Adrian Țofei, January 2015
Latest major update: June 2021
Latest minor update: April 2022
UPDATE: I have finally added direct submission links to all the festivals currently on FilmFreeway or Festhome: FilmFreeway links colored green | Festhome links colored red
While working on a private list of the most important genre film festivals to submit my first movie Be My Cat: A Film for Anne, I decided to make it public to be useful to fellow filmmakers as well. It instantly got over 5,000 shares (including by top festivals like Sitges or Fantasia), helping thousands of filmmakers around the world, both new and established (based on the feedback I received, calling it “the holy grail“, “gospels” or “the ultimate list“), so I decided to continue the work by constantly researching festivals and updating the list usually once or twice a year.
I take into consideration in my research over 30 other lists (see below), the opportunities the festivals offer to indie filmmakers and actors (distribution offers, publicity, networking, awards, attracting reviews in relevant publications and selections/invitations to new festivals, discovering new talents, boosting the chances for getting new projects), the number of world premieres they screen (which can be an indicator for discovery festivals), 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 genre film festivals: horror, fantasy, sci-fi, found footage and underground. For all the festivals, regardless of type, check out my Top 100 International Film Festivals (TIFF, Sundance, Tribeca & SXSW have very popular & powerful sections for genre films, those and Cannes’ side sections are the best places for the world premiere of your genre feature film).
Before starting the top, here are the lists that helped me make mine, with codes to identify in which lists each festival is mentioned (updated & newly-added lists are colored blue):
- DreadCentral’s Top 55 Best Horror Festivals in the World (2021) [DC55] (in the panel)
- Moviemaker’s The World’s 50 Best Genre Festivals (2021) [MMGe50]
- Moviemaker’s The World’s 5/10/15 Bloody Best Genre Fests (2018) [MMGe5/10/15]
- Moviemaker’s 30 Bloody Best Genre Fests in the World (2019) [MMGe30]
- Moviemaker’s 25 Bloody Best Genre Fests in the World (PDF, 2020) [MMGe25]
- Moviemaker’s Major Horror & Fantasy Film Festivals & Conventions (2016) [co/MMHoFa]
- Moviemaker’s 5 Coolest Horror/Sci-Fi Film Fests + nominations (2013) [no/MMHoSF5]
- Moviemaker’s 5 Coolest Underground Film Fests + nominations (2013) [no/MMUn5]
- Moviemaker’s 13 Horror Film Festivals to Die For (2011) [MMHo13]
- Moviemaker’s 50 Fests Worth the Entry Fee (2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014) [MM50]
- Moviemaker’s 25 Coolest Film Festivals (2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014 lists) [MM25]
- MIFF’s Member Festivals (2021) [MIFF]
- EFFFF’s former member festivals [exEFFFF]
- Horror Report‘s 3/10/20 Fests with the Most Horror Movies Screened (1996-2016) [HR3/10/20]
- Raindance’s 7/20/40 Essential Horror & Fantasy Film Festivals (2013) [RHoFa7/20/40]
- Raindance’s Essential 100 Film Festivals (2013) [R100]
- Google’s first 50 results for Top Film Festivals (2021) [G50]
- Google’s first 3/10/20/50 Top Genre Film Festivals (2021) [GGe3/10/20/50]
- Google’s first 3/6 Top Underground Film Festivals (2021) [GUn3/6]
- Film Daily’s Indie horror film fests worth screaming about (2018) [FD]
- Bitch Flicks’ Women-Led and Women-Centric Horror Film Festivals (2017) [BFWo]
- FIAPF’s Competitive Specialised Feature Film Festivals (2020) [sFIAPF]
- 93rd Academy Awards’ Short Film Qualifying Festivals (2020) [AASh]
- Indiewire’s 100 Leading Film Festivals (2015) [IW100]
- Variety’s 50 Unmissable Film Festivals (2007) [V50]
- FilmFreeway’s top 3/10/25/50/100 best reviewed genre festivals (at least 2 years old) (2021) [FFGe5/25/50/100] (this is different from FilmFreeway’s featured Best Reviewed list which only includes festivals open for submissions at the time of accessing the list). Not all are great festivals, but for those that have been confirmed to be great from other sources, lots of good reviews on FilmFreeway can be an indicator that they select films from open submissions as opposed to sales agents/distributors.
Top 10 Genre Film Festivals:
Colored blue are the newly-added festivals & those that climbed in the top at the latest updates. Colored green are the festivals with direct FilmFreeway submission links. Colored red are the festivals with direct Festhome submission links only. Festivals must be at least 7 years old to be included in top 10.
