Film festivals are much-awaited events, whether they are annually or every other year. They are a prestigious gathering of both icons working in different sectors of the film industry and those aspiring to take their first step in this continuously evolving and entertaining field of life. Film festivals have become a beacon for newcomers as well as paying tribute to all the stars who’ve contributed to the growth of the film industry.
In this article, we will get to know what’s a film festival and take a brief look at the history of this cinematic gathering to get to the roots of where it all began. Then we will list together the most renowned film festivals around the world, from the oldest ones to the relatively new ones that have made a name for themselves.
What is a film festival?
A film festival is a screening of several films, in an organized order, that takes place in different screening venues in a certain city or certain cinemas only in that city. In the past years, many film festivals held film screenings outdoors to accommodate the number of viewers, for example.
Film festivals take place annually. The management of the film festival usually sets the criteria for the participating films, such as regional films, films that follow a certain theme, the works of certain filmmakers or even a specific genre. There are film festivals that focus only on screening short films, not exceeding a set length of time.
How Film Festivals Started
The beginning of film festivals goes back as early as the 1920s, when various movements, mainly in Western Europe and Latin America, sought to have powerful film societies that could match that of Hollywood, which was a new film industry at the time. The spark started in Italy, then fortified by the establishment of the Cannes Film Festival in France, the London Film Festival, and several film festivals began to spring up by the 1950s.
Two major film festivals were born during the 1970s. The first is the Toronto International Film Festival, which focuses on bringing in different genres and types of films for its audience. And despite the rough start, the festival had with Hollywood productions. Nowadays, the festival screens a grand variety of Hollywood productions.
The second film festival is the United States Film Festival, which was founded in Salt Lake City. This specific city was chosen for its uniqueness as a film set. In 1981, the festival was moved to Park City and began to accumulate a higher profile. Robert Redford and his Sundance Institute acquired the film festival in 1985, and in 1989 the festival was officially presented as the Sundance Film Festival.
How to Attend a Film Festival?
It is a bit hard to get into many film festivals unless you have a well-established track record of attending film festivals. There are, though, some steps you can take to apply for attendance in these film festivals, and then it’s a matter of pure luck. These steps include:
- Make sure you do your research about the film festival you’re aspiring to attend.
- Services, such as Withoutabox, are for festival submission and can help you take a forward step.
- When applying for attendance, make sure to carefully read and fill in all provided forms. Missing information doesn’t look good when you’re trying to get in.
- It might be a suitable time to begin learning how to professionally pitch your film to festivals. This will help you put forward a professional submission.
- If you know or can reach out to someone who works in the industry, seek their insight and learn from them. Ask them how to know which festival is best for you to apply to.
Most Renowned Film Festivals Around the World
1. Venice Film Festival:
The Venice International Film Festival is regarded as one of the “Big Five” festivals worldwide, the others being Cannes Film Festival, Berlin Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival. Venice Film Festival is the oldest established film festival; it goes back to 1932 when its establishment was part of an art exhibition known as the Venice Biennale.
The Venice Biennale started way back in 1893; works on display in the different events of the biennale include international art as well as Italian art, music, architecture, dance, theatre and most importantly, cinema. The events covering these works are the Venice Film Festival, the International Festival of Contemporary Dance, the International Art Exhibition, the International Festival of Contemporary Music, the International Architecture Exhibition, the International Kids’ Carnival and the International Theatre Festival.
It was the fascist government back in 1932 that established the VIFF to accommodate the people’s love for films, many of which were American. The festival faced many stumbling blocks, especially with the government giving out the festival’s most prestigious awards to political allies. This eventually led to many countries’ withdrawal from participation in the festival.
After a rough patch during the 1940s, it was during the 1960s and 1970s that the star of the festival began to truly shine. The new director Luigi Chiarini aspired to reorganize the festival’s system as well as lessen political interference as much as possible. This allowed more focus on the quality of the participating films as well as fair awarding. However, due to political unrest, the festival took a back seat, offering no awards and with less competitiveness.
