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The 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World, 2017

The 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World, 2017


New Orleans Film Festival / New Orleans, LA / Oct. 11-19, 2017

The band takes the stage at New Orleans Film Festival 2016. Courtesy of Adrienne Battistella Photography

Overflowing with a wealth of culture, food and music, there is no other city quite like New Orleans. With that in mind, you might think that NOFF would get lost in the mix. Not so, says one of our panelists. “The festival is in the middle of everything; it’s very much folded in [to the city]. Hog out on food and film and music all within a few blocks.” That energy bubbles up with fantastic nightly parties, celebrity visitations and very little pretense. “There’s nothing like riding a streetcar to see your film, and their after-parties set the bar for U.S. film festivals,” says another panelist.

Sheffield Doc/Fest / Sheffield, United Kingdom / June 7-12, 2018

Daisy Asquith presents the world premiere of Queerama at opening night of Sheffield Doc/Fest 2017. Courtesy of Sheffield Doc/Fest / Photograph by Jacqui Bellamy

This nonfiction festival pushes the boundaries of how documentary can be presented. Beyond the top-notch films, masterclasses and conversation panels you’d expect from a festival of its caliber, Doc/Fest has rolled out innovative features like the Doc/Player—a digital library, available to all pass holders, of doc titles in search of distribution. There’s also Alternate Realities, an augmented and virtual reality program comprising a summit, exhibition, arcade and market (this in addition to other events like the well-known MeetMarket). Need a break from all that reality, alternate or otherwise? Head to the bar “that seemingly stays open forever… Sheffield has offered some of the best festival nights I can’t remember,” says a panelist.

South by Southwest / Austin, TX / March 9-18, 2018

It may be the 200,000 pound King Kong of Austin—with corporate swag, long lines and copious studio influence—but Texas’ festival kingpin still continues to impress the independently minded. “My favorite thing about this fest is the audience. They show up literally and figuratively. Turnout is great and the way that they are engaged is unlike anywhere,” says a panelist. Another puts it this way: “While the interactive portions have begun to feel like they’ve overtaken the film portions, there are still very few experiences better on the festival circuit than seeing your film’s name on the marquee of the Paramount Theater.”

Telluride Mountainfilm Festival / Telluride, CO/ May 25-28, 2018

Puppies and flowers at Telluride Mountainfilm 2017. Photograph by Melissa Plantz

Some festivals preach to their respective choirs, but others, such as Mountainfilm, integrate a fine mix of documentary cinema that engages the whole viewer spectrum. “This is a one-of-a-kind film festival for adventure lovers and environmental film enthusiasts,” opined one of our panelists. It’s also “a magical destination, deep in the heart of Colorado, with beautiful mountain scenery surrounding the town on all sides.” The festival has been championing films that address environmental issues since 1979, and has grown through a well-curated mix of human interest and environmental outreach. It counts author Cheryl Strayed as a regular speaker, along with a monumental lineup of filmmakers and environmental advocates.

Vienna International Film Festival / Vienna, Austria / Oct. 19 – Nov. 2, 2017

Patti Smith performing at Viennale 2016. Photograph by Alexander Tuma

Under two decades of leadership from current director Hans Hurch, the Viennale is the “perfect size,” with movies playing at “single-screen cinemas with distinct personality.” Yet the fest’s biggest strength might be the richness of its line-up—programming which “appears to have a portal into the taste-centre of my cerebral cortex,” says our panelist, who cites an edition that featured spotlights on Will Ferrell, Jerry Lewis, Louis Feuillade and Jacques Rivette as an example. Last year, notables such as Kenneth Lonergan, Abel Ferrara, Luc Dardenne, John Carpenter and Patti Smith had work featured (and seeing a Patti Smith concert in Vienna’s historic center, in autumn, might be the coolest thing you’ll ever do). MM

Illustrations by Sonia Lazo. This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Summer 2017 issue.

Read previous Coolest Film Festivals in the World lists: 2016, 2015 and 2014.

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  1. Tom Luca says:

    Interesting, Thank You

  2. Elliot says:

    Too bad your panelists don’t spend more time in Europe

    Two omissions spring to mind:
    Brussels International Fantasy Film Festival where audiences sing through the movies and London Raindance where you could easily sit next to John Cleese, Danny Boyle or Iggy Pop

  3. liz says:

    Those festivals DO sound interesting. However, any list of cool festivals really should include the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal. Directors, producers and stars rave about it and the reception that they get there. The audience is SO enthusiastic! (And no, I do not work there, I am just a very big fan, since the very beginning, in 1996!)

  4. Dottie says:

    The places for a documentary focusing on the sea and the environmental issues of our day might be Telluride Mountainfilm Festival or Sheffield DocFest.

  5. Dottie M says:

    The places for a documentary focusing on the sea and the environmental issues of our day might be Telluride Mountainfilm Festival or Sheffield DocFest.

  6. Jeni Kaybee says:

    The cool thing about La Grande, Oregon’s festival are the core people who have been pivotal and passionate about presenting a wide variety of thought-provoking and creative groundbreaking independent film. On the side, they also present some incredible afterparties for those three days with adventurous music. It’s just incredible that all this happens within a two block core of downtown…accommodations for visitors (and visiting film makers and musicians) with places to stay, restaurants, bars, and unique hometown businesses. I look forward to this every year; it’s La Grande’s premiere cultural multi-media event…hands down! I have met some great quality folks at EOFF.

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