50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2017
Miami Film Festival
Miami, Florida / March 9-18, 2018 / miamifilmfestival.com
Sponsors such as the nonprofit John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and HBO bestow generous prizes on award-winners at this festival, now in its 34th year. MFF is known for its particularly strong programming of new Ibero-American and Floridian cinema. At this spring’s edition, attendees enjoyed North American premieres like Radu Mihaileanu’s The History of Love and Alankrita Shrivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha, plus a Google Talks series on improving diversity in film and tech.
New Hampshire Film Festival
Portsmouth, New Hampshire / October 12-15, 2017 / nhfilmfestival.com / S
Accessibility is key here: both in terms of geography—all venues at NHFF are within a mile of each other—and industry, with distributors like A24, IFC Films, Magnolia Pictures and Oscilloscope Laboratories attending. The fest also holds a press party a week or two before opening night for regional outlets to get a head start on coverage (a nice touch!). Besides stellar events like the annual Insiders and Comedy panels, last year’s edition partnered with Red and G-Technology for a workshop on various types of workflows, from VR to hi-res.
New Orleans Film Festival
New Orleans, Louisiana / October 11-19, 2017 / neworleansfilmfestival.org / A, P, V
New Orleans Film Festival is upping its commitment to diversity with a new mandate that its line-up be at least 50 percent women-directed titles, and 35 percent by directors of color. (Juries tend to be equally diverse.) NOFF also manages a mentorship program, pairing emerging moviemakers of color with veterans. All this in addition to a slew of networking and pitch opportunities—325 one-on-one meetings were facilitated in 2016, with reps from IFC, Roadside Attractions, CAA and many more. No wonder more than 400 moviemakers attended last year!
Oak Cliff Film Festival
Dallas, Texas / June 8-11, 2017 / oakclifffilmfestival.com
If you’re a film junkie, this Dallas fest’s for you—the historic Texas Theatre, where screenings take place, projects in 16mm and 35mm, and previous editions of the fest have hosted a day-long workshop with Mono No Aware where participants shot, exposed and projected 8mm and 16mm film. Ninety-five percent of out-of-town moviemakers and jury members received airfare last year, and all received free lodging. Expect festival founders and staff to be in-the-know, yet approachable.
Outfest Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California / July 6-16, 2017 / outfest.org / P, S, V
At 35, Outfest is mature, but still growing. In 2016, the LGBT festival held an inaugural Fast Track pitch session event for its Screenwriting Lab fellows, allowing them facetime with executives. (Still more meetings are set up through Outfest’s Industry Link program.) For such a reputable stop in the heart of L.A., Outfest boasts a pretty healthy acceptance ratio—and programmers will pass on selected titles to its partner Newfest in New York.
Oxford Film Festival
Oxford, Mississippi / February 7-11, 2018 / oxfordfilmfest.com / S, V, P
Oxford Film Festival’s programming hits a pleasing blend of satisfying low-budget fare and prestige titles, a recipe that’s responsible for the increase in attendance that the fest has seen in recent years. This February’s edition featured a varied array of panels, from SAG Indie’s “Actors Taking Charge of Their Career” to “Fest Forward: Careers in New Media.” Another special treat for visitors was Danny Glover—the actor attended to introduce a screening of Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro.
San Luis Obispo International Film Festival
San Luis Obispo, California / March 2018 / slofilmfest.org
This rapidly growing, though still cozy, Central California festival has a pervading warmth, with enthusiastic crowds who come out for the thoughtful programming. Downtown San Luis Obispo is plenty nice already, but the festival conducted a special trip this spring that brought moviemakers to visit shooting locations in the area—and it encourages additional drop-ins to nearby wineries with a complimentary wine-tasting pass. The lavish filmmaker gift bag, full of local goods, is something to look forward to, as well.
Santa Fe Independent Film Festival
Santa Fe, New Mexico / October 18-22, 2017 / santafeindependentfilmfestival.com
A strength of SFIFF is the talent on display at its panels: 2016’s edition saw talks with MacGyver creator Lee Zlotoff, director Jay Roach (Trumbo) and editor Paul Barnes (The Thin Blue Line), moderated by producer-screenwriter Kirk Ellis (John Adams). Add to that a solid independent line-up (titles like Sherng-Lee Huang’s and Livia Ungur’s Hotel Dallas and the Oscar-nominated doc Fire at Sea played last October) and historic venues like the Lensic Theater and Jean Cocteau Cinema, and you’ve got a winner.
Savannah Film Festival
Savannah, Georgia / October 28 – November 4, 2017 / filmfest.scad.edu / V
Sure, some of the year’s most fêted films screen at Savannah (La La Land and Moonlight, anybody?) but rest assured that a good chunk of the festival’s line-up are unheralded gems. As it’s presented by Savannah College of Art and Design, there’s a down-to-earth, collegiate feel to SFF, with heavy student participation and educational masterclasses. Entries to the animation and student categories are free during a certain window every year, as are submissions from festival alumni.
SENE Film, Music & Arts Festival
Providence and Warwick, Rhode Island / April 25-29, 2017 / senefest.com / S
SENE (that’s Southeast New England, for the uninitiated) makes a serious effort to help moviemakers get press coverage. The festival provides a press release template for crafting materials, and has successfully booked spots on local TV. This 9-year-old festival is nevertheless still intimate and homegrown, held over five days, with live music and art exhibits programmed alongside film. SENE also programs for the Boston Comedy Festival in November, so comedy shorts submissions are eligible for both fests.