Here are the filmmakers and film experts who selected our 2023 list of the Coolest Film Festivals in the World. We’re deeply indebted to them for their time, excellent taste, and — of course — cool.
Katie Bignell graduated from Bournemouth Media School with a degree in Scriptwriting for Film & TV and is also a graduate of the London Royal Court Young Writers and Invitation Only Groups. For 19 years and counting, she has provided strategy and submissions support to filmmakers worldwide, resulting in the consultancy brand Festival Formula in 2014.
As an active member of the Short Film Conference and the Film Festival Alliance, Katie is also a key spokesperson on festival issues with coverage in The Hollywood Reporter and Screen Daily regarding suspect and fraudulent film festivals. During the pandemic she co-created the Filmmaker Lounge, in partnership with Film Festival Alliance, to provide an online space for programmers and filmmakers to discuss their roles. Previous guests include Tribeca, Slamdance, PÖFF Shorts, and many more.
Previous speaking engagements include HollyShorts, Heartland Film Festival, BFI Flare, Encounters Film Festival, Flickers Rhode Island Film Festival, Sundance, SXSW and many more. Selected prior jury service includes Cleveland International, Heartland International, St. Louis International and DC Shorts.
Ian Bignell is a film festival strategist at Festival Formula. He watches films that come into the company, providing impartial feedback on how they best fit into the worldwide film festival circuit. Drawing on his wisdom as the company’s previous submissions coordinator, he has expert insight into the circuit and uses it to create bespoke festival strategies. Behind the scenes, he is the company’s go-to nerd for technical help on anything from codecs to subtitles.
Away from the desk, you will often find him at film festivals worldwide as an industry guest, sharing his expertise and giving honest advice. Previous speaking engagements include HollyShorts, Heartland Film Festival, Encounters Film Festival, Flickers Rhode Island Film Festival, Bolton International Film Festival, Norwich Film Festival, the Manchester International Film Festival and many more. Selected prior jury service includes DC Shorts and Indy Shorts.
Sylvia Caminer marked her narrative feature directorial debut with the twisty thriller Follow Her, which traveled the world on the festival circuit, winning more than 15 awards, including the Audience Award at the Austin Film Festival.
Additionally, she has produced more than a dozen award-winning indie features and is a two time non-fiction Emmy Award winner for the popular series she’s done with travel guru Samantha Brown.
She also directed the feature documentaries An Affair of the Heart with Rick Springfield and Tanzania: A Journey Within. You might also enjoy her fun recent interview on the MovieMaker podcast. Follow Her was released in theaters June 2 and is also available on VOD.
Hanadi Elyan creates work focused on stories about social issues facing marginalized communities, from a female perspective. She is a transnational filmmaker who believes in breaking stereotypes through telling stories of the shared human experience. Her films have competed in festivals around the world and earned attention from the Los Angeles Times, Al Jazeera, MovieMaker Magazine and the BBC, among others.
Her latest film, Salma’s Home, won Best Feature Film: Global Vision at the Cinequest Film Festival and the Audience Award at the Austin Film Festival in 2022, and remained on Netflix’s Top 10 most-streamed films for four weeks in its country, Jordan. Born in Dubai and raised in an artistic Jordanian/Palestinian family, Hanadi spent her childhood between the UAE and Jordan.
She established Dubai’s Reel Arab Productions, a company that created commercials for international brands but then expanded into TV content for the biggest Arab broadcaster in the world. She moved to Los Angeles after being selected for the MSFF full ride scholarship, where she earned her MFA in Film Production/Directing from UCLA. Today, based in Boston, Hanadi serves as assistant professor of Narrative Film Directing at Emerson College.
Aaron Hillis was praised by Brooklyn Magazine as one of “The 100 Most Influential People in Brooklyn Culture” alongside Lena Dunham and Spike Lee. As Cinedigm’s Director of Programming, he co-manages and curates the indie discovery platform Fandor—newly reborn!
Aaron’s writing has appeared in The Village Voice, VICE, Variety, Vanity Fair, and other outlets that don’t begin with V. His co-directorial feature debut, Fish Kill Flea, premiered at SXSW.
Camrus Johnson starred as Batwing/Luke Fox in three seasons of the CW/HBO Max series Batwoman, and also directed Episode 311. Most recently he played Trav in 20th/Hulu’s Untitled Sister Comedy Project, starring opposite Awkwafina, Will Ferrell and Sandra Oh, and has wrapped directing Mary J. Blige’s Real Love for Sony/Lifetime.
Johnson’s adaptation of Daka Hermon’s bestselling novel Hide & Seeker — titled The Seeker — was selected onto The Black List in December. His short film “Grab My Hand: A Letter to My Dad” is a twice Academy-Award-qualified animated short that has won over 20 awards at film festivals across the globe. It most recently won the Amplify Awardat the Sundance Film Festival through its partner, the Windrider Institute.
His follow-up is the NAACP Image Award-nominated animated short “She Dreams at Sunrise,” which stars Azie Tesfai and Candice Patton and was an official Tribeca Film Festival selection and world premiere. It was included in its 8:46 block of films honoring the life of George Floyd.
Geoff Marslett is a Texas-born writer, animator, director, producer and actor whose work often revolves around the romance of connection and the way exploring your universe changes you and the place you explore simultaneously. He grew up a cowboy with an interest in physics, and has worked in manual labor and science before becoming a filmmaker.
He adores feral cats and still genuinely loves making things (especially weird things). He splits his time between teaching at the University of Colorado and making his own films. His films have played at Sundance, SXSW, BFI London, Fantastic Fest, Annecy, Sitges, Seattle, Vancouver and over 100 other festivals worldwide. They include Quantum Cowboys, Loves Her Gun, Mars and the short “The Phantom 52.”
Ondi Timoner is an internationally acclaimed filmmaker, who was shortlisted for the Academy Award for her 2022 film, Last Flight Home.
She is the only person to win the U.S. Grand Jury Prize at Sundance twice: for DIG! (2004), a film about the collision of art and commerce through the love/hate relationship between the Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Dandy Warhols, and for We Live in Public (2009), a film about a social experiment that proves the loss of intimacy and privacy with the advent of the internet.
Both films were acquired by New York’s MoMA for its permanent collection. Her most personal film, Last Flight Home, about her father Eli Timoner’s extraordinary life and intentional death, premiered at Sundance and Telluride in 2022, and won Best Documentary at the Woodstock Film Festival and Dallas International Film Festival, as well as the Critics Award at Key West Film Festival.
It also received a nomination from the Writers Guild of America for Best Documentary Screenplay.