Celebrating the short film at Aspen Shortsfest in Colorado

In a given year, an independent moviemaker can spend hundreds—sometimes
thousands—of dollars in film festival fees. With new festivals
popping up every day, and all of them pushing their own particular
bennies, it can become a confusing chore to weed through the dross
and decide where to invest your precious, non-refundable cash.
Our advice: Choose festivals that not only have proven reputations,
but also meet your individual goals. Play to your strengths and
you might even have some cash left over for that emergency film
stock fund on your next shoot. Here’s a highlight reel of
some hidden festival gems, along with the demographics to which
they tend to cater.


Nantucket Film Festival

This is where Charlie Kaufman is the equivalent of a rock star.
Nantucket’s major sponsors are Showtime and NBC Universal,
so that should give you a sense of the high-stakes game happening
in  the state of Massachusetts. Nantucket’s yearly celebration
of courier font includes the Moby Dick Awards for best screenwriting
in both feature and short formats and "best storytelling
in a documentary." But the centerpiece of the fest is the
Tony Cox Award for Screenwriting—a plum prize that includes
a first-look option with Showtime.

Genre/Cult Moviemakers

Philadelphia International Film Festival

One of the bigger regional festivals, Philadelphia slots its 300-plus
screenings into several different programs. Similar in lineup to
Toronto’s "Midnight Madness" series, "Danger
After Dark" features the best in genre and cult moviemaking
from around the world. It’s heavily populated with Asian
gore and gangster films, but the lineup does feature North American
releases, too. "Danger after Dark" screenings are eligible
for an exclusive award and industry sponsors have included Showtime,
Bravo, IFC and HBO . Be prepared for rowdies, though. According
to festival’s managing director Thom Cardwell, Philly audiences
pull any punches."

Yankee Moviemakers

Woods Hole Film Festival

All you East Coast blue-staters just starting out take note: The
14-year old Woods Hole Film Festival is a pretty safe bet. "Woods
Hole does give first-time New England filmmakers a hard look," says
director J.C. Bouvier, "particularly if they are submitting
features." Each year, the festival offers a New England Emerging
Filmmaker Award and they accept up to 80 films from a pool of 200
to 300 entries. Woods Hole Tech Day gives moviemakers access to
industry veterans, like The Godfather cinematographer Gordon Willis
(a local resident), and its close proximity to New York draws the
likes of venerable character actors like Chris Cooper.



Unleash your inner Brando at this annual southern California fest.
Named for Constantin Stanislavki’s groundbreaking acting
style, MethodFest is the only festival in the U.S. to "celebrate
breakout acting in story-driven independent films." Of the
800-odd entries received, director Don Franken estimates about
70 will be selected for screening this April in Calabasas, California.
Over 50 films screened at MethodFest in the past seven years have
been released theatrically or have received cable TV and home video
distribution deals. While you certainly don’t have to have
Peter Falk or Giovanni Ribisi in your movie to get noticed here,
it couldn’t hurt.


ION International Animation, Games and Short Film Festival

It may seem a little crass, but in a time when video games are
increasingly being marketed like big-budget movies and animated
movies look more like video games, ION’s confluence of the
two makes sense. The LA-area festival, which offers seven separately
juried competitions, even hosts an annual conference dedicated
to the subject of film, animation and game convergence. You’ll
come to grips with any artistic grumblings of "selling out" when
you hear that last year Pixar requested a copy of Short Circuit,
ION’s annual DVD collection of festival winners. As did Sony,
Disney, The Cartoon Network and DreamWorks. See? We knew you’d
get over it.

Horror Moviemakers

Screamfest L.A.

Celebrating its fifth year, Screamfest is refreshingly free of
all that "it’s not a horror film, it’s a thriller" snobbery
you might find at more mainstream festivals. Here, the horror film
is king. Winners have a first-look option with Stan Winston Productions
(Winston, a producer/director/special effects artist who counts A.I. and The Thing among his credits, is also on the jury) and
the winning screenplay receives a $1,000 cash prize. In addition
to the F/X guru, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Sean Cunningham, Tobe
Hooper and John Landis are members of the advisory board. How’s
that for a dinner party of the damned?


