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The 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World 2020, Presented by FilmFreeway

The 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World 2020, Presented by FilmFreeway

Coolest Film Festivals in the World Coolest Film Fests 2020



2021 / Ghent, Belgium

Ghent, Belgium is a hotspot for all types of cinema these days, with Film Fest Gent making our “50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee” in our Spring issue, and Courtisane appearing for the first time as one of our Coolest Fests in the World. “Courtisane is a tight, ambitious festival where experimental cinema directors are revered and cherished,” panelist Ela Bittencourt says, adding that a “young university audience” keeps the proceedings lively. If you’re looking for some “art-school vibes” and cinema from the likes of Pedro Costa and Miko Revereza (two moviemakers included in their 2020 program), Courtisane might be your fest.


Aug. 7-15, 2020 / Prizren, Kosovo

A newcomer to our coolest list last year, Dokufest makes the grade again in 2020. If you are “addicted to docs,” then you’ll love this festival, Bittencourt says, while also describing it as “low key,” with “no hierarchies, and a great programming team.” Bradley adds that it doesn’t hurt that the fest takes place “within one of the most beautiful places on earth,” Prizren, Kosovo. Dokufest is helping build a conversation around great documentary programming “with the necessary flexibility to make it feel innovative,” says Bradley. Bittencourt adds that it is helped by a “young, vibrant” vibe in which “at night, everyone meets up at the same bar.”

Coolest Film Fests 2020

Photo by Tuǧhan Anit

Festival du Nouveau Cinéma

Oct. 7-18, 2020 / Montréal, Canada

What Polishuk describes as “the most enduring and arguably most endearing film festival in Canada” is set to host its 49th edition this October. Polishuk praises midnight screenings in “its trashy Temps Ø category.” You can expect only “a few hours of sleep due to an early wakeup call where you’ll accompany kids in the weekend sessions with film screenings and cinema workshops dedicated to them.” The children’s sessions are a blast, Polishuk says — adding that you may want to sneak some of the cookies and juice boxes usually reserved for the kids. The fest also follows an ethics charter that salutes the Mohawk Nation — noting that it takes place on unceded Indigenous land — and commits to gender parity, diversity, accessibility, environmentalism, and supporting local businesses.


Oct. 5-11, 2020 / Valdivia, Chile

Film Festivals and college towns are a match made in heaven (see also: True/False Fest, Courtisane, Athena), and FicValdivia is one of the best fests in Latin America. Bittencourt says it is “distinguished for its ambitious mix of documentaries and experimental cinema, run by a dedicated team.” Bittencourt advises fest-goers to allot some extra travel time, because the beautiful Atacama Desert is only a short flight away.


October 17-25, 2020 / Chatham, NY (Hudson Valley)

“It seems like every town has a festival these days. Often I think the trick is to find a place you like spending time in. I discovered FilmColumbia while visiting Hudson, New York, which is a very fun town a few hours outside of New York,” says Werner. Held each fall, the festival features a mix of Oscar fare, foreign language films, and docs programmed by Peter Biskind and Larry Kardish. “There are Q&As, a couple social events, and a whole lot of local color — not to mention the foliage,” adds Werner.

Coolest Film Festivals in the World 2020

Il Cinema Ritrovato

Aug. 25-31, 2020 / Bologna, Italy

If you’ve dreamed of watching beautifully restored films with seemingly an entire town, this is the festival for you. “It’s been getting crowded these days but this is still one of the most charming festivals to experience old classics and silent gems with live music. The nitrate screenings in the patio before the Cinemateca are particularly memorable. So is the copious Italian food,” says Bittencourt. Adds Werner, “It’s known as the world’s preeminent festival of film restoration … Its claim to fame is probably its nightly outdoor screenings in the beautiful Piazza Grande which featured films ranging from Chaplin to Fellini to more recent films by Jane Campion and Francis Ford Coppola, who were on hand to introduce them.”

Images Festival

April 15-21 2021 / Toronto, ON, Canada

This long-running festival went virtual back in April, but boasts “experimental film, art installations, performances, and hybrids that are truly thoughtful and exciting” says Hopinka. According to artistic director Steffanie Linghe, the programs “combine film and video screenings, gallery installations, live multimedia performances, readings, online presentations, and educational initiatives that explore the spectrum of Canadian and international experimental arts practices.” Images wisely places a special focus on connecting the local Toronto art community with experimental images and installations from around the world.

Images Film Festival Film Festivals

Photo by Adrian Armenti

Istanbul Film Festival

October 9-20 2020 / Istanbul, Turkey

This fest notes that it is the only festival that takes place in two continents, Europe and Asia, given Istanbul’s unique geography. “I spent only 48 hours there but, wow, what an amazing 48 hours,” says Polishuk, expressing a sentiment shared by many visitors to Istanbul. Founded in 1982, this fest is the largest in Turkey and is focused on films presented in the country.

For the last 15 years, it has held the Meetings on the Bridge program— a large co-production market that brings together projects in search of financing. And if you get bored of watching movies (how could you possibly?), the sights to behold in a city founded in the 7th Century B.C. are too numerous to list here.


Photo by Benek Özmez

Las Palmas De Gran Canaria Film Festival

April 2021 / Canary Islands

Every spring, the Las Palmas de Gran Canaria Film Festival brings
what Bittencourt describes as a “wonderful atmosphere with diverse programming that’s easy to take in, even on a tight schedule.” The mostly Spanish-speaking town is “lovely,” the programming team are “truly fantastic,” and there is of course “tremendous food,” says Bittencourt. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria promotes itself as offering the best weather in the world, thanks to trade winds that soften the summer heat.

Lighthouse International Film Festival

June 2021 / Long Beach Island, NJ

Polishuk says the festival “offers much more than a quality program of indie films and hidden gems. It’s a cultural event that celebrates cinema in all kinds of exciting ways.” He highlights the “fun parties, networking events, panels, and masterclasses with leading filmmakers, sandy beaches, seafood, ice-cream, and booze,” which should all be back in full-force in 2021. The festival pivoted to a drive-through this year, as LIFF executive director Amir Bogen explains: “While COVID-19 put our daily lives on hold, it also shut down the window to the alternative universe of imagination, creation, and art that is cinema. Lighthouse International Film Festival is here to reopen this window on the big screen, as part of LBI’s rejuvenation. While the drive-in option is being discussed in several festivals around the world, LIFF is willing to lead the way and make it happen for our amazing community and our fabulous filmmakers.”

Coolest Film Festivals in the Worlds 2020

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1 Comment

  1. Woodstock Film Festival! Was hoping to see it on this list. Great time – hope to be there again! My first independent short doc “Poustinia” won jury prize in 2013 (avail streaming). Leon Gast (“When We Were Kings”) was on the panel.

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