The 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World, 2019

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Think it’s easy being cool? Think again.

According to author Raymond Benson, no less than Sean “007” Connery had to secure his role as James Bond by agreeing to be tutored in “the ways of being dapper, witty, and above all, cool.” Coolness is a synonym for effortlessness,and if they can see you sweat the battle is lost. With that in mind, the festivals in our latest edition of the 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World have all gained a reputation for putting on a graceful, seemingly-effortless showcase—one that elides the hard work, ingenuity, and planning invested by their founders and artistic directors. In most cases these impresarios would prefer to remain Oz-like, behind the curtain, and allow you, the patron, to feel like the gamma rays of pure cinema pulsing through your body at their event sprang up as naturally as a Brooklyn block party.

The ’90s marketing term “coolhunter” never quite got off the ground—except in William Gibson novels—but it would be aptly applied to the eight taste-forecasting industry panelists we’ve wrangled to provide (blind) insights about our chosen festivals. These insiders run the gamut from moviemakers, actors, and novelists to fest directors, film journos, and publicists, each immersed in festival culture and able to separate wheat from chaff when it comes to a quality, forward-looking fest experience, rather than one that feels labored, repetitive, or past its cultural sell-by date.

Of course, coolness really comes down to taste and taste isn’t quantifiable. How much value-add you ascribe to a film if you’re watching it on a decommissioned Army base or lounging by the rooftop pool of a NYC hotel with a view of the Meatpacking District competing for your attention is on you. For some of us, it’s still all about the celluloid, distractions be damned. For others, cool- ness is inseparable from conscience in these times, and a festival’s merits are bound up in its progressive bona fides—the causes it’s endorsing or illuminating. “Cool” for some is simply something new to their experience, like a quiet, unassuming doc festival in a former Soviet Bloc country. For others, all things being equal, well…who wouldn’t choose the fest that’s frequented and occasionally guest-curated by John Waters? Let the cool-hunting commence.

—Ryan Stewart

2019 Panel of Cool

Matt Grady is the founder of Brooklyn-based indie distribution company Factory 25, an indie film distribution company launched in 2009 with the mission of “keeping physical media alive.” Recently named “One of the Most Influential People in Brooklyn Culture,” by Brooklyn magazine, Grady was formerly director of production at Brooklyn-based Plexifilm.

Eric Allen Hatch is many things besides one of your favorite Twitter personalities, with north of 15,000 followers. A film programmer, critic and consultant based in Baltimore, Maryland, Hatch was Director of Programming for the Maryland Film Festival from 2007 to 2018. He’s also a co-founder of Beyond Video, a Baltimore-based non-profit video store.

Bing Liu is a Chicago-based director and cinematographer named by Variety as one of 10 documentary filmmakers to watch in 2018. His film Minding the Gap won acclaim, including a Special Jury Award at Sundance and a nomination for Best Documentary Feature at the 91st Academy Awards. Liu was also a segment director on America to Me, a 10-hour doc series spotlighting inequities in America’s education system.

Jillian Mayer is a Miami-based visual performance artist and moviemaker whose work has been featured at SXSW and Sundance. She’s worked with Borscht Film Festival collaborator Lucas Leyva, creating such short films as “Kaiju Bunraku,” which was picked up by The Criterion Collection to be paired with Mothra vs. Godzilla on the Criterion Channel. In 2017 Mayer voiced a robot in the sci-fi feature Everything Beautiful Is Far Away.

David Ninh is the Director of Press and Publicity at arthouse distributor Kino Lorber, Inc. overseeing press outreach for theatrical, home video, and streaming. Prior to that, he was a Senior Communications Specialist at Kickstarter, working with creators during the initial funding stages of their projects, and worked on the press teams of the Film at Lincoln Center, the New York Film Festival, and PMK*BNC. He calls Brooklyn, NY home.

Ina Pira is a curator for Vimeo’s signature Staff Picks. Previously, she was the Senior Programmer at the Hamptons International Film Festival, the Montclair Film Festival, and the Sarasota Film Festival. Ina has served on over a dozen festival juries and is regularly invited to speak at festivals, conferences, and universities about film festivals, online curation, and digital distribution. She also recently launched a Live Director’s Commentary screening series in New York City.

Adam Piron is the Assistant Curator of Film at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) where, according to an interview last year, he seeks to “provide a blended mix of classics and offer different perspectives, expanding the definition of classic films.” Prior to joining LACMA he was a Sundance programmer, serving as manager of the festival’s Native American and Indigenous Film Program from 2014 to 2017.

Sandi Tan is a moviemaker, writer, and critic known for her 2018 documentary Shirkers, which debuted at Sundance 2018 and won a directing award. She’s working with Animal Kingdom and Cinereach to write and direct an adaptation of Elif Batuman’s autobiographical 2017 novel The Idiot. Her forthcoming novel, Lurkers, is a darkly comic tale on a group of suburban L.A. neighbors with interlocking furies and desires.

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1 Comment

  1. Maria Santagati

    August 1, 2019 at 5:28 am

    The Artis Center in Naples, Fl is really extraordinary. It’s the hub of performing arts, music, and film in Southwest Florida. It’s the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and Boston Symphony all in one – with art and entertainment for all ages. One of the things that impressed me most was the cultural campus for children, with programs for art and music in the form of summer camps, infusing art and music (and the importance of it) at a young age.

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