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Best Fests: The ultimate guide to indie film festivals 2018

From the Washington DC Independent Film Festival to the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, this is your ultimate guide to the must-attend indie film festivals of 2018. The very best fests, if you will.

Best Fests: The ultimate guide to indie film festivals 2018

Santa Barbara International Film Festival

31st January 2018 – 10th February 2018

Santa Barbara, California

In 2002, after 16 waning years of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, executive producer Roger Durling took control and ushered it into the pre-Oscars cinematic celebration that it is today. Now the SBIFF champions independent cinema alongside prestige events featuring acclaimed actors & filmmakers in a way that’s accessible to a wide range of audiences.

Sean Pratt, Managing Director of the SBIFF, believes much of the festival’s diverse charms are owed to the “strong sense of community that exists in Santa Barbara”. Pratt explains, “Our dedication to independent cinema is inspired by the amazing stories that exist in all corners of the globe. Our commitment to these storytellers attracts talented filmmakers each with their own unique voice. Ultimately, this diversity is the heart and soul of our programming.”

First Friday Film Festival

2nd February 2018

Kansas City, Missouri

Set within Kansas’ “thriving indie filmmaking community”, this niche monthly event is dedicated to exhibiting short films that demonstrate a “unique artistic vision” alongside well developed characters and provocative storytelling. First Friday is described as “a local festival that actually cares about supporting films made in the area” in a review from Illumination Cinema, and their output certainly supports this.

Officially occurring since the late 90s, First Friday Film Festival features 12 separate screening sessions each year, and awards cash prizes at the end of each season to winning applicants in categories like Best Overall Narrative Short and Best Cinematography. All screened submissions, however, are presented with festival laurels and certificates with “shorts of all genres from around the world” being accepted.

Victoria Film Festival

2nd – 11th February 2018

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

After starting out low-key in 1995, Victoria quickly grew following a substantial expansion. It now boasts a vibrant program showcasing a diverse selection of Canadian and international cinema, while also engaging filmmakers, artists, and audiences with year-long events and presentations.

Described in 2016 as featuring “a fantastic line-up of films, talks, and parties” to attract “warm, devoted, and informed audiences”, the VFF showcases a proudly eclectic program of independent cinema during its ten-day event. Movies screened at the festival stand the chance of winning prizes in six categories including Best Canadian Feature, Entertainment Audience Favorite, and a Cultural Currents Award for “capturing the essence of a unique society”.

The Macoproject Film Festival

3rd February 2018

New York, New York

Based online and at special screening events, The Macoproject Film Festival is a unique competition for short movies that supports young & up-and-coming filmmakers. “We aim to be an effective yet highly affordable film festival,” explains Avery Cohen, the festival’s head director who took the Macoproject name from his “struggling YouTube channel”.

Cohen made the festival partly because he wanted to be able to “afford more festivals” himself: “I’ve encountered what it feels like to not have the right amount of patience or money to submit my films as far as they could possibly go.” Those submitting to the festival need to pay a small fee to ensure their movie includes “a well shown understanding of cinematography, directing, writing, and acting” in order to stand a chance of success.

DaVinci Film Festival

5th February 2018

Los Angeles, California

Though still relatively new, this striking festival has nonetheless already made an impact. With one review enthusing “the quality and professionalism rivals that of established, big name fests”, DIFF champions the divergent creativity at the heart of independent cinema.

As their name implies, the festival is inspired by the “luminary” talent of Leonardo DaVinci and they subsequently strive to honor the full scope of artistic talent in any one movie. As well as hosting a quarterly online festival and live showcase event where quarterly prize winners can compete for the most commended festival prize, The Leo, DIFF also runs a quarterly and annual screenwriting competition alongside its sister brand Storyline.

Santa Fe Film Festival

7th – 11th February 2018

Santa Fe, New Mexico

New Mexico’s longest running film festival was introduced in 1980 and has continued to grow since. Featuring a five-day celebration of cinematic excellence on an annual basis, the Santa Fe Film Festival “focuses on bringing together distinguished industry specialists and all movie lovers through accessible screenings, panels, workshops and parties”.

The Santa Fe Film Festival features an annual program of movies including narrative & documentary features and a variety of shorts. As well as paying tributes to world-renowned filmmakers and industry professionals, the festival also extends its spotlight to New Mexican filmmakers and crew in order to celebrate the full spectrum of cinematic arts on offer both locally and internationally.

International Festival of Winter Cinema

9th-18th February 2018

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Focused on Canadian and international cinema featuring indigenous, immigrant, or settler peoples’ experiences, this brand-new festival is a celebration of polar, alpine, and winter themes. The IFWC aims to “include people with unique perspectives and experiences” and screen movies of “any style or genre” which address climate change and “winter life”.