Hot Docs

You won’t find a screenplay award at this revered Toronto
fest—just 100 or so of the world’s best nonfiction
movies and moviemakers. Sure, the Toronto IFF gets way more press,
but "Hollywood North" is actually home to the largest
documentary film festival in North America, too. Founded in 1993,
Hot Docs routinely draws legions of buyers, distributors and programmers
over its 10-day annual run. It also offers over $20,000 in prizes.
More than anything, the festival is an independent producer’s
dream: Over half the projects pitched during its Toronto Documentary
Forum secure additional financing.

Don Franken, Karen Black and Dennis Hopper
celebrate the actor’s craft at MethodFest

Short Moviemakers

Aspen Shortsfest

Ready to pack up your skis and head to the mountains? The Aspen
Shortsfest, which celebrates its fourteenth annual competition
in April, awards over $20,000 in cash and Kodak film stock in categories
like animation, comedy, documentary, drama and student film. Winners
are eligible for Oscar consideration, and last year the panel program
MasterWorks drew industry professionals Christopher Hampton and
Paul Mazursky. Bonus: Minimal potential of heatstroke.

Social Issue Mavens

Kansas International Film Festival

Want to be the next Barbara Kopple? Although they only screened
about 20 fiction and nonfiction films this year, KIFF
director Ben Meade emphasizes that his fest is "particularly
interested in socially-conscious docs." So if you’re
sitting on the next great, scathing exposé, you’ve
got a good chance of getting it accepted here. In the past, the
fest has drawn reps from the Sundance Channel and IFC Films. Also,
according to Meade, they screen in the "coolest theaters
on the planet." So, um, bring a sweater.


Film Fest New Haven

Cleanse your palette of the bad taste that is festival schmooze
and get some intellectual stimulation at this Yale-area event. "We
have a reputation for being academic," admits executive director
Robin Andreoli. "Our post-screening discussions can sometimes
last for hours."

In addition to its bookish leanings, New Haven is one of the few
festivals to offer recognition for achievement in sound and/or
music. Many entries—including several Oscar-nominated shorts
and 2003’s opening night film, Robot Stories—have gone
on to garner serious critical acclaim. Greg Pak, the director of
Robot Stories, was so impressed with the festival he came back
to host a workshop on theatrical self-distribution and discuss
the success of his movie. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the
next moviemaker with the opportunity to gloat.

Southern Moviemakers

Indie Memphis Soul of Southern Film Festival

The South rises again in October, when Indie Memphis launches
its eighth annual fest. Of the approximately 250 entries each year,
about 70 to 80 are selected, so your chances of getting in are
exceptionally good. The catch? You have to be from the South, your
film has to be shot in the South or your story has to be relevant
to the Southern experience.

Launched in 1998 with nothing but a sheet on the wall of a local
bar, Indie Memphis has grown into a week-long event that Albert
Maysles proclaimed "more fun than Sundance." But even
if your drawl is as refined as Tennessee whiskey, don’t get
too cocky. "We are not afraid to reject local films," warns
spokesman Les Edwards.

Science Buffs

Seed Science Film Festival

Citing sleek, science-inspired movies like Gattaca and Primer
as their model, and geared more toward hipster MIT profs (if there
is such a thing) than "Babylon 5" junkies, this three-day
New York City festival attempts to de-geek science in the movies
by adding a dose of legitimate cachet. Sponsored by the group that
produces Seed Magazine, this fest has no track record (2005 is
its inaugural year). But the grand-prize winner gets $5,000 cash
and is also guaranteed "major" coverage in the publication.
Just take off your Spock ears before attending.

Attention Hogs

Victoria Independent Film and Video Festival

We’re going to go out on a limb and say that the Victoria
Independent Film and Video Festival is the only one in North America
that offers featured moviemakers a meal in the festival director’s
home. "We’re home of the boutique schmooze," says
the woman herself, Kathy Kay. "Filmmakers get incredibly
easy access to these people."

Judging by last year, "these people" are reps from
HBO, IFC and Bravo. Victoria showcases worldwide talent, but the
big cash prize of $2,000 is reserved for Best First Canadian Feature.
The entry fee is a cheap $10 though, and we hear Kay makes a great
honey-baked ham.

Cult phenom Ken Russell finds a warm reception
at the Philadelphia International Film Festival


Sedona International Film Festival

Nestled in the bucolic beauty of Arizona’s famed Red Rock
country (which USA Weekend named the most beautiful place in America
in 2003), the Sedona International Film Festival will help heal
your soul while you hawk your latest masterpiece.