The rebirth of the Venice International Film Festival was at the hands of the new director, Carlo Lizzani, in 1979, and the journey to restoring international prestige began. An expert committee was selected to help choose the participating films. Since then, the festival’s repertoire has been on the increase, cementing its reputation as a launchpad for the Oscars; the majority of Oscar-winning films were originally screened at the VIFF.
The VIFF takes place on Lido Island, located in the Venice Lagoon, which has been its designated location since the establishment of the festival. The authorities built the Palazzo del Cinema on the island to be the permanent location of the festival, and it has been ever since 1937. Screenings take place in different locations on the island, in addition to the palazzo.
VIFF helped establish a new independent film festival, Giornate degli Autori, which runs parallel to the Venice film festival. The most recent addition to the festival includes a virtual reality section, where a total of 30 films are on display during the run time of the festival.
Foundation Year: 1932.
Location: Island of Lido.
Run Time: Late August or early September.
Highest Award: The Golden Lion.
2. Cannes Film Festival:
This annual film festival is an exclusive and invitation-only festival and was known as the International Film Festival until 2002 when it was renamed Festival de Cannes. It is part of both the Big Three, besides the Venice and Berlin film festivals, and the Big Five, which include the Sundance Film Festival in the U.S and the Toronto International Film Festival as well.
The birth of the Cannes Film Festival came as a means of objection to and desire to compete with the Venice International Film Festival, which showed outrageous impartiality. The founding agreement of the Cannes Film Festival was signed in 1939, after settling on the city of Cannes and the festival’s name to be Le Festival International du Film. Though, due to the beginning of the Second World War, the first edition of the festival was cancelled.
The first edition of the Cannes Festival was officially commenced after the war, in 1946, with the participation of 21 countries. During the 1950s, the festival began to gain more international importance and light, especially with the introduction of several new prizes, such as the Critics’ Prize, the Special Jury Prize, and the Grand Prix du Festival became the Palme d’Or.
The Film Market, or the Marché du Film, was founded in 1959, making the festival more commercial and making trade between buyers, sellers and filmmakers much easier in the industry. Today, this made the Cannes Film Festival as the main international film market. It was also during the 1950s that Jean Cocteau, who’d headed the jury three times, stated that the Cannes Festival was a neutral ground, where no filmmaker could make a political stand. He described the festival as being a gathering of friends who simply love film.
The International Critics’ Week was founded in 1962, making it the first parallel event taking place at the festival. This event’s main focus was showcasing films by directors from around the world, with disregard for their commercial tendencies.
During the 1970s, under the directorship of Maurice Bessy, came a change in selecting participating films. To relieve the effect of diplomatic pressures and two committees were created, one for selecting participating French films and the other for selecting foreign films. In 1978, Gilles Jacob became director, and he introduced a new award, the Caméra d’Or, to be awarded for the best film in any event of the main ones. Jacob also reduced the number of the festival’s days to 13 days only. One of the main changes Jacob introduced was choosing film professionals and celebrities to be on the festival’s jury panel.
The festival’s permanent location, the Palais des Festivals et des Congres opened in 1983. In 1984, the new director, Pierre Viot, the festival screened more films from different countries around the world, including Australia, China, Cuba, New Zealand and the Philippines. Three years later, the first red carpet was placed at the Palais entrance to the festival.
In the 1990s and the 2000s, several sections were created. La Cinéfondation was established as a support for cinema creation in the world and the introduction of new scriptwriters. La Résidence was established to help young directors hone their abilities, and L’Atelier was established to provide financial help for directors.
Digital and technological advanced techniques in the film industry began to draw a lot of focus and attention from those responsible for the festival. Another field attracting attention from the festival was historical works and films, as well as documentaries, and they were showcased in a collection called “Cannes Classics”.
Over the years and due to the exclusiveness of the Cannes Film Festival, its attendees are high-profile stars and filmmakers who naturally receive massive exposure in different media outlets. This made the festival an integral stepping-stone for many producers and filmmakers to pitch their films and possibly sell them to interested parties.
