As the weather turns colder and more and more moviegoers flock to the theaters to avoid the blistering winds of winter, a flood of thought-provoking, innovative films will find their way into multiplexes around the world. What most of those movie watchers won’t realize, however, is that most of the acclaimed indie films they enjoy during the winter have already made their way through the rigorous film festival circuit, ascending from a scantly funded movie to the talk of awards season. Even if you’re not paying attention to the movies getting buzzed about at the world’s most popular film festivals, you can bet a parade of luminaries absolutely are. Curious about which of those film festivals are considered the most important? Read on to find out!
1. The Venice Film Festival
Founded in 1932, the Venice Film Festival is the world’s oldest surviving annual collection of movie nerds. Alongside Cannes and the BIFF, it’s considered one of the three biggest film festivals in the world. In the years since its inception, Venice has maintained a high standard of quality, continuing to showcase some of the most challenging, but rewarding film in the entire world. In the past, films like Vera Drake, Brokeback Mountain, and The Wrestler have taken the top honors at Venice.
2. Hong Kong International Film Festival
As the Chinese film industry swells in size (and power), the Hong Kong International Film Festival is steadily gaining steam as one of the world’s important celebrations of cinema, if only because it serves as an introduction to the fascinating cinematic traditions of eastern cinema. The massive Asian cultural event has also set about funding and producing film from upcoming Asian filmmakers, as well, meaning that the HKIFF is not only celebrating film, it’s creating film as well.
3. Sundance Film Festival
Perhaps the most well-known film festival in the world, the Sundance Film Festival has been a huge part of Hollywood culture since it reignited the indie film movement in 1989 with a little flick called sex, lies, and videotape. Ever since, the little movie festival held in Park City, Utah every January has exploded in popularity. Over the last three decades, it’s served as the launchpad for filmmakers of every stripe including Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, David O. Russell, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Jim Jarmusch. That’s to say nothing of the insane amount of popular films that have come out of the festival: Saw, Super Troopers, Little Miss Sunshine, Thank You for Smoking, Boyhood, and more.
4. Berlin International Film Festival
One of the biggest film festivals in the world, the Berlin International Film Festival attracts more than half a million viewers every year. First celebrated in 1951 (when it opened with Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca), the BIFF, or Berlinale as it’s commonly known, remains one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world.
5. Pan-African Film and TV Festival of Ouagadougou
Burkina Faso’s biannual film festival has the distinction of being the largest scheduled cultural event on the entire continent of Africa. The fest only takes submissions from African filmmakers, which means that while only a handful of these films will make it to US shores, it serves as an economic and artistic celebration of African creativity.
6. Toronto International Film Festival
If you’re looking for the next crop of Oscar contenders, you’ll likely find it at the Toronto International Film Festival. TIFF is largely known to kick off awards season, the movies that receive applause at the audience-dictated TIFF tend to have pretty solid Oscar season runs. Recent films like The Imitation Game, 12 Years a Slave, Room, Slumdog Millionaire, and La La Land all got their start at TIFF.
7. SXSW Film Festival
The most famous part of the South by Southwest Film Festival is easily the huge music acts that visit Austin every March. That being said, the film festival that runs for five days during the course of SXSW is a truly unique experience. Rather than focus on praising completed works, SXSW Film operates more like a five-day workshop with speakers, workshops, and more aimed at fledgling filmmakers.
8. Annecy International Animated Film Festival
If you think that animated movies are just for kids, then allow us to introduce you to the Annecy International Animated Film Festival. Run since 1985, the bi-annual French film festival celebrates the world’s best animated films. This isn’t Dreamworks territory, though. Think: Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, which once took top honors in Annecy.
9. BFI London Film Festival
Run in cooperation with the British Film Institute, the BFI London Film Festival shows more than 300 films each year, often forecasting the films that will become popular the following year. In the past, The Woodsman and Persepolis have found great acclaim at the BFI London Film Festival.
10. Tribeca Film Festival
The Tribeca Film Festival is probably most famous because it was founded in part by Robert De Niro as an attempt to bring some income to New York in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Though it’s relatively new, the festival is now a magnet for independent filmmakers around the world. Every year, the judges have to sort through 8600-plus submissions.
11. The Cannes Film Festival
If you ask a French person, the Cannes Film Festival is probably the most important film festival ever to grace the face of the planet. It’s certainly one of the most exclusive, and the most prestigious. Founded in 1946, the invitation-only event is attended by some of the world’s biggest stars while showcasing some of the most innovative movies in the world.
12. Melbourne International Film Festival
Ever since the world’s first full-length feature film — The Story of the Kelly Gang — was shot in Melbourne in 1906, the city has maintained a love affair with motion pictures. Melbourne has four major film festivals, but the Melbourne International Film Festival is far and away the biggest, playing host to thousands of visitors each year.
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