Top 100 International Film Festivals + Submission Tips [December 2018 Update]

Adrian Țofei, August 2016

Latest Update: December 2018

Seeing the success of my Top 100 Horror & Fantasy Film Festivals in helping filmmakers around the world, I decided to make a general list as well, for all the international film festivals, regardless of type (useful for my next projects as well).

I did it based on an extensive research, taking into consideration other lists (see below), the opportunities the festivals offer to both indie and bigger productions/filmmakers/actors (distribution, publicity, networking, awards, boosting the chances for new festival selections and the Academy Awards, discovering new talents, boosting the chances for getting new projects and roles), the number of years running (till 2018), their status in the film industry, the location, communication, hospitality and safety, the size (the number of films selected and the number of audience, press and film industry members attending), the quality of the selected films, the quality of the information on their websites and social media, the entry fee, submission process and selection process, plus other various recommendations. I only included international film festivals with live screenings.

Commentary for the 2018 Update: 

I started this list in 2016, then a hiatus followed (I focused on my genre festivals list instead), but in the last couple of weeks I did an extensive research and finally managed to finish and update it. I took into consideration many more sources (including Google’s featured results), and also compiled a couple of smaller lists about the Academy Awards to help me make the big list (the top festivals that premiered and/or screened the most feature films to get Oscar nominations in top categories in the last 3 years). 

I tried to keep a balance between top festivals of interest to both indie and bigger films/filmmakers/actors. Therefore we have both more exclusive festivals like Telluride, New York, Hamptons, Mill Valley or Middleburg, focused on productions most likely to get Oscar nominations, and also festivals focused more on indie films, like SXSW, Tribeca, LA Film Fest, Slamdance or Raindance (Film Independent announced that they’re ending LA Film Fest, but I’m still keeping it in the list for a while, since plans can sometimes change). And of course, we have the top 5 which should give equal chances to everyone, from indie to celebrity: Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, Venice, Berlin.

I also gave special attention to all kinds of special festivals. Sitges entered top 25, Fantasia and Fantastic Fest entered top 50, plus 4 more genre festivals in top 100. On the documentary side, IDFA entered top 25, Hot Docs, Sheffield Doc/Fest, AFI Docs and DOC NYC entered top 50, plus 6 more documentary fests in top 100. For short films as well: Clermont-Ferrand, Palm Springs Shortfest and Aspen Shortfest in top 50, plus 3 more short fests in top 100. And also for experimental films – Ann Arbor – and animated films – Annecy. Plus other festivals specialised on certain aspects of filmmaking: Austin for film writing, Cinequest for film innovations, Camerimage  for cinematography, Gent for film music.

I also gave special attention to festivals representing minorities in film, listing the top festival from each group: St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival, American Black Film Festival and Outfest LA + Fusion LGBTQ festivals. Every continent is represented as well, including with festivals focused on specific regions: FESPACO for African films, Cartagena and Guadalajara for Latin-American films, Dubai for Arab films, Busan and other Asian festivals focused on Asian films.

In addition to all this, the position in the top changed for some festivals. New York and AFI Fest advanced to top 10, IDFA and Hamptons advanced to top 25, Mill Valley, Sheffield Doc/Fest, Aspen Shortfest, AFI Docs and DOC NYC advanced to top 50, and some fests entered top 100 for the first time. Check out the full list (plus the newly-added submission tips) and share! 🙂 

Submission Tips for Indie Filmmakers:

  • Keep your feature film below 100 minutes if possible and never above 120 minutes. And if you have a genre feature film, keep it below 90 min if possible and never above 100 min. Most festivals are commercially oriented and don’t wanna risk boring their audiences and fade away in popularity.
  • Keep your short film below 10 minutes if possible and never above 15 minutes. Festivals prefer to screen a bigger number of shorter short films instead of a single longer short film. Cannes doesn’t even accept short films above 15 min in the main competition.
  • Some festival programmers won’t watch your feature film entirely and might reject it based on the first 10-20 minutes. Try to have a powerful beginning or one that shows potential for a powerful development and entices the viewer to watch more.
  • Ask for fee waivers before submitting. Unfortunately, some festivals view paid submissions mainly as a source of revenue and select/invite most of their films from other sources like contacts, recommendations, other festivals, sales agents etc. Write to festivals and ask them if they are interested in your film. If they are, they may give you a fee waiver. If they don’t give, they might be either not interested, or interested but principled. Try to find out which case applies and act accordingly, also considering your total submission budget and how much you want that festival.
  • Don’t fall for partial discount offers received via email, thinking they are personalised and the festival is interested in your film. Most of the times they are not, those are discount codes listed publicly on the submission platform or mass-sent to filmmakers. When a festival is interested in your film, they offer you a 100% discount code or fee waiver. With a few exceptions, the partial discount is just a marketing strategy.
  • Don’t waste your money on submitting to award events listed on submission platforms. They won’t help you get (more) recognition in the film industry.
  • But do your online research and submit to major competitions like the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, the European Film Awards and other regional or national major film awards not listed here. For a chance at the Oscars, don’t miss the Academy Awards Qualifying Festivals for documentary features, documentary shorts, and short films (including animated shorts), and the 5 festivals known to be top Oscar boosters for feature films (Toronto, Venice, Telluride, Sundance, Cannes).
  • Keep the cover letter very short – about three phrases of essential info if possible. Programmers are very busy and might not read long letters. Same for the film’s synopsis – try to synthesise it in one catchy phrase if possible.
  • Include in the short cover letter the best things about your movie and yourself, to catch the programmers’ interest, like known actors, past known films of yours, awards and top festivals, anything else unique or sensational about your film.
  • For feature films, it’s very important to have the world premiere in a big festival. All the selections after the world premiere will be in smaller or similar festivals, never in bigger festivals. Plan carefully your world premiere, don’t settle for a little-known festival if you think your movie can do more than that.
  • Some of the top 10 festivals have very powerful and popular sections for genre films. But if you don’t get accepted, try my Top 100 Horror & Fantasy Film Festivals.
  • When you get accepted and/or win an award in an important festival, email the other festivals you are waiting a decision from and inform them about your success (but try not to bother them with too many emails).