Foundation Year: 1946.
Location: Cannes, France.
Run Time: May.
Highest Award: Palme d’Or or the Golden Palm.
3. Berlin Film Festival:
This annual festival is also known as the Berlinale, and it’s one of the Big Three, alongside Venice and Cannes Film Festivals. The number of public attending the Berlinale makes it one of the festivals that have a large public attendance, with an estimated ticket count of 300,000 as well as 500,000 admissions every year.
Oscar Martay was a film officer serving in the U.S army during the Cold War in Germany, and he proposed establishing a film festival in Berlin. Martay was able to convince the American administration to fund the festival for its first years. The first edition of the Berlin International Film Festival ran in June 1951, with its first director being Alfred Bauer. Film screenings at the time took place at the Titiana-Palast and the Waldbühne.
During its first edition, the majority of the prizes were awarded by jury panels until this was banned by the FIAPF. So, for the following editions until 1955, the festival prizes were awarded upon the audience’s selection. When the festival was formally accredited by the FIAPF in 1956, an international jury was responsible for awarding the Golden Bear.
Under the directorship of Wolf Donner, during the 1970s, German films gained more priority and attention. Donner is also responsible for shifting the festival’s running time to February, and it was during this edition, the 28th edition, that the jury awarded Spain the Golden Bear award for the entirety of its contributions.
The European Film Market was established in 1978, which is held parallel to the Berlinale. It services everyone in the film business, from producers, film buyers, distributors, and co-production agents to financiers. Another event taking place parallel to the festival is the Berlinale Talents, which is like a campus of classes, workshops and lectures gathering together all young filmmakers.
The first woman to serve as the Berlinale’s executive director is Mariette Rissenbeek, who assumed her post in 2019. A section dedicated to television series was created in 2015. There are several film screening locations at the Berlinale; the Berlinale Palast is the main venue, with the main screening cinema being the CinemaxX Potsdamer Platz. Other screening locations include the Delphi Filmpalast am Zoo, the Zoo Palast, the Friedrichstadt-Palast and the Kino International theatre.
Foundation Year: 1951.
Location: Berlin, Germany.
Run Time: February.
Highest Award: The Golden Bear.
4. Sundance Film Festival:
The Sundance Institute organizes the Sundance Film Festival each year, which many consider being the largest independent festival in the U.S, attracting more than 46,000 attendees in 2016. As part of the Big Five, the Sundance Film Festival is a wide platform for independent filmmakers, both American and international, to showcase their work.
Sterling Van Wagenen and John Earle founded the Utah/Us Film Festival back in 1978, in Salt Lake City, with the main objective of focusing on American-made films, highlighting the filmmaking possibilities in Utah and increasing the opportunities for independent filmmaking. Another important goal of the festival’s founders was to give a chance for filmmakers who worked outside Hollywood to showcase their work.
The U.S Film and Video Festival became the new name of the festival after moving to Park City and changed its run time from September to January. The thought of watching films, in a ski resort, in January seemed appealing. It was until 1984 that Sterling Van Wagenen, as head of the Sundance Institute, took over managing the festival; he supervised extensive propaganda and rebranding in order to finally reintroduce the festival as the Sundance Film Festival in 1991.
The 1990s saw impressive success for the Sundance Film Festival; under the supervision of John Cooper and Geoffrey Gilmore, the festival stepped up to the level of other international festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, Venice and Toronto.
A spin-off of the Sundance Film Festival has been held in London under the name of Sundance London since 2012 and takes place usually in April or June. Another spin-off took place in Kowloon Bay, under the name of Sundance Hong Kong, in 2014, and it usually takes place between September and October.
Two main and vital programs parallel to the Sundance Film Festival include NEXT, which focuses on the showcasing of innovative films that are able to overcome budget restrictions and deliver their message. The second program is the USA Program, which chooses eight films that are screened in the festival to screen them in eight different cinemas or theatres around the country.
Foundation Year: 1978.
Location: Park City, Utah. Sundance Resort, Utah, both in the U.S.