Boasting it is “one of the few winter festivals that pay reasonable fees to filmmakers and artists,” the IFWC welcomes all submission entries but “specifically encourages films made by Alberta, Canadian, female, non-binary, indigenous, or visible minority filmmakers”.

Palante Film Festival

9th-12th February 2018

Holyoke, Massachusetts

Palante Film Festival screens features and shorts dedicated to highlighting Latinx, Puerto Rican, and African Caribbean culture and social justice issues currently affecting these communities. The festival accepts submissions from people of all cultural backgrounds but demands that entries feature Latinx, Puerto Rican, and Afro-Caribbean communities at their forefront.

Power Film Festival

9th February 2018

Tallahassee, Florida

Bringing filmmakers and film fans together to experience “all types of films, from around the globe”, Power is a new touring film festival heading to destinations such as Tallahassee, Florida and Columbia, North Carolina.

2018 Love Shorts Film Festival

13th-27th February 2018

Los Angeles, California

Providing an opportunity for short films on or about love to be seen worldwide, the Love Shorts Film Festival is an annual contest as part of AudFest. The festival accepts submissions under 30 minutes and winners are determined by a live audience then later by a panel of industry professionals. The final three jury winners are then screened at the actual festival.

Filmmaker Michael Raso exclaimed how he would “encourage any filmmaker who has made a film about ‘love’ to submit their project to this festival”, while another called it “a magnificent film festival” and summoned the L-word in question: “I love it very much!”

Redline International Film Festival

14th February 2018

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Described by organizers as being a “film festival made by filmmakers for filmmakers”, Redline International Film Festival has the primary goal of awarding “the talented filmmakers that can be found all around the world – from all walks of life.” Founded as a passion project by two Canadian indie filmmakers, Redline International Film Festival is still in its infancy, but aims to promote those “who continue to push the envelope in artistic creation” through the medium of film.

Open to short films from any country and of any genre, the festival features four category prizes for fictional and documentary shorts and eleven individual prizes that highlight specific excellence in filmmaking. With a goal to showcase movies overlooked by the mainstream, Redline International Film Festival believes films “shouldn’t have to adhere to conventional ideals in order to be celebrated” and screens such convention-defying movies on a monthly basis.

Washington DC Independent Film Festival

14th – 19th February 2018

Washington D.C

Washington DC’s oldest independent film festival, the DCIFF, prides itself on presenting extraordinary movies from a variety of genres “on every subject, from every country, with every budget and subject imaginable”. The festival exhibits world premieres alongside seminars and workshops with an aim to provide independent filmmakers with “opportunities for their voices to be heard in a way that no other festival can provide”.

DCIFF features nine annual awards, including a high school film competition and a dedicated POLIDOCS section for controversial projects. It also encourages applications from local artists and “those on the cutting edge of ideas, technology, and energy worldwide”. Filmmaker David A. Melendez described the DCIFF as “a great place to network and build a fanbase for your film”.

Female Filmmakers Film Festival

14th-22nd February 2018

El Portal, California

This annual female-focused film festival operates with an aim of “providing opportunities to women filmmakers worldwide”. Speaking on the Female Filmmakers Film Festival, filmmaker and previous honoree Cali Bondad said, “It’s festivals like these that help us women filmmakers break through the set archetypes of what ‘directors’ look and sound like,” adding that the festival can help provide “opportunities that elevate us to make more work”.

The festival screens fiction and non-fiction shorts with the prime objectives of providing a platform for female filmmakers to find and become role models. It also prides itself on promoting talented female directors, writers, editors, and producers in the industry while connecting such filmmakers with new audiences and opportunities.

Fashion on Film Festival

15th February 2018

Sacramento, California

Since its foundation in 2005, the Fashion in Film Festival has become a leading showcase for the common ground shared by fashion & film. This project brings various art forms together in celebration of local and international fashion art, combining short films on fashion (music videos, animation, documentaries) with a live fashion showcase and regional exhibit.

The organizers of the fest describe the program as an “eye-popping” celebration of on-trend apparel. “Fashion in Film promotes collaborations and dialogue between curators, historians, archivists, fashion designers, artists, filmmakers, musicians, and writers, aiming to explore the connections between moving image and clothing, and more broadly, questions of design in film.”

Bechdel Film Festival

15th – 22nd February 2018

Houston, Texas

Could your film pass the Bechdel test? This is the criteria outlined by the founders of the Bechdel Film Festival, the non-profit dedicated to strengthening the image of women in front of and behind the camera, by promoting female filmmakers and strong roles for women. The creation of Bechdel Films was inspired by a date that went awry for founder Cressandra Thibodeaux, who decided to use her bad experience to launch the annual Texas-based event and show that women are just as talented as men both in the film industry and outside of it.

