List of Film Festivals: Top Tier Film Festivals

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Sundance Film Festival

Since 1978, the Park City, Utah based Sundance Film Festival has helped to launch the careers of many filmmakers including Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction) and Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Sex, Lies and Videotape). It was originally named the Utah/US Film Festival and changed to Sundance in the early 90’s. Many filmmakers aspire to get their movies screened at Sundance due to the festival’s reputation for garnering press and distribution opportunities. The film festival is the most prestigious event of its kind in the U.S. and is extremely competitive, with 200 films selected from over 9,000 submissions per year.

Sundance accepts submissions for short films, narratives and documentaries while maintaining separate categories for U.S. and International selections. U.S. films that screen at Sundance must be world premieres in order to be eligible to participate in competition programs and be considered for awards. International films that screen at Sundance must also not have been shown outside of their country of origin to be considered for awards. Films that do not meet these premiere requirements may screen in non-competition programs at Sundance.

As this film festival grew in popularity over the years, experts in the entertainment industry were concerned that Sundance was becoming too commercial by focusing on Hollywood studio releases and celebrities more than being a champion for true independent movies. The festival’s founder, Robert Redford also expressed his thoughts on Sundance getting out of control in a 2006 Newsweek interview after celebrities such as Paris Hilton are partying at the event without being associated with any of the films screening there.

Cannes Film Festival

The France based Cannes Film Festival is among the most prestigious and oldest festivals in the world. While being founded in 1939, Cannes was interrupted by World War II and then officially launched in 1946. The film festival selects short films and features to screen in competition sections and non-competition sections. Official selections in competition are considered for the festival’s top prize, a Palme d’Or. Other awards such as the Grand Prix, Jury award and prizes in “Best” of categories are given at this film festival.

Cannes requires submissions to be produced within one year prior to the festival to be invited to screen as an official selection. Films submitted to Cannes must also not have been shown on the internet, have wide distribution or been screened at another international film related event prior to the festival. The Cannes Film Festival also hosts a market where filmmakers and Hollywood studios can sell their movies to buyers from retail stores, theaters and other international outlets.

Berlin Film Festival

Founded in 1951, the Berlin Film Festival hosts a lot of European premieres and is among the top tier festivals that help filmmakers become successful. This event is known for attracting one of the largest film festival audiences in the world, as a result of selling over 300,000 tickets. Movies with international buzz are selected to participate in the festival’s competition section and compete for the prestigious Silver bear and Golden bear awards.

The Berlin Film Festival also screens films in other sections dedicated to art house and documentary productions, experimental films, kid films and movies produced in Germany. The festival is highly respected by professionals in the entertainment industry, which helps filmmakers get media attention for their films and access to distributors. There is a film market that takes place during the Berlin Film Festival, providing opportunities to sell movies for markets such as home video or television to European territories.

Slamdance Film Festival

Aside from Sundance, the next best event worth submitting films to in Park City, Utah is the Slamdance Film Festival. Established in 1995, Slamdance takes place during the same time as its more glitzy counterpart and can become a launching pad for the successful careers of relatively unknown filmmakers. Films that screen at this film festival are divided into a variety of programs in competition for narrative features, shorts, animated shorts, documentaries and music videos. Slamdance gives out Grand Jury prizes and audience awards to the top films chosen during the event. The festival is operated by filmmakers and supports the work of first-time writers and directors who create movies using limited budgets. Slamdance has also built respect from industry professionals for discovering talented filmmakers such as Jared Hess, the director of Napoleon Dynamite.

SXSW Film Festival

Widely referred to as “SXSW” among entertainment fans and professionals, the South by Southwest film festival began in 1994 as an additional branch of one previously established Music Conference and festival. Since then, SXSW has grown into a week-long event in Austin, Texas that features film screenings, live music performances and interactive web competitions. The festival also hosts a trade show at a convention center where musicians, filmmakers and web based companies can network with other professionals and market their products or services to consumers. SXSW attracts large audiences and hosts many attractions including an arcade and video game tournament.

Films that screen at this film festival are placed into one of several screening categories for feature length films or categories for short films. Some of these categories are designated for films made in Texas, films made by high school students and films made internationally. There is another category that includes films with star cast members, which attracts red carpet style movie premieres to this festival. SXSW also highlights films with World, North American and U.S. premieres. The festival screens documentaries, animation, narrative and experimental films as well as music videos.

Telluride Film Festival

Being included in Telluride Film Festival’s program is an honor, as less than 50 films are screened at the event each year. This Colorado based festival started in 1949 and does not give out awards. The selective nature of the Telluride Film Festival fosters an environment where films are appreciated as an art form and new talent is discovered. Submissions to this event must not be shown in North American prior to the festival. Well known filmmakers including Michael Moore and Jim Jarmusch have debuted films at Telluride, a festival that receives hundreds of entries. The program consists of short films, feature films and student films that span a variety of categories such as animation, documentaries and video.