Run Time: January.
Highest Award: The U.S Grand Jury Award.
5. Toronto International Film Festival:
With a dedication to changing how people look at the world through films, the Toronto International Film Festival is considered to be one of the largest film festivals attended by the public, with attendees amounting to more than 480,000. This prestigious festival kick starts on the first Monday in September and runs for 11 days. The main venue for the festival is the TIFF Bell Lightbox, which also serves as a venue for film screenings outside of the festival running time, as well as speciality film festivals.
Bill Marshall, Henk Van der Kolk and Dusty Kohl founded the festival in 1976 under the name of Toronto Festival of Festivals. In its first edition, the festival attracted 35,000 viewers, where 127 films represented 30 different countries. Several professional and high-profile characters served as directors of the festival, including Piers Handling, Noah Cowan and Cameron Bailey.
The Toronto Entertainment District became the official hub for the festival after the Yorkville neighbourhood. The district attracts worldwide media who like to set up around its cafés, restaurants and different shops. The festival founded its current headquarters, the TIFF Bell Lightbox, in 2010, which became the festival’s main venue, with several screenings still taking place at other venues.
Construction of the TIFF Bell Lightbox began in 2007, and after its completion, the building included five cinemas, two galleries, study spaces, film archives, a research centre and a reference library. The building serves as a complete year-round venue for cinephiles, with its cafés, restaurants, gift shop and lounge.
As a member in the International Federation of Film Archives, the Film Reference Library is a massive film research library located on the 4th floor of the TIFF Bell Lightbox. The library is a favourite destination for scholars, journalists, filmmakers, students and film lovers from all over the world. One of the library’s main goals is to promote both Canadian and international scholarship in the film industry, where it makes a wide variety of film resources available to its attendees.
Festival programmers chose, by poll across Canada, ten Canadian film features and short films, which they list as Canada’s Top Ten, and they announced the films in December after the TIFF edition. Until 2018, the films would be screened in a smaller festival, also held at the Lightbox, in January the following year. In 2018, the administration decided that instead of a smaller festival, each film of the Top Ten is worthy of having its own run at the Lightbox, and the films will run throughout the year.
Another top ten list, including the top Canadian films of each decade, is announced after each decade. The list is announced under the official name of the Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time, and the films are chosen by a wider poll of professionals in the film industry and academics across the country. This decade’s top ten list has been a tradition since 1984.
The highest award in the TIFF is awarded to films by audience balloting. The TIFF is one of the major international film festivals that awards its prizes based on the audience’s voices.
Foundation Year: 1976.
Location: Toronto City, Ontario Region, Canada.
Run Time: September.
Highest Award: The People’s Choice Award.
6. BFI London Film Festival:
The notion of a film festival in London came into existence at a dinner party back in 1953, of which the host was Dilys Powell, a film critic working at the Sunday Times, and James Quinn, a film administrator, vividly encouraged the idea. Four years later, Quinn administered the first edition of the festival at the National Film Theatre, currently named BFI Southbank.
The first three editions all screened foreign films, and it wasn’t until 1960 that a British film was screened at the festival. The category “London Choices” was added in 1965, which focused on screening debut films. Two years later, feature films made by female directors, such as “Portrait of Jason” by Shirley Clarke, were screened for the first time at the festival.
During the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, the festival saw newly added sections with more films screened, from 28 films in the 1970 edition to 127 films in the 1981 edition. In 1984, under the directorship of Ken Wlaschin, the screening of the participating films at the festival expanded to include eight more theatres, and more popular films were screened in order to increase the public’s interest in the festival.
The addition of the opening and closing galas shed more media light on the festival since they’ve become major red-carpet events everyone races to cover. The films screened at these galas are mainly the UK or European premiers, taking place at major venues around London and introduced by the directors, producers or sometimes the participating actors.
Under the directorship of Sheila Whitaker, the festival expanded to include the screening of more than 200 films, the addition of more festival venues and the selling of more tickets. The 1994 edition of the festival saw the addition of a sidebar for each of Middle Eastern and Arabian films, as well as another one for French and Asian films.