In addition to showcasing various genres of shorts and documentary features, the festival includes works in-progress, panel discussions, talk backs, script readings, an opening night reception, an awards ceremony, and much more. All films must be directed or co-directed by a female filmmaker, while all screenplays must be either written by a women or involve a strong female protagonist. Let’s hear it for the girls!

Noise Pop Film Festival

16th – 26th February 2018

San Francisco, California

A whole mish-mash of artistic works showcasing from music to the arts, the Noise Pop Film Festival is San Francisco’s “favorite indie music, arts, and film festival”. Now in its 26th year, the annual event with live screenings has brought early exposure to stacks of emerging artists in the Bay Area and beyond, many of whom have gone on to widespread acclaim.

Any kind of film or video narrative feature, documentary, short, animation, experimental, or music video may enter, so long as it explores the connection to music or features an exceptionally prominent soundtrack.

New York City Popup Film Festival

19th February 2018

New York, New York

The New York Popup Cinema is a short-film and new-media screening series that introduces audiences to fresh films and connects film professionals in the enticing setting of the Big Apple. This one-day festival kicks off with a networking hour, and is followed by the screening of quality short films from all genres.

Outstanding works will be selected and presented with the award for Best Film, Best Actor, Best Actress, or Best Screenplay. It might only be in its first year, but with the combination of its exciting location and diverse range of filmmaking talent, perhaps we’ll see this event continue to popup in the future.  

HollyShorts Film Festival

22nd February 2018 – 18th June 2018

Los Angeles, California

HollyShorts Film Festival is an organization devoted to showcasing the best and brightest short films from around the globe, advancing the careers of filmmakers through screenings, networking events, and various panels and forums. The fest showcases the top short films produced through both its monthly screenings and annual event. Categories include Short Animation, Short Live Action, Short Documentary, Music Video, Webisode, Commercials, Youth Film, and Digital Microbudget.

Speaking on the event, Steve Bellamy, Kodak president, said, “We have been a sponsor of Hollyshorts since I became in charge of Kodak Motion Picture and I can truly attest that those are the most productive dollars we spend each year. They have created a community that is unparalleled and they super serve their partners better than anyone. We are planning to be with them for a long time.”

Arizona Underground Film Festival

22nd-24th February 2018

Phoenix, Arizona

Head on down to the desert for the Arizona Underground Film Festival – Arizona’s premier cult film festival. For over eleven years now, this annual event has represented every genre of independent film from across the world and celebrated the artists and their work in categories such as Narrative, Horror, Documentaries, Experimental, Animation, and its rather unique Exploitation category.

AUFF founder David Pike explained: “Underground Film Festivals are a chance to get away from the ‘indie’ mainstream type film. I’m a huge fan of cinema that challenges the audience, breaks the rules, and offers something different than a standard Hollywood movie. I want to showcase filmmakers with an independent vision from every genre of film.”

New York International Children’s Film Festival

23rd February 2018 – 18th March 2018

New York, New York

Kids say the darndest things! They also have the imaginations most filmmakers yearn for, which is perhaps why the New York International Children’s Film Festival is such a great shout. Launched in 1997, the fest promotes “intelligent, passionate, and provocative cinematic works for ages three to eighteen” to help define a more compelling film for kids. Since its launch nearly twenty years ago, the event has snowballed into one of the largest festivals for children and teens in North America.

Co-founder Eric Beckman described the concept for the festival as “a type of filmmaking for children that was more meaningful than was typically being presented to young people”. Each year the event showcases one hundred animated, live action, and experimental shorts and features from around the world, plus gala premieres, retrospectives, filmmaker Q&As, workshops, audience voting, and the NYICFF Awards Ceremony. The organization also offers year-round film programming, a touring festival, an online festival, and film production workshops for children ages six to sixteen.

Central Alberta Film Festival

23rd-25th February 2018

Red Deer, Alberta, Canada

Pitched as a platform to incubate Canadian, Albertan, and international talent in a rapidly evolving film industry, Central Alberta Film Festival is described as “a catalyst to enhance the cinematic experience with excellence while supporting Canadian artistic values”. This non-profit cultural organization has been running for two years now, with its mission to “act as a bridge between the audience, critics, and the contemporary filmmakers who want to showcase and discuss their work”.

The fest accepts admissions from films in four categories, comprising Feature Narratives, Short Narratives, Feature Length Documentaries, and Short Documentaries. According to CAFF, “Short Films must either tell a story, make a point, teach a lesson, or provide information to the audience.” They’ve also recently introduced a 48-hour Film Challenge to boot, the winners of which will be submitted into its festival event free of charge.

