Top 100 International Film Festivals + Submission Tips [2020 Update]

Adrian Țofei, August 2016

Latest Update: February 2020

Seeing the success of my Top 100 Horror & Fantasy Film Festivals in helping thousands of filmmakers around the world, I decided to make a general list as well, with the most important international film festivals, regardless of type (which will also help me select the best festivals for my second movie We Put the World to Sleep).

I created the list and I’m constantly updating it (usually twice a year) based on extensive researches, taking into consideration over 40 other lists (see below), the opportunities the festivals offer to both indie and bigger films/filmmakers/actors (distribution offers, publicity, networking, awards, attracting reviews in relevant publications and selections/invitations to new festivals, boosting the chances for the Academy Awards, discovering new talents, boosting the chances for getting new projects), the number of years running, their status in the film industry, the location, communication, hospitality, atmosphere and safety, how they make the selected/attending filmmakers feel, 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 my own experiences with my first movie Be My Cat: A Film for Anne and other various recommendations. I only included international film festivals with live screenings (by international I mean festivals that screen films from multiple countries).

Colored in green are the newly-added festivals, the re-added festivals and those that climbed in the top at the latest update. The number of years listed for each festival are counted till the year before the latest update of this top. Only the years when the festival was held are considered, therefore they reflect the number of editions. If you spot any errors, please let me know.

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.
  • 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 cast & crew, past known films of yours, awards and top festivals, anything else unique or sensational about your film.
  • 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, mention the top attributes of your film and yourself (exemplified above), send them the trailer/teaser and ask if they could offer you a fee waiver. If they refuse, they might be either not interested in your film, or interested but principled. Try to find out which case applies and act accordingly, also considering your 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).
  • 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).
  • And finally, if you get into festivals and distributors express interest in your film, always negotiate an advance payment (minimum guarantee – MG) or at least a gross corridor. Otherwise chances are you will see little to no money later. Go without an advance or gross corridor only if the backend split is great and you trust the distributor, or if no other distributor wants your film and that’s your only chance.

Before starting the top 100, here are the lists that helped me make mine, with codes to identify on which lists each festival is mentioned. A festival must be listed in at least 4 other lists in order to be included in my top 10, in at least 3 other lists for my top 25, in at least 2 other for my top 50, and in at least 1 other for my top 100.

I also compiled the following list of top 20 Oscar booster festivals to help me with the main list: the top 5/10/15/20 festivals that premiered or screened the most feature films to get Academy Awards nominations in top categories (best picture, acting, directing, writing) in 2020, 2019, 2018 & 2017, according to the IMDb release info. Colored in green are the festivals that climbed in the top after the announcement of the 2020 Oscar nominations and colored in red are those that entered the top for the first time. The first figure represents the number of world premieres (1 premiere = 1 point), the second figure the number of screenings right after the premiere (1 after-premiere = 0.5 points), the third figure the number of screenings right after the after-premiere (1 after-after-premiere = 0.25 points), and the fourth figure the number of the rest of festival screenings till limited release (1 screening = 0.1 points).  [Os5/10/15/20]

Top 20 Oscar Boosters:

  1. Toronto – 11/14/9/2 – 20.45 points
  2. Venice – 15/0/0/0 – 15 points
  3. Telluride – 7/8/0/0 – 11 points
  4. Cannes – 8/1/0/0 – 8.5 points
  5. Sundance – 6/0/0/0 – 6 points
  6. New York – 2/1/2/12 – 4.2 points
  7. Mill Valley – 0/1/7/16 – 3.85 points
  8. BFI London – 0/0/2/24 – 2.9 points
  9. Zurich – 0/3/2/8 – 2.8 points
  10. Hamptons – 0/1/1/16 – 2.35 points
  11. AFI Fest – 1/0/0/13 – 2.3 points
  12. Chicago – 0/0/0/20 – 2 points
  13. Philadelphia – 0/1/0/14 – 1.9 points
  14. SXSW – 1/1/0/1 – 1.6 points
  15. Middleburg – 0/0/0/16 – 1.6 points
  16. Berlin – 1/1/0/0 – 1.5 points
  17. San Sebastian / Donostia – 0/1/1/6 – 1.35 points
  18. Vancouver – 0/1/0/8 – 1.3 points
  19. Gent – 0/0/2/7 – 1.2 points
  20. Austin – 0/0/0/12 – 1.2 points

Both “Top 100 International Film Festivals” and “Top 100 Horror & Fantasy Film Festivals” require constant updates and a continuous extensive research. It’s a huge amount of work, I’m doing it all alone and nobody pays me, therefore I need your support to continue:


Top 10 Film Festivals:

  1. Cannes Film Festival / Festival de Cannes – Cannes, France, 72 years – IW3, IW100, R100, cFIAPF, AASh, RSh5, TG11, wCG10, AADo, G3, Os5
  2. Sundance Film Festival (focused on US independent films) – Park City, Utah, US, 42 years – IW3, IW100, R100, AASh, AAShDo, RSh5, TG11, usCG10, G3, Os5
  3. Toronto International Film Festival: TIFF – Toronto, Canada, 44 years – IW3, IW100, R100, nFIAPF, TG11, Ca10, wCG10, HR10, G3, Os5, Aw3, AASh
  4. Venice International Film Festival (focused on films most likely to get Oscar nominations) – Venice, Italy, 76 years – IW10, IW100, R100, cFIAPF, AASh, TG11, G5, Os5, Aw3
  5. Berlin International Film Festival / Berlinale (focused on European art films) – Berlin, Germany, 69 years – IW10, IW100, R100, cFIAPF, AASh, TG11, wCG10, AADo, G5, Os20
  6. Telluride Film Festival (focused on films most likely to get Oscar nominations) – Telluride, Colorado, US, 46 years – IW10, IW100, R100, TG11, usCG10, Os5, Aw3, G50
  7. South by Southwest / SXSW Film Festival (focused on independent films) – Austin, Texas, US, 26 years – IW10, IW100, R100, MM25-2017, AASh, AAShDo, TG11, usCG10, Os15
  8. Tribeca Film Festival (focused on independent films) – New York City, US, 18 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, US, 57 years – IW10, IW100, R100, Os10, Aw10, G10
  10. AFI FEST – Los Angeles, California, US, 49 years – IW100, R100, AASh, usCG10, MM25-2018, Aw10, G50, Os15

Top 25 Film Festivals:

(in alphabetical order from 11th to 25th)

Top 50 Film Festivals:

(in alphabetical order from 26th to 50th)

Top 100 Film Festivals:

(in alphabetical order from 51st to 100th)

Beyond Top 100:

(festivals that barely missed the top, in alphabetical order)

(incomplete list, more festivals to be added soon)