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The 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World, 2019

The 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World, 2019

MovieMaker Coolest Film Festival Festivals

Annual Lists

San Francisco International Film Festival 

April 10-23, 2019 / San Francisco, California /

The longest-running film festival in the Americas, dating back to 1957, SFIFF has screened over 5,000 features, docs, and shorts and presents 200 films from over 50 countries. It also prides itself on being one of the Bay Area’s premiere cultural events and a repository of film history (at a SFIFF tribute in his honor in 1974, Truman Capote told the crowd he felt Audrey Hepburn had been miscast as Holly Golightly). Venues include an Alamo Drafthouse theater and an electronic arts facility. Says one panelist: “SFFILM is constantly evolving with its year-round grants and programs, culminating in a festival that holds screenings at places like the dream movie box that is the SFMOMA’s Cinematheque and the legendary Castro, where I saw the Kronos Quartet perform the live score to The Green Fog. There’s room enough for thought, dreaming, and everything in between.”

Skábmagovat Indigenous Peoples’ Film Festival 

January 23-26, 2020/ Inari, Finland /

The Skábmagovat festival, which is run by advocates of the Sámi peoples of Finland and recently saw its 20th anniversary, is a regional film festival for promoting indigenous peoples’ cinema. Recent screenings have included indigenous films from the Sápmi regions of Europe and Arctic areas of Greenland, Alaska, and Russia. A film made in the endangered Haida language, which counts only a dozen or so speakers, was screened at the most recent fest. And the filmgoing facilities are anything but ordinary: “Their Northern Lights Theater is an actual wall of snow which films are projected onto,” explains a panelist. “The theater’s ‘roof’ is the Northern Lights.”

Sound Unseen 

November 13-17, 2019 / Minneapolis, Minnesota /

Inaugurated in the great movie year of 1999, Sound Unseen refers to itself as a “films-on-music” festival that offers, in addition to features, docs, and shorts, music videos, rare concert footage, musical biopics, music panels, and live performances, as well as live musical accompaniment for most events. In recent years the festival has screened Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog and notably maintains its presence in the home of His Purpleness, the Twin Cities. Says one panelist: “Hitting its 20th anniversary, Sound Unseen is consistently able to put on amazing events and compiles the best music films every year.”

Third Horizon Film Festival 

February 6-9, 2020 / Miami, Florida /

Catering to an emerging generation of Caribbean moviemakers, the Third Horizon Film Festival was founded five years ago in partnership with the Brooklyn-based non-profit Caribbean Film Academy to promote films offering a Caribbean experience “more nuanced than the tourist brochures.” Adds a panelist: “A smaller fest in Miami showing new works from the Caribbean and diaspora: varying cultures, languages, and voices are given a platform and it really feels like an exchange rather than tokenism. Also, the parties have the best music of any film festival I’ve ever been to.”

True/False Film Fest 

March 5-8, 2020 / Columbia, Missouri /

“So much has already been said and written about True/False that it’s hard to cover new ground, but it’s all true,” declares a panelist. For one four-day weekend each year, the college town of Columbia becomes such a bustling hub of non-fiction moviemaking that “even the busboys in local restaurants give film recommendations,” a panelist observes. Would-be attendees who are broke and pressed for time can rejoice, too: “Unlike 99 percent of film festivals, they actually pay filmmakers to attend and pack everything into one exuberant weekend, so you can get on with your filmmaking lives,” says a panelist. There’s also the opening night jubilee and Gimme Truth!, a documentary game show. “True/False is hands down the most good- vibes, great-taste, filmmaker-friendly film festival I’ve ever known,” raves a panelist. “Co-founders Paul Sturtz and David Wilson bring 40 feature documentaries and 20 shorts out to a college town and ply you with beer, snacks, hoodies, good cheer, and everything you need to relive the youth you never had.”

True/False film fest-goers pay tribute to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a march through downtown Columbia, Missouri

This article appears in MovieMaker’s Summer 2019 issue. Illustrations by Wenjia Tang

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  1. 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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