10 US Film Festivals You Should Know About

Audra Clemons

The United States is home to the most prolific entertainment industry on the planet. Therefore, it’s no surprise the country produces some of the best, worst and most expensive films to be seen in theaters, on Netflix and television. On the contrary, independent films are diamonds in the rough– gems that spend their time being polished and campaigning for viewers on a festival circuit far and wide. Here we discover ten of the best U.S. film festivals on and off the circuit.

Telluride Film Festival

The nonprofit Telluride Film Festival is an annual fall celebration of artists, filmmakers and cinema enthusiasts who gather for a four-day event in the small mountain town of Telluride, Colorado. The festival ranks among the world’s best film festivals, and is considered a major launching pad for the fall season’s most discerning films. During the four-day event, over 80 international films are shown, along with artist tributes, discussion panels and festivities. The line up and schedule is kept a secret until opening day. Suggested festival premiere movie to watch: ROSEWATER, which was written by Jon Stewart and stars Gael Garcia Bernal.

Palm Springs Film Festival

The Palm Springs International Film Festival has an excellent reputation as one of the most prestigious and well-attended film festivals in the country. It is set amidst the backdrop of California ’s desert terrain and mountains, giving off a blanket of sun and warmth surrounding the event. This winter destination film festival features over 180 films from more than 70 countries, boasting the largest selection Foreign Language Oscar submissions of any festival in the United States. The festival is also said to serve as a prelude to the Oscars. Suggested festival premiere movie to view: Whiplash, which was directed by Damien Chazelle and stars J.K. Simmons.

Sundance Film Festival

The Sundance Film Festival is quite possibly the most famous festival in Northern America. Founded by Robert Redford in 1981 to foster independence, risk-taking and new voices in American film, Sundance has become a leader in its field by pulling together a nice list of film artists, critics and aficionados, as well as great musical acts. Each year Park City, Utah, invites the who-is-who of Hollywood A-list stars to also attend the festival, and they do. Suggested festival premiere movie to watch: World of Tomorrow, a short film where a little girl is taken on a mind-bending tour of the distant future.

Los Angeles Film Festival

The Los Angeles Film Festival screens nearly 200 narrative, documentary, feature films, short films and music videos each June. From red carpet galas to celebrity-studded premieres, the Los Angeles Film Festival highlights cinema from every corner of the globe. With a home base at downtown LA Live, the festival fosters a vibrant, burgeoning independent arts community in Los Angeles. Suggested festival premiere movie to watch: The Last Time You Had Fun, a comedy that follows four thirty-somethings who partake in a night of half-baked misadventure.

Santa Barbara International Film Festival

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) is a self-described ‘cinephile’s paradise.’ This 11-day celebration of cinema is showcased at several historical theaters on the American Rivera in beautiful downtown Santa Barbara. The festival premieres over 200 films submitted by over 85,000 moviemakers a year, from burgeoning film students to acclaimed directors. Taking place a few days after Sundance and before the Academy Awards, SBIFF is a circuit stop for frontrunners on the awards track. The festival even offers some film viewings free of charge. Suggested previous SBIFF film selection to watch: Le Chef.

Hawaii International Film Festival

In 1981, Hawai’i International Film Festival (HIFF) started as a project of the East-West Center, an educational and research institution created by U.S. Congress and located on the University of Hawaii Manoa campus in Honolulu. HIFF is unique as it discovers features, documentaries and short films from Asia made by Asians, films about the Pacific made by Pacific Islanders, and films made by Hawaii filmmakers that present Hawaii in a culturally accurate way. Suggested HIFF film to watch: Coming Home, starring Internationally acclaimed Daoming Chen and Gong Li.

SXSW Film Festival

The South by Southwest Festival has grown over the years from just music to interactive and film segments. As the premiere festival that champions “indie” artists in the Unites States, SXSW has become the coolest indie-darling festival. For three weeks in March, Austin, Texas, is invaded by the most innovative minds in the entertainment industry. From the SXSW film vault watch: The Boob, a short film by Cary Murnion from Honest, where an implant comes to life with a thirst for blood.

Dances With Films

Unanimously declared as one of the most forward thinking festivals in the country, Dances With Films is at the core of the independent film scene. Since its 1988 West Hollywood inception, the festival has grown from presenting just a handful of films to over one hundred per year. The festival promises to stand apart from the ‘who you know’ festival scene and select simply on talent and merit. Dances with Films has been tagged a ‘discovery festival’ and ‘summer camp’ for filmmakers because it helps filmmakers forge relationships in the industry. Music video selection from the festival: Black Ops Arabesque.

Florida Film Festival

The Florida Film Festival is an Oscar-qualifying festival, that premieres the best in current, independent and international film. Offering ten days with over 170 films and events, film connoisseurs indulge in conversation with filmmakers and celebrities while imbibing cocktails. The festival is located in the beautiful townof Winter Park and across Maitland – both of which have maintained their southern Florida charm. View a past selection from the festival, The Big Lebowski.

New York Film Festival

The New York Film Festival (NYFF) began in 1963, and is the second longest running festival in the United States. The films in this prestigious festival are selected by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and aren’t about competition, but rather are suggested to be a celebration of film, old and new, with a unique international twist. Suggested festival premiere movie to watch: Birdman, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, which stars Michael Keaton as an aging Hollywood trying to resurrect his career and integrity.

Culture Trip Summer Sale

Save up to $1,395 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article