Jeonju International Film Festival / Jeonju, South Korea / April 2018

Dance party at the April 2017 edition of JIFF. Courtesy of Jeonju International Film Festival

“Unforgettable,” raves a panelist about this ambitious 18-year-old affair. “A four-hour taxi ride from Seoul, detouring through a nocturnal countryside intermittently dotted with glowing red crosses—let’s not forget South Korea is one of the most Christian countries in the world—is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the delightful curiosities to be found at this little South Korean festival, much lesser known than its bigger Busan brother. The program is always interesting, a mix of Asian indies, Korean premieres, experimental films and rarities from all over the world.”

Jerome Indie Film & Music Festival / Jerome, Arizona / Sept. 8-10, 2017

Strangers on a train: Jerome Indie Film & Music Festival 2016. Photograph by Jason Bryan

The youngest festival on our list, JIF&MF perhaps hasn’t ironed out all its kinks yet, but it’s lined up all the ingredients for a wonderfully unique experience. Based in Jerome, Arizona, a ghost town and artist colony looming over a historic copper mine, the festival also holds events in nearby Clarkdale and Cottonwood. The coolest venue of all, though, has to be the Wicked Wild West Cinema Train—an actual four-hour train journey through canyons, complete with film screenings and musical performances on board. Throw in a local wine competition (the Verde Valley area is considered Arizona’s answer to Napa), and you’ll be making films as an excuse to attend the extracurriculars.

Küstendorf International Film and Music Festival / Drvengrad, Serbia / January 2018

Serbian revelry at Küstendorf 2017. Photograph by Ana Popović

Situated high in the mountains outside of Belgrade at a rustic resort that once served as a film set, is one of the coolest international film festivals in the world you’ve never heard of. “At Küstendorf, time stops. You are absorbed with watching incredible international films, partying relentlessly, and listening to film masters tell their stories,” says our panelist. Serbian auteur and two-time Palme d’Or-winner Emir Kusturica presides over the party, drawing in cinema luminaries like Johnny Depp, Alfonso Cuaron and Andrei Konchalovsky for retrospectives and open panel discussions. With a focus on awarding new international talent, the fest is the perfect venue for the next generation of student filmmakers.

Locarno Festival / Locarno, Switzerland / Aug. 2-12, 2017

If you define “cool” as “forward-thinking, innovative and thought-provoking,” Locarno should probably be at the top of your must-attend list. A panelist explains: “Offering up the finest of what’s far too often reduced to ‘slow’ or ‘hybrid’ cinema, Locarno is at the cutting edge of contemporary film. The retrospectives and ambitious new films (in the Concorso Internazionale and Signs of Life sections) that appear here often travel worldwide afterward—and deservedly so.” Festival-goers enjoy outdoor screenings in the Piazza Grande, which holds a whopping 8,000. It’s breathtaking: “the best of Italian and German Switzerland, nestled between the Swiss Alps and the picturesque Lago Maggiore.”

Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival / Los Angeles and Orange County, CA / April 2018

Avid Liongoren’s Saving Sally won the Audience Award for International Narrative Feature at Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival 2017

Attend LAAPFF and you’ll get a tour of some of SoCal’s most interesting screening venues, from Hollywood’s beloved Egyptian Theatre to the spanking new CGV Buena Park, the funky Downtown Independent and a slew of traditional and converted spaces around L.A.’s Little Tokyo neighborhood. “LAAPFF programs diverse, unique Asian films from around the world that one might not be able to catch at other festivals,” says a panelist, who’s attended the festival for the 16 years. The 2017 edition played 184 films in a total of 33 different languages. Also served up: interactive media, a reflection on the L.A. riots, and the fest’s annual Conference for Creative Content.

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