In 2003, the festival’s name was officially changed to BFI London Film Festival. The 2008 edition saw the exciting film Slumdog Millionaire as the closing film, and it has become a phenomenon since then. In 2011, the new director was Clare Stewart, who created a formal competition at the festival and worked on getting films to be screened outside London as well.
Today, the festival still keeps its mainly public dedication but with attendance, including film professionals and journalists. Bringing the two together has created more opportunities for those seeking a career in the film industry to get in touch with the professionals that could make it happen and also give films an opportunity to be seen by the public, which otherwise might not be screened in the near future.
One of the best features offered during the screening of the films is a Q&A session, which gives the audience to get insight from the film creators about the ideas, execution and creation of the film. This is a great learning opportunity and engages the audience in the experience. Other film screenings outside these sessions are characterized by being informal and close to a regular cinema experience.
Since 1984, the screening of a “Surprise Film” has become one of the main features of the festival. This feature saw the screening of many renowned films over the years, such as “A Chorus Line” in 1985, “Birdman” in 2014 and “Uncut Gems” in 2019. In celebration of the festival’s 50th anniversary, there were 50 screenings of the chosen surprise film around London, rather than having just one.
In the past few years, the 2020s, the number of screened films and attendance has dropped due to Covid-19. In 2020, 50 films were screened online while 12 films were screened in venues, both in London and around the U.K. However, screenings went back to normal for the 2021 edition and will continue to do so in the following editions.
BFI London Film Festival includes four programs, divided into Galas, Special Presentations, Strands and In Competition. Galas include the opening and closing ones as well as the headline gala and the festival and strand gala. Special Presentations focus on work from iconic directors, as well as documentaries, experimental films and other specials. Strands are where films are divided according to a general theme, such as Love, Laugh, Dare, Thrill, Cult, Create and Family. In Competition includes four categories where both British and international filmmakers compete with their highest creative works.
Since the introduction of the Sutherland Trophy in 1958, it has been the highest award in the festival, carrying the name of the Fifth Duke of Sutherland, seen as the festival’s patron. Several other awards were created later on, such as the Grierson Award. In 2009, new awards were added as well, such as Best Film, Best British Newcomer Award and BFI Fellowship award, where both new and established filmmakers are recognized for their distinguished work.
Foundation Year: 1957.
Location: London, the United Kingdom.
Run Time: October.
Highest Award: The Sutherland Trophy and the Grierson Award.
7. Edinburgh International Film Festival:
In 1947, the Edinburgh Film Guild presented a two-branch program, including the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the International Festival of Documentary Films. The EIFF’s initial running time was in August and only moved to June in 2008. After its establishment, the EIFF gradually started accumulating a distinguished repertoire of fiction films, documentaries, short films, animation, as well as experimental works.
The EIFF launched several awards; the Michael Powell award goes to the best new British Feature, the Audience Award is granted by audience vote, and the Best International Feature Award is granted by a jury panel, in addition to the short film awards.
The directorship of the festival has been fluctuating in the past years, with the position of the artistic director adopted from the festival’s foundation until 2009, when it was dropped, only to return back from 2012. The directors of the festival include Linda Myles, Shane Danielsen, Hannah McGill and Chris Fujiwara.
The festival’s main venue is Edinburgh Filmhouse, with screenings taking place at other places as well, such as Fountainpark Cineworld, the VUE Cinema located at Omni Centre, the Odeon and the Edinburgh Festival Theatre.
Foundation Year: 1947.
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland.
Run Time: June.
Highest Award: The Michael Powell Award.
8. Raindance Film Festival:
Elliot Grove started the Sundance Film Festival to give British filmmakers an outlet to showcase their works, as well as include a film school for future talents. The festival screens a wide array of works, from short films to features from around the world to a talented audience consisting of journalists, film executives, film fans, filmmakers and buyers.
