Ponce.
Cinequest Film & VR Festival
San Jose and Redwood City, California / February 27 – March 11, 2018 / cinequest.org / A, V, S, P
Cinequest made its name celebrating technical innovation. Fittingly, the festival has elevated its extensive Virtual Reality programs to share the spotlight with traditional cinematic formats, and boasts a new series of VR forums and workshops. Back in regular reality, though, indies play alongside some high-profile premieres, and daily happy hour soirees bring moviemakers into close contact with the leaders of Silicon Valley. Keep your business cards handy.
Citizen Jane Film Festival
Columbia, Missouri / October 26-29, 2017 / citizenjanefilmfestival.org / V
This non-competitive, women filmmaker-oriented festival accepts a relatively high percentage of submissions but doesn’t compromise on quality—the 2016 edition screened critic-approved The Lure, Abortion: Stories Women Tell and A Woman, A Part, among other titles. The Citizen Jane Summit, an afternoon of communal brainstorming and discussion, gets straight to the heart of the gender parity fight. Visitors then brush up on moviemaking skills at the festival’s day-long film school, and afterwards benefit from the festival’s new exchange program, which waives submission fees to CJFF’s partner festivals.
Cucalorus Film Festival
Wilmington, North Carolina / November 2017 / cucalorus.org / V
Our list’s other non-competitive festival is “like a filmmaker cuddle puddle that could lead to something serious,” says Dan Brawley, its so-called chief instigating officer. Cucalorus is famed for its tight community… and its quirk. To wit: 2016 applicants had to submit a fantastical self-portrait alongside their films. (The best portrait won its maker a spot at the festival! Brawley calls this “an honest admission that there are a million ways to build a good festival.”) Beyond November, Cucalorus offers themed filmmaker residencies as well as grants to North Carolina filmmakers.
DC Shorts Film Festival & Screenplay Competition
Washington, D.C. / September 7-17, 2017 / dcshorts.com / S
Get accepted to DC Shorts and your short not only plays multiple times during the September event, but may feature in the festival’s year-round screening series, too. A pretty sweet deal—as are the Host-a-Filmmaker and Feed-a-Filmmaker programs, which provide accommodation and chow from generous locals. DC Shorts puts on a seminar with four different tracks: for filmmakers, actors, festival organizers and film lovers. Yet the highlight for many moviemakers is the fact that all submissions receive feedback, regardless of acceptance.
deadCenter Film Festival
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma / June 8-11, 2017 / deadcenterfilm.org / P, V
No, it’s not a market festival per se, but deadCenter wants to help you get distribution. The festival puts together a Distribution Forum every year, facilitating “speed-dating” sessions with representatives from companies such as The Orchard and Lionsgate. Networking takes place at afterparties, panels, a couple of filmmaker brunches and—new in 2017—filmmaker daytrips around Oklahoma City, hosted by locals. You’ll meet the press, too—deadCenter’s dedicated PR committee makes sure of it.
Denver Film Festival
Denver, Colorado / November 2017 / denverfilmfestival.denverfilm.org / V
As Denver Film Festival approaches its 40th year, it continues a tradition of stellar programming. Besides its broad selection of films from all over the world, the festival’s Creative Conversation series offers examinations on diverse critical issues—last year saw such panels as “Igniting the Fire: Indie Film PR and Marketing,” “SeriesFest presents Politics in Television” and even “Art vs. the Artist,” which explored the line between artistic output and personal scandal in the film industry. All alumni receive fee waivers for future submissions.
Edmonton International Film Festival
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada / September 28 – October 7, 2017 / edmontonfilmfest.com
If you’re looking to engage with a younger crowd, consider Edmonton International Film Festival. The festival has a “Bring a Filmmaker to Your School” program, which allows teachers to book EIFF moviemakers to be special guests at high schools and talk to students about moviemaking. Also, notes Festival Producer Kerrie Long, “EIFF organizers are passionate about attracting large audiences to short films.” The “wildly popular” daily short screenings regularly take in crowds of 300.
Fantasia International Film Festival
Montreal, Québec, Canada / July 13 – August 2, 2017 / fantasiafestival.com / V, P
“To ensure that every film has a real shot at making an impact,” says Fantasia Co-director Mitch Davis, “we never have more than three screens going—and we usually limit it to just two.” That’s why the festival runs for a fun-packed three weeks, during which a horde of industry delegates searches rabidly for the next big genre titles. Fantasia’s second weekend hosts Frontieres, an international co-production market featuring receptions, pitch sessions and work-in-progress screenings. 2016 also saw a masterclass taught by, oh, just Guillermo del Toro.
Female Eye Film Festival
Toronto, Ontario, Canada / June 20-25, 2017 / femaleeyefilmfestival.com / P
Female Eye provides opportunities to get something off the ground. There’s the festival’s Live Pitch for features, the Good to Go script pitch (for writers with projects ready for takeoff) and the two-day Script-Reading Series with professional actors. Unlike its film line-up, which features women-directed titles only, the festival’s script development program is open to men, as well—as long as their screenplays feature female protagonists. Last year, the festival launched a channel on streaming site IndieVue designed to be a paying platform for alumni films.