Opening his keynote address to the Production Film Market in October ‘10, Jeremy Thomas expressed his opinion that festival programmers were more important than studio heads. The right festival strategy can define the future of your movie, so budgeting and submitting (or attending) the right one is increasingly important for upcoming filmmakers and marketing execs.
Through this list I’ve tried to regroup the 100-odd most ‘important’ film festivals, markets and showcases in the world. If you like this list please visit the top 10 Documentary Festivals and 10 Short Film Festivals lists I’ve compiled.
Film festivals shouldn’t be compared like a university leagues table. The reality is that buyers, distributors and sales agents will focus on a number of different festivals for different purposes – both big and small, and depending on their business, geographical or political position in the world.
If you feel I’ve missed anything out please email us. Better yet send me the festival programme by post.
Please note at print time some festival dates are approximate.
29th June – 07 July 2018
Czech Republic’s world renown festival Karlovy Vary was set up in 1946 communist run Czechoslovakia, and for several years alternated with the Moscow IFF. Their submission guidelines (determined by Paris based FIAPF (Fédération Internationale des Associations de Producteurs de Films)) – comprises films that ‘have not screened in competition at any other international festival’.
10th – 17th August 2018
Struggling to hold its position on the world stage with its predominantly predictable film choices, the Sarajevo Film Festival has received some comforting over the last few years due to the EU funding offered through its CineLink forum. Catering predominantly for the Balkan region, the festival set up the Berlin funded Sarajevo Talent Campus in 2007 for emerging South-Sastern filmmakers.
10th -14th July 2017
Bogota may not sound the most obvious place to go for an international conference, but Bogota’s Audiovisual Market in Columbia has increasingly proved an interesting stop for both the EU and US looking at exploring the Latin American Market. Last year’s small delegation of 120 included the head of Goldcrest (UK) and representatives from Fox, Disney, Yari Film Group and Paramount.
19 – 22 July 2018
San Diego’s twi-hard annual three-day geek fest may not seem the obvious entry into the list, but Comic-Con’s ubber nerdy convention also hosts its own Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival and is highlighted by most studios for launching, sneak previewing and launching (product ranges) a significant number of action, sci-fi and horror genre films and television pilots. A few recent appearances included AMC’s The Walking Dead, the Twilights, Harry Potter (the new one), Supernatural, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
Puchon’s young festival, also referred to as Pifan, has quickly established itself as one of the leading fantastic festivals in the circuit. Though the festival isn’t exactly known for discovering new films, the festival did get somewhat of a facelift in 2006 when it replaced almost all senior staff and highlights a significant number of Far East horrors to cater the Western market.
Head over to their Website for info to submit.
July 26th – 5th 2018
Held in the same city as the recently founded American Film Festival, Wroclaw, Era New Horizons has steadily crept into the limelight for showcasing the alternative to its mainstream older sister the Warsaw Film Festival.
19th July – 5th August 2018
Good luck budgeting this one; the Auckland International Film Festival and Wellington Film Festival are now merged as the New Zealand International Film Festival, and since boast a further 13 city runs. Its main outfit is the Auckland stretch over 3 weeks in July, whilst the remaining film prints will stretch as far across until mid November. In most part a best of fests festival, its programming team is split between Paris and Wellington, and the festival offers the rare opportunity to catch even mainstream foreign/art-house films in a country which sees relatively few released.
Information for submitting is on their Website.
One of the largest gatherings for the fantastic and horror genres, Montreal’s Fantastic Festival hosts one of the most important number of north American film buyers every July. Initially focusing on only Hong Kong and Japanese cinema, the festival has become international and a worth-while stop, least because of the cheer number of films screening under one umbrella.
Australia’s highlight festival, MIFF is as much known for stirring controversy as for launching homegrown talent. In 2010 the world premiere of Bruce LaBruce’s L.A. Zombie was banned by the conservative Australian censors, and the screening of Son of Babylon caused a hissy for director Richard Moore, who demanded payment when the producer decided to pull it from the programme. In that same time the festival came under the funders microscope with its review, setting up two senior positions: an internal promotion for the senior programme, whilst the director left for Brisbane. The festival screens a large number of festival circuit ‘best of fests’ complemented by a fantastic homegrown strand. Its market, the MIFF South Market, brings together an important number of Asian and EU based companies, and is partnerered with London’s Production Finance Market.
9th December 2017
Over the last 17 years International Documentary Association’s DocuWeeks has quickly gained momentum as one of the world’s best steps into the Oscar race. Splitting its two week runs in both Academy Award qualifying LA and NY for a lucky 17 odd documentaries, some of this year’s selected Oscar contenders include Waste Land and This Way Of Life.
1st – 11th August 2018
Locarno Film Festival is as much daring as it is initiative in its selections of films. A key festival for di scovering films, Locarno is one of the world’s oldest festivals. Be sure to book accommodation ahead as hotel prices soar sky high.
18th – 24th August 2018
The unlikely location for Norway’s leading state funded festival, Haügesund’s sleepy town comes alive every August for the masses of international delegates and press, with many filmmakers scouting through the books of commissioners in attendance. Mainly focused on festival circuit films, the festival does however also host its own co-production forum and competitive awards The Amanda Awards.
Known for pointing its middle fingers towards its conservative homeland, Melbourne Underground is a small gritty little festival, specializing in the obscure, videography, genre films. In 2010 the festival decided to screen MIFF banned L.A. Zombie, daring the police to interfere with the screening. 2 months later police raided festival director Richard Wolsencroft’s home, who now faces an impending court case over possession and exhibition of the film. The world’s filmmaking community showed their support for him, including the heads of the Toronto, Locarno and Raindance Film Festivals.