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Before starting the top 100, here are the lists that helped me make mine, with codes to identify in which lists each festival is mentioned:

I also compiled the following two lists to help me with making the top:

  • The top 5/10/15 international festivals that premiered (p) and/or screened right after the premiere (ap) (first two fests after the premiere) the most feature films to get Oscar nominations in top categories in 2016, 2017 & 2018 (according to the IMDb release info): Toronto (6p, 18ap), Venice (9p), Telluride (5p, 6ap), Sundance (7p), Cannes (6p, 1ap), New York (2p, 3ap), Berlin (2p, 1ap), Mill Valley (5ap), SXSW (1p, 1ap), BFI London (3ap), Zurich (3ap), Directors’ Fortnight (1p), AFI Fest (1p), Hamptons (2ap), Seattle (2ap), Calgary (2ap) [OsP5/10/15]
  • The top 3/10/25 international festivals that premiered (p) and/or screened (s) the most feature films to get Oscar nominations in top categories in 2018 (according to the IMDb release info): Toronto (3p, 2p North-American, 7s), Sundance (4p), Telluride (2p, 1p North American), Venice (2p), Berlin (1p, 1s), SXSW (1p work-in-progress, 1s), Directors’ Fortnight (1p), Mill Valley (8s), Belgrade (8s), Palm Springs (7s), Camerimage (7s), AFI Fest (6s), BFI London (6s), Middleburg (6s), Dubai (6s), Hamptons (5s), Austin (5s), Chicago (5s), Philadelphia (5s), Rotterdam (5s), San Sebastian (5s), Goteborg (5s), Taipei (5s), Rio de Janeiro (5s) [OsPS3/10/25]

This top requires constant updates, and each update needs a new extensive research. It’s a huge amount of work, time consuming, I’m doing it all alone and nobody pays me. Please click the button below and contribute any amount to help me keep it up to date:

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Top 10 International Film Festivals:

  1. Cannes Film Festival / Festival de Cannes – Cannes, France, 71 years – IW3, IW100, R100, cFIAPF, AASh, RSh5, TG11, wCG10, AADo, G3, OsP5
  2. Sundance Film Festival (focused on films from the US) – Park City, Utah, US, 41 years – IW3, IW100, R100, AASh, AAShDo, RSh5, TG11, usCG10, G3, OsP5, OsPS3
  3. Toronto International Film Festival: TIFF – Toronto, Canada, 43 years – IW3, IW100, R100, nFIAPF, TG11, Ca10, wCG10, HoR10, G3, OsP5, Aw3, OsPS3
  4. Venice International Film Festival (focused on films most likely to get Oscar nominations) – Venice, Italy, 75 years – IW10, IW100, R100, cFIAPF, AASh, TG11, G10, OsP5, Aw3, OsPS10
  5. Berlin International Film Festival / Berlinale (focused on European art films) – Berlin, Germany, 68 years – IW10, IW100, R100, MM25, cFIAPF, AASh, TG11, wCG10, AADo, G10, OsP10, OsPS10
  6. Telluride Film Festival (focused on films most likely to get Oscar nominations) – Telluride, Colorado, US, 45 years – IW10, IW100, R100, MM25, TG11, usCG10, OsP5, Aw3, OsPS3, G50
  7. South by Southwest: SXSW Film Festival (focused on independent films) – Austin, Texas, US, 25 years – IW10, IW100, R100, MM25, AASh, AAShDo, TG11, usCG10, G10, OsP10, OsPS10
  8. Tribeca Film Festival (focused on independent films) – New York City, New York, US, 17 years – IW100, R100, AASh, AAShDo, TG11, usCG10, G10
  9. New York Film Festival (accepts submissions for short films only, features are invitation based) (focused on films most likely to get Oscar nominations) – New York City, New York, US, 56 years – IW10, IW100, R100, OsP10, Aw10, G50
  10. AFI FEST – Los Angeles, California, US, 48 years – IW100, R100, AASh, usCG10, MM25, OsP15, Aw10, OsPS25, G50

Top 25 International Film Festivals:

(in alphabetical order from 11th to 25th)

Top 50 International Film Festivals:

(in alphabetical order from 26th to 50th)

Top 100 International Film Festivals:

(in alphabetical order from 51st to 100th)

This top requires constant updates, and each update needs a new extensive research. It’s a huge amount of work, time consuming, I’m doing it all alone and nobody pays me. Please click the button below and contribute any amount to help me keep it up to date:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

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