- Citizen Jane Film Festival // Columbia, MO // October 22-25, 2015 // citizenjanefilmfestival.org
Escape the boy’s club for three glorious days. “Attending the Citizen Jane Film Festival,” says a panelist, “is like walking into a magical world where female filmmakers are the rule rather than the exception.” Eight-year-old CJFF is staffed by “enthusiastic” students from Stephens College, and gets bigger every year. Case in point: These days, the Citizen Jane Film Institute holds a pre-fest summit with “the best and brightest guest speakers,” runs a filmmaking camp for teenage girls in June, and holds free workshops and screenings all year.
- Cucalorus Film Festival // Wilmington, NC // November 11-15, 2015 // cucalorus.org
Cucalorus attendees brunch on boats (at midnight), drink moonshine and view 150 films over five days in quaint-meets-wacky Wilmington, North Carolina. “The town is steeped in a Blue Velvet vibe,” says a panelist, “and you half-expect to see David Lynch drinking a cocktail in the filmmaker lounge.” Or at least watch one of his movies. The festival is “geared to elevate filmmakers” and maintains its distinctively daring tastes with risks that “always pay off,” says another panelist, who adds: “All I can say is bonfires and karaoke—legit Southern hospitality.”
- Cultural Resistance International Film Festival of Lebanon // Beirut, Lebanon // November 9-14, 2015 // culturalresistance.org
“Frontline cinema, anyone?” asks a panelist. This festival, founded by acclaimed Lebanese moviemaker Jocelyn Saab and only three years old this November, grapples directly with an unusual bedfellow—war—as Syrian refugees pour into its home. A festival in flux, it’s based in Beirut but “spread across from the port city of Tyre to the northern city of Tripoli, and changes its multiple venues based on where the insurgent unrest is.” Showing a line-up of impressive depth and diversity, its aim is “to resist war through culture—Amen to that.”
- Dallas International Film Festival // Dallas, TX // April 14-24, 2016 // dallasfilm.org
Dallas is so “supersized,” it makes “even the smallest of films feel big,” says a panelist. How does size matter? For one, DIFF runs a lengthy 11 days with a line-up both eclectic and excellent. Secondly, screenings take place at the Angelika, “a multiplex version of an art house theater, always packed with a larger-than-life audience.” Third, parties go down in mansions filled with both movie and Civil War memorabilia. Why not?
- Edinburgh Film Festival // Edinburgh, Scotland // June 15-26, 2016 // edfilmfest.org.uk
The longest running film festival in the world “may not boast the premieres and stars of other European fests,” says one panelist, but it makes up for it in “charm and grit.” For one, its location is “intoxicating,” with two great theaters in the Cameo and Filmhouse venues, and “Edinburgh Castle looming above you no matter where wander.” For those seeking “important and challenging American indies” from a slew of emerging talent, EIFF has plenty to offer. But “dancing to bagpipes! Men in kilts!” and endless summer days might get to you first, warns another fan.
- Fantastic Fest // Austin, TX // September 24-October 1, 2015 // fantasticfest.com
“It’s the sense that these are your people.” That feeling of belonging is what visitors search for—and find, in spades—at genre powerhouse Fantastic Fest. Programmers curate a haven for passionate misfits from all around the world, who flock to the Alamo Drafthouse every September for madness, spectacle, excess… oh, and “notoriously great” cinema to balance it all out. Make sure to get some sleep before you arrive in Austin, ’cause you’ll need it.
- Gijón International Film Festival // Gijón, Spain // November 20-28, 2015 // gijonfilmfestival.com
The “beautiful old Northern Spain town” of Gijón hosts what a panelist calls “one of the most geographically diverse slates of films in the world.” GIFF’s history as a children’s film festival lives on in its Les Enfant Terribles section of youth-oriented titles, while its guest list is high on the venerable (Abbas Kiarostami, Claire Denis, Todd Haynes, et al). And you don’t come all the way to Spain for nothing: Prepare for a “three-hour lunch at 2 p.m. and a three-hour dinner at 11 p.m., followed by live European bands every night in the local casino.”
- Hot Docs // Toronto, Canada // April 28-May 8, 2016 // hotdocs.ca
“People here love docs,” marvels a panelist. “Every screening had more than 350 people, with lines around the building.” It’s true—passion for the documentary format runs deep here, with an impressively broad range of subjects and styles on display. Hot Docs gains its character from its main venue, the century-old Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto’s Annex district. It also runs an exceedingly comprehensive conference and market during the fest, designed to get your documentary funded and sold, goddamnit.
- Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival // Yogyakarta, Indonesia // December 1-6, 2015 // jaff-filmfest.org
Top independent Asian film with strong roots in social activism: “This festival,” explains a panelist, “began in the city of Yogyakarta in 2006 when an earthquake drained all funding resources that the festival could possibly tap into. Instead of delaying the inception, the festival situated events—workshops, open-air screenings—in the disaster areas so that the earthquake victims could feel the people’s support. Basically a university town, audiences tend to be young and open to just about anything. And yes, this is the largest Muslim country in the world.”
- Maryland Film Festival // Baltimore, MD // May 2016 // mdfilmfest.com
“On point” programming, “seriously fun hotel parties,” and mingling with the unofficial Godfather of Baltimore, John Waters (“pretty much everywhere you go, looking like your uncle”)—it can only be Maryland. With most events held in central headquarters Tent Village, the accessibility evokes a “you’ll be back every year”-type intimacy. “This fest isn’t hectic and over-programmed,” says a panelist. “I sometimes feel like I get more work done in four days here than I do over a full week hustling my ass off in Park City.”