Film-training courses started right with the foundation of the Raindance Film Festival in 1992, and the following year, the film festival was officially launched. Raindance is responsible for the creation of the British Independent Film Awards in 1998, which are awarded to independent British filmmakers. In 2003, in cooperation with Nokia, Raindance launched the 15-Seconds Shorts Competition, which was the first of its kind in the world.
Many worldwide recognized films had their debut at the Raindance Film Festival, such as What’s Eating Gilbert Grape in 1993, Pulp Fiction in 1994, Memento in 2000 and Down Terrace in 2009. Since 2012, short films having their debut at the Raindance Film Festival became eligible for nomination for the Academy Awards.
Raindance also launched several other programs, such as the Independent Film Trust in 2004, which provides bursaries and supports independent filmmaking and training by the disadvantaged, the Raw Talent program in 2013 and the VR or 360 Storytelling and training in 2015. Raindance also launched two awards, the Auteur Award and the VRX Awards; both launched in 2016.
Foundation Year: 1992.
Location: London, New York, Los Angeles, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Berlin, Budapest and Brussels.
Run Time: September/October.
Highest Award: Jury Prize.
9. South by Southwest Film Festival:
Otherwise known as SXSW, this festival is a lively combination of films, music, interactive conferences and conferences, where its days are divided into different categories. The idea of SXSW was originally to establish an extension of the New Music Seminar, from New York, in Austin. Even when the idea came into existence in 1987, the initial event didn’t include a film category.
In 1994, the film category was added to the festival’s program, grouped with other media, under the name “SXSW Film and Multimedia Conference”, but the following year the two were divided into two categories. Over the following years, the repertoire of the film conference kept growing, especially with the invention of a new genre called mumblecore. Since then, the film conference has screened numerous films, premiers, documentaries and short films.
The film program consists of multiple panels, discussions, workshops and sessions where those working in every aspect of the film industry get together. The 2015 edition included more than 250 sessions where 735 speakers shared their experiences and discussed the industry with the attendees. Some of the keynote speakers at the film program include Sally Field, Mark Duplass and Tilda Swinton.
Both the film festival and the film conference run simultaneously for nine days to present and celebrate new and raw talents. There are about 13 categories in the festival, from special events, spotlight on documentaries, documentary competitions, short films and festival favourites. The 2015 edition of the festival had 7,361 submissions in different categories; 150 feature films and 106 short films were selected. Of the films which premiered at the festival Neighbors, The Cabin in the Woods and Chef.
The SXSW Film Festival is considered to be a major contributor to the Austin City economy, which also gives local businesses, especially those working in the hospitality business, a major boost in comparison with sports events in the city, such as the Super Bowl LI.
Foundation Year: 1987.
Location: Austin, Texas, the U.S.A.
Run Time: March.
Highest Award: The SXSW Film Awards.
10. Telluride Film Festival:
Every year, on the 1st Monday in September, the Telluride Film Festival takes place. Several parties cooperated in the foundation of this film festival, including the Telluride Council for the Arts and Humanities, Tom Luddy, Bill and Stella Pence, James Card and Scott Brown. Currently, the National Film Preserve operates the festival.
There’s an unspoken-of tradition at the TFF that in order for films to be screened at the festival, they’d have to have had their premier in North America. The running time of the TFF puts in between the Cannes Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, and New York Film Festival. As interesting as this tradition is, it has led to crediting Telluride with discovering several unique talents and filmmakers, such as Michael Moore with his film “Roger and Me”, which premiered at the festival in 1989.
A significantly important program in the TFF is the FilmLab, created in cooperation with the School of Theater, Film and Television at UCLA in 2010, which aims to focus on the art of filmmaking. They select ten filmmaking graduates from UCLA, and the program is customized for their needs and convenience.
Artistic director of the festival, Tom Luddy, and executive director, Julie Huntsinger, are in charge of creating the festival’s program, along with one of the guest directors from the film festival. Several artists have accepted the commission to design the festival’s poster, including Chuck Jones and Jim Dine.
Foundation Year: 1974.
Location: Telluride, Colorado, the U.S.A.
