The best indie film festivals doing big things on the smallest budgets
It’s easy to be impressed by independent film festivals like Sundance or Cannes who have a fairly big budget to work from in ensuring folk like us are wowed by them. There’s a whole lot of dazzle, prestige, and big names involved in such festivals that naturally follow a sweet chunk of budget.
But we’re honestly more impressed by the festivals who deliver just as dazzling a cinematic experience and similar levels of prestige on a far smaller budget than the lavish MVP’s of the circuit. Festivals that attract big names not because a wad of cash or an elite party is being offered to them in return but because the festival has the reputation and credentials to attract such filmmakers and stars to them.
These are independent film festivals that remain independent while delivering large scale events that are consistently captivating, year after year. Here’s seven such indie film festivals who are doing the best work on the smallest budgets.
Telluride: August 21st – Sept 3rd 2018, Telluride, Colorado
The bulk of the Telluride program is made up of new films with the festival maintaining an informal tradition that new films must be North American premieres to be eligible. Telluride takes places in the sweet spot between the Cannes Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival that follow it making it perfect for such independent premieres. Both Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi) and Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine) premiered their first ever films at the festival. More recently, it was also the festival that debuted such acclaimed indie hits as Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird and Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight making it one of the most revered indie film festivals in North America working with a low budget.
Outfest: July 12th – 22nd 2018, Los Angeles
Founded by UCLA students in 1982, this LGBTQI independent film festival is regarded as one of the most important in North America. The festival screens a impressive variety of shorts, features, and documentaries – which this year include The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Mapplethorpe, and Joan Jett documentary Bad Reputation – but also connects a diverse LGBTQI community with a number of specialist film programs, educational projects, and film preservation efforts.
The Overlook Film Festival: April 2019, locations vary
This four day celebration of horror has quickly become one of the most essential independent film festivals of the genre in North America. Aptly described as being “a summer camp for genre fans” – hopefully one without a hockey mask maniac prowling for teenagers to slaughter – the festival offers an immersive weekend showcasing new independent horror films alongside the latest in interactive horror work. The festival notoriously takes place in a different location this year such as the reportedly haunted Bourbon Orleans Hotel and in 2017 it was the Timberline Lodge in Oregon used for exterior shots of The Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Horror filmmakers like Joe Dante (Gremlins), Karyn Kusama (The Invitation), and Elijah Wood (Cooties) are advisors for the festival along with luminaries from organizations like Blumhouse, Shudder, and Lucasfilm.
Maui Film Festival: June 13th – 17th 2018, Paia, Hawaii
Often described as being “Hawaii’s answer to Sundance” the Maui Film Festival might not share the same budget as Robert Redford’s illustrious festival but it nevertheless provides the same level of exceptional cinematic experiences and attracts just as many big screen stars. In the last seventeen years the festival has honored such talents as Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Laura Dern (Jurassic Park), Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther), and Woody Harrelson (Zombieland) – among many others – while also celebrating the power of compassionate, diverse, and transformative storytelling.
Woodstock Film Festival: Fall 2018, Woodstock, New York
You know you’re doing something right when national treasure Paul Rudd (Ant-Man and the Wasp) has this to say about the festival, “It’s what a film festival should be, which is really independent films showcasing the work of filmmakers you might not know about … I can’t think of another place that seems better suited to have an independent film festival than Woodstock.” Amen to that, honey. The festival always boasts a phenomenal mixture of indie film screenings while also hosting an impressive blend of established and emerging movie industry professionals for panels and events. Ya boy Ethan Hawke (Training Day) is also on the advisory board just in case you needed any further convincing about how dynamite the whole festival is.
Citizen Jane Film Festival: November 1st – 5th, Stephens College, Columbia, Missouri
Seeking to “help put one more crack in the celluloid ceiling,” the Citizen Jane Film Festival offers more than just essential screenings from up and coming women in film – though it does that superbly. The festival runs a filmmaking camp for girls and runs a well regarded lecture series for women in the television and film industry. Described as being “a holistic experience designed to entertain, enlighten, and energize audiences into action” while celebrating “independent film by independent women” the festival dares to reconfigure what a film festival can be, do, and achieve.
Atlanta Film Festival: April 4th – 14th 2019, Atlanta, Georgia
MovieMaker magazine has spotlighted the festival as being one of “50 film festivals worth the entry fee” and one of the “25 coolest film festivals in the world” and we’re inclined to agree. The independent festival is brimming with diversity including showcasing work from experimental, sci-fi, and horror genres, highlighting LGBTQI cinema with their Pink Peach prize, and celebrating films by female filmmakers featuring strong female leads with their New Mavericks shorts program.