Celebration of the Arts

24th February 2018

Fort Worth, Texas

The Celebration of the Arts is an evening of non-stop arts experiences and live entertainment. Its aim is to benefit the entire community surrounding the Fort Worth Community Arts Center in Texas, by increasing tourism and raising funds for the Art Council’s operating budget.

Its annual film festival with live screenings has been running for two years, and now includes a segment titled “Art In Motion”, whereby short art films are shown continuously throughout the evening. This category is open to any form of film so long as the running time sticks to two minutes or less and can be classified as art, experimental, narrative, animation, music video, or documentary.

Los Angeles CineFest

24th-28th February 2018

Los Angeles, California

The Los Angeles Cinefest showcases a wide range of indie talent via its online and live international event. The fest has been running for nearly five years, handing out prizes to winners in multiple categories, ranging from short films, to animation, to full-length features, as well as scripts, photography, and film scores.

The festival is organized by filmmaker and premiere organizer Mark Mos, who explains, “Each month the Los Angeles film industry specialists announce semi-finalists, finalists, and winners. We show work online with submitter approval only and once a year, and we watch and read all submissions again, before screening selected work at the live event in Los Angeles.”

Poly Film Festival

24th February 2018

Pasadena, California

This interscholastic event consists of short film screenings by students from local and independent high schools, intermingled with Q&A sessions between the audience members and filmmakers in attendance. It’s an opportunity for the Cali-based students to have their work both viewed and celebrated at the annual screening event held in the Garland Auditorium at Polytechnic School in Pasadena, California.

The festival founders describe the event as “a chance to facilitate broader dialogue, collaboration, and study concerning the production of motion pictures among cinematically curious students of local and independent schools”.

Bellingham Film Annual Showcase

25th February 2018

Bellingham, Washington

“Hey Washington State: show us what you’ve got!” These are the words spoken by the founders of the Bellingham Film Annual Showcase, as they look to find the best cinematic talent the state has to offer. Born from a collaboration between Bellingham Film, Film is Truth, and Talking To Crows, the event offers filmmakers the opportunity to show finished products, as well as trailers, concept trailers, or crowdfunding videos for projects that are currently seeking funding.

Selected filmmakers who attend the show have the opportunity to directly connect with their audience – and score a filmmaker’s swag bag – in an intimate setting at the Pickford Film Center. Movies screened at the festival must focus on one-of-nine categories including Animation, Documentary Short, and Experimental.

Culture of Life Film Festival

25th February 2018

Memphis, Tennessee

The Culture of Life Film Festival is a 24-7 online on-demand VOD festival and television network. So rather than waiting for eleven months for filmmakers to have their work seen, viewers are presented with the newest films every month, giving the opportunity to gather an audience all year round.  

Described as a “film festival and TV network with a higher purpose”, the event is faith-based, but even films that aren’t Christian in nature and deliver solid family-friendly messages about hope, love, mercy, and life are welcomed with open arms. Filmmakers who are selected by the founders have their work featured on the online and live film festival platforms, and the company is currently working hard to set up a church-based traveling film festival.

Creation International Film Festival

28th February 2018

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Creation International Film Festival might only be in its second year, but its founders have a clear vision in mind. Described as “an international film and screenplay-writing festival designed specifically for the indie filmmaker who’s tired of being overlooked by all the other festivals”, CIFF keeps its entry fee low and offers one of the highest number of award categories, along with an option to have your film or script reviewed.

The Canada-based festival runs in four quarters and in March, the annual Creation Festival Gala is held for the purpose of screening its selected submissions from the year in a theatrical presentation. Already the event has garnered many fans, with filmmaker Bahadir Karasu describing CIFF as a “great festival that gives value to every filmmaker no matter what your budget for the film . . .  and their attitude is remarkable!”

Miami Independent Film Festival

28th February 2018

Miami Beach, Florida

Miami Independent Film Festival, or Mindie, accepts regular submissions where indie features are privately screened every month and evaluated by a team of experts in the industry. The winners then compete to be shown at the Mindie annual event, which kicked off in 2016.

Mindie’s founders Laura Gasperini, Valentina Vincenzini, and Isabella Roberto created the fest to support their love of watching movies and helping filmmakers find an audience. “We have created monthly editions to give continuity to the selection process and a steady feedback to the filmmakers. Instead of waiting for months before getting an answer from the festival, filmmakers are immediately contacted if selected.”

Filmmakers from all over the world are invited to submit their work, which can be from any year of production, any genre, and any author. “We know how hard it is for an indie filmmaker to produce and distribute their work. Mindie is the tool that every filmmaker needs, in order to showcase and get recognitions for their film.”

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