Run Time: September.
Highest Award: The Telluride Film Festival Silver Medallion.
11. Tribeca Film Festival:
Robert Di Niro founded the Tribeca Film Festival, alongside Craig Hatkoff and Jane Rosenthal, as a means of revitalizing the economic and cultural scene in Lower Manhattan after 9/11 in New York City. The festival’s aim wasn’t only to focus on film but to focus on music, talks, games, programming and art. The name of the festival changed in 2020 to the Tribeca Festival.
The first edition of the festival commenced after continuous work for 120 days, with 1,300 volunteers making the attendance of 150,000 people possible. The festival included several programs and sections for competing films, including narratives, documentaries, short films, a series of restored classics, a series about the best of New York, 13 panel discussions, a family festival and several premiers such as “About a Boy” and “Devine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood”.
The following edition saw wider success with more than 300,000 attendants. There was also a wider variety of showcased films, from independent features, short films, documentaries, studio premiers, panel discussions, concerts, sports activities, outdoor film screenings overlooking the Hudson River and a family festival that attracted about 250,000 people on its own.
In 2006, Tribeca Festival worked on screening films across more venues in Manhattan, as well as bringing films to the international Rome Film Festival, pushing the festival’s goal of enlarging its audience further. The number of film submissions to the festival the same year was 4,100 films, which was triple the number of submissions from the festival’s first edition.
Tribeca Festival hosted digital screenings of several filmmakers who’d hoped for Tribeca to host their premiers, which also helped their secure distribution offers. The festival also organized the “We Are One” program, partnering with YouTube to create a digital festival to entertain audiences as well as raise funds for Covid-19. Twenty-one other international film festivals co-hosted the program, such as Cannes, Venice, Sundance and TIFF. The program screened 100 hours of different films, with 1.9 people watching from 179 countries.
In the past two years, Tribeca Festival launched a drive-in screening in different states across the United States, such as California and Texas. This drive-in screening initiative helped many local businesses who’d been affected by lockdown. The 2021 edition saw the addition of a special category for video games, where their presentation would be online, in a way similar to film screenings.
Foundation Year: 2002
Location: New York City, New York, the U.S.A.
Run Time: June.
Highest Award: Founders’ Award.
12. Melbourne International Film Festival:
Following the foundation of the “Big Three”, the Melbourne International Film Festival was founded in 1952 under the name Olinda Film Festival. The next year, the festival’s name was changed to the Melbourne Film Festival before settling onto the Melbourne International Film Festival after decades. Over the years, the MIFF became the largest film festival in Australia.
The MIFF had some notable directors, with its first being Erwin Rado, who strived for excellence during his years of directorship, Tait Brady, James Hewison, Sandra Sdraulig and the current director Al Cossar. The film festival presents a wide array of local and international films and industry events where both, filmmakers and those working in the film industry, in general, can learn and communicate.
One of the most important events to take place parallel to the festival is the 37ºSouth Market, the only event of its kind in both Australia and New Zealand that focuses on film financing. The event is invitation-only, where 45 distributors and sales agents meet up with 100 selected producers from Australia and New Zealand and looking for finance. Since 2013, the 37ºSouth Market has attracted many reputable companies and studios from around the world, such as Studio Canal, Paramount Pictures, Miramax Films and BBC Films.
Also, in 2013, the MIFF acquired accreditation from the Australian Film Institute, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts as well as from the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Foundation Year: 1952.
Location: Melbourne, Victoria State, Australia.
Run Time: July.
Highest Award: Grand Prix for Best Short Film and Audience Popularity Awards.
13. Busan International Film Festival:
Taking place in the coastal city of Busan, the BIFF is one of the largest film festivals in Asia and has become the first international film festival in South Korea, with the launch of its first edition in 1996. The main goal of the BIFF is the introduction of novice directors in both Korean and Asian filmmaking industries. The festival also focuses on attracting and helping young talents, especially since many young people attend the screenings of the participating films, whether they are aiming for a career in film or just watching for fun.