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TBC for 2018
Alongside Montreal Fantastic, the Festival Des Films du Monde/World Film Festival is one of the largest film events of its kind. One of the greatest public focused film festivals, the WFF (sometimes known as Montreal International Film Festival) sees almost 400,000 attendees, one of the city’s largest money generating events. The festival showcases the most impressive line up of British and Francophone Canadian films of the year.
Venice Film Festival is the world’s first and most exclusive film festivals. Specializing in world premieres, the festival has been ruled under the tight regime of Marco Müller since 2004, a time in which the festival has witnessed one of its most turbulent times since its incepting years. With the setting up of the Rome Film Festival in 2006, the Venezia has undergone some change, halted its development of the new cinema, and responded to the funding cuts by selling premiere tickets to the uber rich – which has resulted in a festival even more difficult to attend (as a professional) and, sadly, increasingly catering for the Nikki Beach members (across from the Palace on the Lido) than its core audiences.
Now in its 37th year, Telluride Film Festival has established a sort of North American cinephile frenzy. Announcing its lineup barely 24hrs before its launch each year, the festival launches some of the year’s competing box office mainstream films (in 2010 Venice opener Black Swan, Danny Boyle’s 127hrs and Stephen Frears’ cringeworthy Tamara Drew). Though maybe not the best places for film buyers, the festival is an important publicity generating exercise for both EU and US based distributors, and has been described as one of the funnest festivals in America.
Submission info on their Website
France’s love/hate relationship with the US always seems absent two weeks over the year in Deauville when the American Film Festival takes place. Until recently (Wroclaw) Europe’s only dedicated US festival, Deauville Film Festival receives a ground support from both the public and some attention – in particular with its focused independent film programming.
7th – 17th September 2017
Formerly named the ‘Festival of Festivals’, Toronto was set up to promote tourism in downtown Toronto, showcasing only the best films from other festivals. When the festival rebranded in 1984 it had already grown a significant audience following, and with a huge inwards investment from both the government and various foundations, managed to cement a year-round facility the Bell Lightbox in 2010. Particularly since the early ’90’s Toronto has become an equally important festival to Cannes, running screenings in over 300 venues. Both its festival screenings and market screenings have proved equally as important a launching ground for films, and Toronto has become one of the few unmissable film festivals in world.
13th- 17th September 2017
Branding itself as a festival of discovery, Germany’s northern town of Oldenburg hosts one of the few European festivals strong enough to focus purely on independent filmmaking.
Visit the website for submission deadlines and requirements.
20th- 30th September 2018
Founded in 1988, the Helsinki International Film Festival – Love & Anarchy has been held annually ever since. The aim of Finland’s biggest film festival is to promote the artistry of filmmaking alongside inventive, controversial and visually stunning new films. The festival also seeks to screen films that would otherwise not be seen in Finnish theatres.
Submissions for the 29th HIFF can be made on HIFF’s website from January to June.
21st- 28th September 2017
In its five year history, Fantastic Fest in Austin has manage to set itself as important a calendar date as its older brother SxSW. Whilst on one hand selecting a large number of (pre-sold) mainstream gems, the festival also attracts a fair number of smaller discoveries, which attracts a strong deal of attention from international buyers every time the line-up is released. Fantastic Fest focuses on sci-fi, horror and Asian genre cinema.
The strangest inclusion into this list, a quick peak at their website leaves as much to wonder about the festival as their enigmatic host country. This said, Pyongyang’s small international delegation welcomes most visitors with free hotels, chauffeurs, guided tours of the city and special dinners in attendance of political representatives. Films are dubbed to pay special homage to their ‘dear leader’ who is a self-confessed cinema enthusiast and specialist (his book On The Art Of Cinema is supposedly a best-seller).
27th September – 7th October 2018
An extremely well funded film, Zurich Film Festival is also one of the fastest growing which gained international prominence in 2008 when Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland when attending the festival. The programme has turned a few heads, but is predominantly covered by press for the quality of guests, rather than for introducing any new films to the circuit.
September 22nd – 30th 2017
Originally set up to only honor Spanish cinema, San Sebastian has become a powerhouse of world cinemas in large part due to its commitment to showcasing Latin American and Spanish films. As glamorous as Cannes, San Sebastian is generally seen as one of Europe’s best publicity generating festivals.
Independent Film Week (Independent Film Project)
17th – 21st September 2017
Set up by the IFP, a satellite of the New York Film Festival, the Independent Film Week forum focuses on assisting films in development.
19th – 30th September 2018
The UK’s largest independent film festival will be running its 26th edition. The festival focuses on first time filmmakers and independent films and is closely watched by acquisitions representatives due to the discovery, bold and alternative nature of its programming. UK premieres have included The Blair Witch Project, A Serbian Film and Memento. The festival also runs the British Independent Film Awards.
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28th September- 8th October 2017
The second biggest crowd-pleasure after the insanely fun Iceland Airwaves music festival (aka. Reykjavik Festival), the annual and young Reykjavik International Film Festival has reached a growing position on the festival circuit.
Submissions are now open
September 28th – October 15th 2017
In almost 50 years NYFF has built itself as a significant publicity generating festival. Its programme is predominantly festival circuit films, with an absurdly large number of Cannes selections but the most interesting appeal lies in its Avant Garde strand, almost unmatched anywhere else in the world.