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To celebrate the historic Taormina Film Fest's female-led jury, we’re looking at the other top female-fronted film festivals.

Reel talk: The best documentary film festivals in the world

You may have noticed that in the past five or even ten years, there’s been a conspicuous explosion of interest in documentary filmmaking. Once considered to be one of the more niche cinematic artforms, it’s now one of the most in-demand forms of filmmaking from audiences who understand the captivating value of a great piece of creative nonfiction filmmaking. It stands to reason that there are also a lot more independent documentary film festivals showcasing the artform and providing a platform to some of the newest and freshest films from the world’s most fascinating modern filmmakers, and there are a lot that you simply don’t want to miss out on. To ensure you know exactly where to jetset or submit to, here’s our ranking of the ten best documentary film festivals in the world.

10. Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival: October 2019 TBC (Japan)

Located in a rolling valley north of Tokyo, this unique and intimate bi-annual documentary film festival was one of the first of its kind across Asia. The film festival continues to be one of the most vibrant celebrations of documentary filmmaking, providing a place for Asian & Western independent filmmakers to connect with each other.

9. DOXA Documentary Film Festival: May 2019 TBC (Canada)

The Vancouver based festival showcases nonfiction stories that break new ground and offer fresh perspectives while also engaging audiences with panel discussions, public forums, and educational programs.

8. True/False Film Festival: February / March 2019 TBC (US)

Columbia, Missouri plays host to what organizers describe as being a “transformative, rambunctious, ecstatic experience”, as the True/False Film Festival amplifies the possibilities of creative nonfiction and the future of the artform with a four day screening program. The festival is respected for being a champion of forward-thinking work and for its incredible community spirit.

7. DOC NYC: 8th November – 15th November (US)

Notorious for being one of the festivals that helps Academy members narrow down their shortlist for Oscar consideration, DOC NYC showcases new and noteworthy documentary films and is now one of the biggest festivals of its kind in the US.

6. CPH: Dox: March 2019 TBC (Denmark)

The Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival is the largest of its kind in Scandinavia and one of the biggest in the world. Taking place over eleven days, the festival offers art exhibitions, concerts, and professional seminars alongside an impressive selection of over 200 international documentary films. The event reaches beyond the traditional formats of such a festival and in 2018, it even featured a film program curated by British group The xx.

5. Leipzig: 29th October – 4th November 2018 (Germany)

One of the oldest documentary film festivals in existence, Leipzig was founded in 1955 and has become Germany’s premier documentary film festival with a widespread international presence. Known for highlighting films of distinctive technique and aesthetic that challenge the genre within the festival, Leipzig also provides public screenings in the central train station of the city and offers an industry networking program.

4. Sheffield Doc/Fest: June 2019 TBC (United Kingdom)

Having just celebrated the 25th edition of the festival, Sheffield Doc/Fest continues to establish itself as being one of the world-leading, non-fiction independent film festivals. Comprised of the very best international documentary screenings, consistently insightful talks from high profile guests, an industry marketplace, and an alternate realities program for innovation in interactive, augmented, and virtual reality projects, Sheffield Doc/Fest is one of the most cutting edge documentary film fests going.

3. Hot Docs: 25th April – 5th May (Canada)

The Toronto based festival is one of the most respected in the world, with over 200 innovative documentaries screened at the event every year. Known for showcasing films of an outspoken nature, Hot Docs also acts as a non-fiction marketplace at which ideas get sold and bought with a great deal of professional development and networking opportunities available for documentary professionals.

2. Visions du Réel: April 2019 TBC (Switzerland)

Featuring an abundance of world premieres often accompanied by the films’ directors, Visions du Réel offers a varied program of high profile screenings alongside masterclasses, debates, and networking opportunities. The festival is open to diverse interpretations of documentary films and showcases everything from personal essays to experimental accounts, and fragmentary stories alongside major reports and historical inquiries.

1. Melbourne Documentary Film Festival: 6th – 14th July 2018 (Australia)

Melbourne Doc Fest might still be new, but it’s quickly rising to become one of the most well-respected and thought-provoking festivals in the world. Curating features from the world’s biggest and most prestigious global showcases, Melbourne Doc Fest provides a leading platform for the most inventive creative nonfiction films of today. In fact, we’ve made it our top pick due to the festival’s consistently extensive program.

For 2018, this includes unique pop culture cuts such as: Takao Goutsu’s Living the Game, following various eSports personalities as they battle it out on Ultra Street Fighter IV over the course of a year; timely geopolitics pieces like Thor Neureiter’s Disaster Capitalism, unveiling the seedy underbelly of the global aid and investment industry; and dazzling portraits of mesmerizing cultural troubadours like Sophie Fiennes’s Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, David Austin’s George Michael Freedom, and Kieron Walsh’s Anjelica Huston on James Joyce: A Shout in the Street. The festival attracts top tier talent while maintaining its unique independent spirit, making it a must-attend event for cinephiles everywhere.  

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