Now in its eleventh year, Sedona screens about 100 films over
four days each March. An annual workshop named for acting director
Frank Warner, the Oscar-winning sound effects editor of Close
Encounters of the Third Kind
, brings together top industry professionals from
a different field each year for hands-on training. (This year’s
topic is "directing.")

While the festival’s executive director Pat Schweiss admits
they tend to draw more producers and directors than distribution
reps, Sedona has been a launching pad for high-profile films like
What the (Bleep) Do We Know? and the spelling bee mega-hit, Spellbound.

Maverick Moviemakers

Cinequest Film Festival

Even if you’re a nobody, this 15-year-old San Jose fest
will treat you like a star. That is, if you’ve got the boundary-pushing
goods to back up their reputation. For the last few years, Cinequest’s
Emerging Maverick and Maverick Spirit awards have helped spotlight
the best system-bucking indie moviemakers. (They have also feted
nonconformist Hollywood types like Alec Baldwin and John Waters.)

This is currently also the only festival in the world where featured
entries are available as DVD-quality downloads, via the Cinequest
Website. Don’t worry, though, the movies can’t be copied.
And moviemakers have the option of removing their work from the
site at any time. So when that theatrical distribution deal comes
along, you won’t have to give it away for free. That might
be a little too maverick.

High Rollers


Making movies is hard work. So is trying to get someone to notice
your movie after you’ve made it. You must be exhausted! If
your tastes lean more toward Wayne Newton than the painted desert,
why not blow off some steam and work on getting distribution at
the same time?

According to director of operations Jen Jergens, Cinevegas will
pay for your flight and put you up in a hotel for the entire fest.
It’s not all slots and blackjack, though: Reps from most
major indie-friendly houses attend, including Lions Gate, Miramax,
Focus Features and Screen Gems. Last year’s jury featured
Darren Aronofsky and Sarah Polley, and Dennis Hopper is the chair
of the advisory board.

Sun, sand and cinema dominate the agenda
at Cape Cod’s Woods Hole Film Festival

Adrenaline Junkies

48 Hour Film Project

The good people at the 48 Hour Film Project took a long, hard
look at low-budget, independent moviemaking and decided it just
wasn’t stressful enough. Their solution? Add a seemingly
suicidal two-day time limit. If the "caffeine, creativity
and cameras" don’t kill you, they’ll most certainly
make you stronger.

Teams from all over the U.S., Europe and Australia compete in
two-day touring competitions, completing a short film from scratch.
(Canuck moviemakers: Petition the fest to include your city by
going to their Website.) Each city’s winning entry is included
on a special best-of DVD and screens at Austin’s South by
Southwest Festival—and one lucky team shares the coveted
48 Hour Film of the Year Award. To celebrate, we’re guessing
they might want to take a nice, long nap.

Student Moviemakers

The Angelus Awards

Starving students take note: The Angelus Awards has gobs and gobs
of money, and they’re anxious to give it to you. The paltry
$25 application fee garners you access to over $30,000 in cold,
hard cash. The grand prize alone is $10,000, but there are content

Started by the Catholic media group Family Theater Productions
in 1996, the fest mandates that all shorts and features must "explore
the complexity of the human condition with creativity, compassion
and respect." By no means do you have to be Catholic to enter—past
winners like Monsoon Wedding screenwriter Sabrina Dhawan and Sundance
fave Tony Bui (Three Seasons) reflect a commitment to cultural


AFI Film Festival

Sick of all those bratty artistes hogging all the glory? Los Angeles’ AFI
Fest is for you. Sure, there are plenty of world-class cineastes,
movie­making legends and up-an-coming stars. But here, the
art of the deal is just as important as the art.

For the last three years, AFI has played host to Kodak Connect,
offering the opportunity to network with a wide variety of film
reps through intimate tete-a-tetes and power breakfasts. And last
year, AFI announced an alliance with the American Film Market,
the world’s largest movie marketplace.

Now coinciding with AFI Fest’s November screening dates,
the AFM hosts more than 7,000 industry executives from 70 countries
each year and generates more than $500 million in production and
distribution deals. Get those business cards ready!