The 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World, 2017

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The Festivals

BAMcinemaFest / New York City, NY / June 2018

Alex Ross Perry’s Golden Exits was the closing night film of BAMcinemaFest 2017. Photograph by Sean Price Williams

“Killer programming. Curation at its finest. A New York premiere at a historical venue. What more could you ask for?” says a panelist, who concludes: “Every day of this festival is choice.” That venue is the 150-plus-year-old Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), which also hosts the Migrating Forms showcase we’ve featured on previous editions of this list. Beyond the circuit hits fresh off Park City and Austin, this year—the BAMcinemaFest’s ninth—hosted the world premiere of Jim McKay’s En el Séptimo Día, and the North American premiere of James Kienitz Wilkins’ Common Carrier—two films, like many others in the slim line-up, by Brooklyn-based creators. You know what they say: Watch local.

Cartagena Film Festival / Cartagena, Columbia / March 2018

FICCI (that’s Festival Internacional de Cine de Cartagena de Indias) is a hub for Ibero-American film, offering a work-in-progress lab, producers forum and salon under its Puerto FICCI banner. At 57, this is the oldest film festival in Latin America, but also one of the liveliest. Its annual Cine en los Barrios program brings films to non-traditional settings—hospitals, churches, jails—all across Bolívar. “In the beautiful hills of Cartagena’s Old City, seeing films and mixing with fellow cinephiles is a true pleasure,” says a panelist. “Cartegena is an antidote for the winter blues. The white sand beaches are the perfect break from the darkness of the theaters.”

Chicago International Film Festival / Chicago, IL / Oct. 12-26, 2017

“I had one of the best weekends of my life at Chicago International Film Festival a couple years ago,” says a panelist. “There is something reinvigorating and pure about a regional film festival, which can help reinstall your passion for cinema.” Like many great festivals, however, CIFF is part of a larger complex of programming that is much more than just one weekend: Other year-round events put on by parent organization Cinema/Chicago center on youth filmmakers, television, education, international cinema… all of which draw upon the windy city’s cultural riches.

Eastern Oregon Film Festival / La Grande, OR / Oct. 19-21, 2017

Filmmakers roam the outskirts of La Grande at Eastern Oregon Film Festival 2016. Photograph by Matthew Wordell

Celebrating its eighth year in the bosom of Eastern Oregon’s Blue Mountains, EOFF seems, on the surface, about as far away from “cool” as you can get—but maybe that’s the secret. With a 13,000-odd population, the tiny city of La Grande has quietly fostered a hand-crafted festival that delivers quality and a wide-open sensibility without much hubbub. From the cozy confines of the Granada 3 Theatre to the down-home events that highlight the festival’s slender selection, there is an undeniable love of good independent cinema with a healthy dose of hospitality and who-knows-what-might-happen intimacy.

Fantastic Fest / Austin, TX / Sept. 21-28, 2017

“It feels unfair to have two Austin-based organizations on here twice,” notes a panelist (see SXSW, below), “but if you are a diehard fan of genre, very few programs are as good as Fantastic Fest. It’s always weird in the best possible way.” Fantastic Fest is a film nerd’s dream gone sideways. When you aren’t taking in the best in genre movies, there are more crazy events than you can shake a stick at. Putt-Putt golf party? Check. Star Wars drinking competition? Check. A pre-screening meal serving up the unlikely delicacy of Nutria (i.e. giant swamp rat)? Sure. Whatever floats your boat.

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6 Comments

  1. Jeni Kaybee

    September 1, 2017 at 12:06 am

    The cool thing about La Grande, Oregon’s festival are the core people who have been pivotal and passionate about presenting a wide variety of thought-provoking and creative groundbreaking independent film. On the side, they also present some incredible afterparties for those three days with adventurous music. It’s just incredible that all this happens within a two block core of downtown…accommodations for visitors (and visiting film makers and musicians) with places to stay, restaurants, bars, and unique hometown businesses. I look forward to this every year; it’s La Grande’s premiere cultural multi-media event…hands down! I have met some great quality folks at EOFF.

  2. Dottie M

    August 2, 2017 at 9:47 am

    The places for a documentary focusing on the sea and the environmental issues of our day might be Telluride Mountainfilm Festival or Sheffield DocFest.

  3. Dottie

    August 2, 2017 at 9:47 am

    The places for a documentary focusing on the sea and the environmental issues of our day might be Telluride Mountainfilm Festival or Sheffield DocFest.

  4. liz

    July 27, 2017 at 12:51 am

    Those festivals DO sound interesting. However, any list of cool festivals really should include the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal. Directors, producers and stars rave about it and the reception that they get there. The audience is SO enthusiastic! (And no, I do not work there, I am just a very big fan, since the very beginning, in 1996!)
    http://www.fantasiafestival.com/festival/2017/en

  5. Elliot

    July 26, 2017 at 11:31 pm

    Too bad your panelists don’t spend more time in Europe

    Two omissions spring to mind:
    Brussels International Fantasy Film Festival where audiences sing through the movies and London Raindance where you could easily sit next to John Cleese, Danny Boyle or Iggy Pop

  6. Tom Luca

    July 26, 2017 at 6:39 pm

    Interesting, Thank You

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