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10 Important Documentary Film Festivals
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10 Important Documentary Film Festivals

Picture of Varia Fedko-Blake
Updated: 20 October 2016
Around the world, documentary festivals shape how audiences experience non-fiction cinema. Here are some of the most prominent,

Ambulante, Mexico

As well as showing them in Mexico, Ambulante brings a wide selection of Mexican and international documentaries to Columbia, California, and El Salvador. Today the event has an audience of more than 100,000 and is repeatedly cited as a tool for social and cultural integration.

True/False, USA

The annual True/False Film Festival is held in Columbia, Mo., at the end of February. Screenings are located in numerous spots around the city, including many of its renowned downtown cinemas. Since the festival opened in 2004, the number of visitors each year has grown ten-fold. Yet, unlike many larger festivals, True/False remains an intimate event. Its single award is given to a filmmaker (or filmmakers) dedicated to making outstanding non-fiction films. Alongside the large selection of features and shorts, there are numerous music events, debates, and parties.

Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, Greece

Every March on the beautiful Greek coast, the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival gives filmmakers opportunities to create alliances and collaborations, pitch projects, and network in a constructive atmosphere. The festival started in 1992.

Hot Docs | © Joseph Michael Howarth
Hot Docs | © Joseph Michael Howarth

Hot Docs, Canada

Canada’s Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary festival, shows approximately 200 films each year. The festival incorporates Doc Shop, a market for international documentaries, and Doc Soup, which runs from October through April and shows the best documentary series.

It’s All True, Brazil

It’s All True takes place simultaneously in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, alongside four other cities. The festival pays homage to the buzzing cultural diversity of Brazil, but also shows international productions, including experimental works.

Sheffield Doc Fest | © David Chang
Sheffield Doc Fest | © David Chang

Sheffield Doc Fest, U.K.

Sheffield Doc Fest, which in 1994, is now the third largest documentary platform in the world. As well as showing a wide selection of international and British films, it fosters new talent by offering pitching opportunities, discussion panels, and master classes.

Open City Docs, U.K.

Held over six days in venues across central London, primarily at University College London, Open City Docs is a recent newcomer. It shows over 70 titles.

Copenhagen International Documentary Festival, Denmark

CPH: Dox began in 2003 and is held annually in Copenhagen. Devoted to supporting independent film and contemporary non-fiction and art cinema, the festival highlights experimental filmmaking.

International Documentary Film Festival, The Netherlands

The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam attracts the cream of the crop and shows as many as 300 films, among them many Dutch projects and student films. Non-competitive programs include Panorama, Para-docs, Music and Kids Documentaries.

Cinéma du Réel, France

Since 1979, Cinéma du Réel has been at the forefront of the international documentary scene. Key areas include socially driven films and visual anthropology. Organized by the Public Information Library in Paris, the event shows about 200 films at the Pompidou Centre. There are workshops, talks, and networking opportunities for visitors and professionals.