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