The BIFF started the Pusan Promotion Plan in 1999 with the goal of building bridges between new directors and possible funding resources for their films. The name of the plan later changed in 2011 to the Asian Project Market.
In 2011, the BIFF moved to its new and permanent home, the Busan Cinema Center, located in Centum City. This new centre has an outdoor screening venue with 4,000 seats, and indoors there are four screens covered by LED roofs. The centre also has a media centre, conference rooms and an archive centre, which act as venues for educational classes and activities as well as industry forums.
The number of attendants at the Busan International Film Festivals has increased greatly over the years, with numbers amounting to more than 190,000 and exceeding 200,000 in some years. The numbers of screened films have also varied, with some editions screening more than 300 films between world premiers and international premiers.
Foundation Year: 1996.
Location: Busan, South Korea.
Run Time: between September, October and November.
Highest Award: Asian Filmmaker of the Year and Korean Cinema Award.
14. Hong Kong International Film Festival:
With its foundation in 1976, the HKIFF is considered to be one of the oldest international film festivals in Asia. Since its foundation, the film festival has hosted several cultural events in different venues that represent varied films from more than 60 countries from around the world. The festival hosts gala premiers where screening of new films takes place, meeting sessions in the theatres while, of course, everyone shining on the red carpet before entering.
Working under the sponsorship of the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society Limited, the festival has become a non-profit event. In 2017, in cooperation with Heyi Pictures, the film festival supervised two Chinese filmmakers each year to produce two films every year where their world premiere would take place at the festival.
Foundation Year: 1976.
Location: Hong Kong.
Run Time: August.
Highest Award: the HKIFF Firebird Awards.
15. American Film Festival:
The cooperation between the Ministry of Culture and Natural Heritage in Poland and the Wroclaw Municipality brought the American Film Festival to life in 2010. The festival is currently under the supervision of the Stowarzyszenie Nowe Horyzonty. As the name suggests, the AFF is centred around American cinema and the new, different films that are born in America.
Over the length of the festival’s first edition, there were only seven categories dividing the participating films. However, in the following editions, several new categories were added, and some were removed to accommodate changes in the film industry.
The Audience Award is usually awarded to one of the participating films from the “Spectrum” category, which features contemporary American films. In addition to feature films, the festival screens documentaries, experimental films, independent films and the category classic films were not included after the festival’s first edition. The category “Retrospective” is a varied one, where the audience looks back on the journeys of different icons, directors such as Nicholas Ray, filmmakers such as Wes Anderson, and production companies such as Warner Bros.
Foundation Year: 2010.
Location: Wroclaw, Poland.
Run Time: October.
Highest Award: The Audience Award.
16. Dubai International Film Festival:
Starting back in 2004, the Dubai International Film Festival has been the biggest film festival in the Middle East. Originally, the festival took place every year, but in 2018, organizers announced that the festival would be taking place every two years instead. The DIFF is sponsored by the Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also the UAE’s Vice President and Prime Minister.
The Dubai International Film Festival is a non-profit cultural and cinematic event which aims to present short films, feature films as well as documentaries from around the world. The authority responsible for the festival organization and presentation is the Dubai Entertainment and Media Organization.
The main focus of the Dubai International Film Festival is acting as a beacon for Arab cinema and having an active role in the development and growth of the film industry in the Arab region. These goals made the DIFF the setting of the premier of many Arab films.
The opening event of the 2014 edition of the festival screened “The Theory of Everything”, which was nominated for an Academy Award, and there was a total of 118 films screened during the festival, between features, shorts and documentaries.
In 2007, the DIFF translated its commitment to developing the film industry into establishing the Dubai Film Market. The DFM is where filmmakers, producers, directors, students and cinephiles meet to learn from the experts, sell their films and make connections.
Foundation Year: 2004.
Location: Dubai, the U.A.E.
Run Time: December, every two years.
Highest Award: The Muhr Award.
Do you keep an eye on any of these festivals? Which do you look forward to every year? We know we get inspiration from all of them!