Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Santa Barbara, CA
It is said that location is everything. And in the case of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, the beachy location (called “the American Riviera”) adds to the allure. This January the festival celebrates its 30th anniversary. It’s considered a must for frontrunners on the awards season fast-track. This year’s festival honorees included David O. Russell (American Hustle), Cate Blanchett (who won the Oscar for her role in Blue Jasmine), Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio (both nominated for Wolf of Wall Street), Oprah Winfrey (The Butler), Robert Redford (All Is Lost), Jared Leto (who won an Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club) and Bruce Dern (Nebraska), as well as June Squibb, Brie Larson, and Michael B. Jordan.
Traverse City Film Festival, Traverse City, MI
Each summer, in late July, the Traverse City Film Festival presents “Just Great Movies” in a beautiful locale on Lake Michigan. The festival offers more than 200 screenings in 10 venues including 100 features and 50 short films. Each film is hand-selected by festival founder and president, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore. Committed to the idea that “One Great Movie Can Change You,” this six-day cinematic wonderland is known to have the friendliest audiences anywhere and features world-class technical presentation. The community-wide endeavor is run by welcoming volunteers, and hosts over 150 filmmakers and industry guests from up and coming directors to screen legends. The festival was instrumental in renovating a shuttered historical downtown movie house, the State Theatre, which it continues to own and operate as a year-round, community-based and volunteer-staffed arthouse movie theater.
Roger Ebert’s Film Festival (Ebertfest), Urbana-Champaign, IL
Founded in 1999 by the late Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic, Roger Ebert, Roger Ebert’s Film Festival (affectionately known as Ebertfest) celebrates films that didn’t receive the recognition they deserved during their original runs. Now in its 16th year and hosted by Chaz Ebert, Ebertfest is first and foremost of celebration of film. They take no submissions, give no awards, and no business is done. They show only 12 movies in a beautifully restored 1500 seat movie palace, the Virginia Theatre in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, Ebert’s home town. Everyone sees all the films together at the same time. A community of film lovers forms instantly. And people from all over the world come back year after year. The selection of films is eclectic but follows Roger’s original vision of showing films that deserve a second look. Filmmakers come with their films, and most linger and make friends. Festival passes are always sold out even before the films are announced.
The Palm Springs International Film Festival, Palm Springs, CA
The Palm Springs International Film Festival distinguishes itself in several ways. “Unlike the festivals in Cannes, Sundance, or Toronto, a number of the filmmaker parties and receptions hosted here are also available to the filmgoing public to attend,” says Darryl Macdonald, the festival’s executive director. “The Festival is also incredibly accessible to the public in other ways, with participating theaters that are relatively close together and free parking all over Palm Springs – unlike most, if not all, big city film festivals.” In addition to the film festival, the Palm Springs International ShortFest is held in June. And this year, more than 300 short films from over 50 countries will be shown.
Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival, Banff, Alberta, CA
Each fall in Banff, mountain-themed films, books, and speakers take the spotlight for nine days at the Banff Centre in Banff, Alberta in the heart of the Canadian Rockies and Banff National Park. World-renowned authors, filmmakers, conservationists, adventurers, and explorers from around the world descend upon this stunningly gorgeous locale for readings and film screenings. Past Festival guest speakers have included David Suzuki, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, Sir Edmund Hillary, Jon Krakauer, Aaron Ralston, David Breashears, Reinhold Messner, Alex Lowe, and Royal Robbins. The Mountain Art and Craft Sale is held on opening weekend, while the Mountain Marketplace is presented closing weekend.
SoDak Animation Festival, Brookings, SD
The SoDak Animation Festival is a true gem of the midwest, because nowhere else in the heartland of America can you find the world’s best independent animation. The festival has also hosted guest speakers including artists and filmmakers from Pixar, NBC, and top indie animators. “It is really cool to say that you’ve been in South Dakota – and for a film festival – and for an animation film festival!” says SoDak Animation Festival founder and organizer, Cable Hardin. “The hospitality is honest and sincere. It’s a small and honest festival, made for animators and by animators and lovers of animation.”
True/False Film Fest, Columbia, MO
The True/False Film Fest is said to be unlike any other film festival in the world: the films are mostly, but not exclusively, documentaries. Alongside the films – carefully curated to highlight the very best in the world and each featuring a director in attendance – live musicians play before every screening. Also, artwork is scattered around the festival footprint, with surprise sculptures in every alleyway and thoroughfare. There’s also a parade that kicks off the fest, and the world’s only documentary game show. As David Wilson, the festival’s co-founder and co-director, explains, “True/False may not have Paris Hilton or the celebrity starpower of, say, Sundance, but for those who attend, it becomes an annual pilgrimage to mid-Missouri – a fest that inspires filmmakers and film fans alike.“
TCM Classic Film Festival, Hollywood, CA
The TCM Classic Festival offers fans and film lovers the opportunity to see films the way they were meant to be seen: on the big screen, uncut, and commercial-free. Attendees are treated to an extensive lineup of great movies, appearances by legendary stars and filmmakers, fascinating presentations and panel discussions, special events and more. Since its inception five years ago, the festival has expanded from 47 feature films and one world premiere restoration to 77 films and 12 world premiere restorations with more venues, more screens, and film stars like Alec Baldwin, Maureen O’Hara, and Shirley Jones (who attended a screening of her film, Oklahoma!). The festival generates enormous fan engagement and has become a place where fans want to be with like-minded people and enjoy the movies they love together.
Sonoma International Film Festival, Sonoma, CA
Over the years, the Sonoma International Film Festival has come to be known as a place for filmmakers, actors, and foodies. Considered one of the nation’s top destination film festivals, it features more than 100 films in 8 venues which are all within walking distance of Sonoma’s historic plaza in the heart of California Wine Country. The five-day event offers cuisine from local artisans and wines from Sonoma vintners. Filmmakers, industry leaders and celebrities including Bruce Willis, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams, Danny Glover, Demián Bichir and Mary-Louise Parker have walked the festival red carpet and enjoyed its intimate ambiance.
Heartland Film Festival, Indianapolis, IN
The Heartland Film Festival gives moviegoers access to more than 100 visiting independent filmmakers from all over the world, right in the heart of the Midwest. Since Heartland is an Academy Awards-qualifying festival within the Short Films category, one of those filmmakers could very well be a future Oscar winner. Since 1991, Heartland has awarded over $2.5 million to independent filmmakers, with more than $115,000 set to be awarded in 2014. Last year, the Festival opened with the world premiere of Gimme Shelter staring Vanessa Hudgens who attended the festivities. And Geoffrey Rush came for a special presentation of his film, The Book Thief. This October, the festival will be celebrating its 23rd year.
Ashland Independent Film Festival, Ashland, OR
The historic town of Ashland is located at the headwaters of the Rogue River, near Crater Lake National and surrounded by mountains and vineyards. And its five-day Independent Film Festival is a draw for film lovers who watch films screened in a historic art-deco Varsity Theatre. Filmmakers of the documentaries, features and shorts from around the world come to engage with the audience after each screening. Special guests have included Helen Hunt, Albert Maysles, Morgan Spurlock, Julie Taymor, Barbara Kopple, and Ty Burrell. Local wine, beer, and gourmet food is served at the parties.