- Sitges Film Festival – Sitges, Catalonia, Spain, 53 years – RHoFa7, MIFF, R100, sFIAPF, MMGe5, MMHoFa, MM25, HR3, MMGe30, GGe20, AASh, V50, MMGe25, DC55, MMGe50
- Fantasia International Film Festival – Montreal, Canada, 24 years – RHoFa20, MIFF, R100, IW100, MMGe5, MMHoFa, MM50-2020-2019-2018-2017-2021, MM25, noMMHoSF5, HR3, MMGe30, GGe10, MMGe25, DC55, MMGe50, G50
- Fantastic Fest – Austin, Texas, US, 16 years – RHoFa20, MIFF, R100, IW100, MMGe5, MMHoFa, MMHoSF5, MM25-2017, HR20, MMGe30, GGe20, MMGe25, DC55, MMGe50
- Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival: BIFFF – Brussels, Belgium, 38 years – RHoFa7, MIFF, MMHoFa, HR10, MMGe30, MMGe25, GGe3, DC55, MMGe50
- Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival: BiFan (formerly Puchon/PiFan, focused on Asian genre films) – Bucheon, South Korea, 24 years – RHoFa7, MIFF, R100, MMGe5, MMHoFa, GGe3, V50, DC55, MMGe50
- FrightFest (for fantastic films as well, not just horror as the name suggests) – London & Glasgow, UK, 21 years – RHoFa7, exEFFFF, MMGe5, MMHoFa, HR10, MMGe30, FD, GGe10, MMGe25, DC55, MMGe50, FFGe100
- Toronto After Dark Film Festival: TADFF – Toronto, Canada, 15 years – RHoFa7, MMHo13, HR20, MMGe30, GGe20, MMGe25, DC55, MMGe50
- Beyond Fest (now accepts submissions for both features and shorts) – Los Angeles, California, US, 8 years – MMGe10, MMGe30, MMGe25, DC55, MMGe50, GGe10
- The Overlook Film Festival (formerly Stanley Film Festival, focused on horror films) – New Orleans, Louisiana, US, 7 years – IW100, MMGe10, MMGe30, noMMHoSF5, GGe50, MMGe25, DC55, MMGe50
- Fantasporto (focused on indie & experimental genre films) – Porto, Portugal, 40 years – RHoFa7, exEFFFF, HR20, GGe50, DC55
Top 25 Genre Film Festivals:
(in alphabetical order from 11th to 25th)
Colored blue are the newly-added festivals & those that climbed in the top at the latest updates. Colored green are the festivals with direct FilmFreeway submission links. Colored red are the festivals with direct Festhome submission links only. Festivals must be at least 5 years old to be included in top 25.
- A Night of Horror: ANOH (reopened with new leadership after a two years hiatus, focused on indie horror films) – Sydney, Australia, 13 years – RHoFa20, GGe50, DC55
- Brooklyn Horror Film Festival – New York City, NY, US, 5 years – MMGe30, GGe3, DC55, MMGe50, FFGe100
- Fantaspoa (focused on Ibero-American genre films) – Porto Alegre, Brazil, 16 years – RHoFa20, MIFF, MMHoFa, MMGe30, DC55, MMGe50, GGe20
- FilmQuest (focused on indie sci-fi, horror & fantasy films) – Provo, Utah, US, 7 years – MM50-2017-2015-2021, MMGe30, DC55, MMGe50, FFGe5, GGe50
- Imagine Film Festival – Amsterdam, Netherlands, 36 years – RHoFa20, MIFF, HR10, GGe20, DC55, MMGe50
- Morbido Fest (focused on Ibero-American genre films) – Mexico City, Mexico, 13 years – MIFF, MMGe10, HR20, MMGe30, MMGe25, DC55, MMGe50
- MOTELx: Lisbon International Horror Film Festival – Lisbon, Portugal, 14 years – MIFF, RHoFa40, MMGe15, HR20, sFIAPF, MMGe25, DC55, MMGe50
- Neuchatel International Fantastic Film Festival: NIFFF – Neuchatel, Switzerland, 20 years – RHoFa20, MIFF, MMGe15, MMHoFa, HR20, GGe50, DC55
- New York City Horror Film Festival – New York City, NY, US, 18 years – RHoFa40, MMGe15, GGe10, MMGe50
- Nightmares Film Festival (focused on indie genre films) – Columbus, Ohio, US, 5 years – MMGe30, DC55, MMGe50, FFGe5
- Other Worlds + Under Worlds Film Festival (for sci-fi & horror films) – Austin, Texas, 7 years – MMGe50
- Screamfest (focused on horror films) – Los Angeles, California, US, 20 years – RHoFa7, MIFF, MMHo13, HR20, MMGe30, FD, GGe10, MMGe50
- Shriekfest (for sci-fi & horror films, focused on indies) – Los Angeles, California / Orlando, Florida, US, 20 years – MMHo13, MMHoSF5, RHoFa40, GGe50, DC55, MMGe50, FFGe50
- Strasbourg European Fantastic Film Festival: FEFFS (focused on European genre films) – Strasbourg, France, 13 years – MIFF, MMGe25, DC55
- Telluride Horror Show – Telluride, Colorado, US, 11 years – RHoFa20, MMHo13, noMMHoSF5, MMGe50
Top 50 Genre Film Festivals:
(in alphabetical order from 26th to 50th)
Colored blue are the newly-added festivals & those that climbed in the top at the latest updates. Colored green are the festivals with direct FilmFreeway submission links. Colored red are the festivals with direct Festhome submission links only. Festivals must be at least 3 years old to be included in top 50.
- Boston Underground Film Festival – Boston, Massachusetts, US, 21 years – MMUn5, MMGe30, GUn3, DC55, MMGe50, GGe10
- Buenos Aires Rojo Sangre (focused on Ibero-American genre films) – Buenos Aires, Argentina, 20 years – RHoFa20, GGe50, DC55, FFGe100
- Calgary Underground Film Festival – Calgary, Canada, 16 years – noMMUn5, GUn3, MMGe50, MM50-2021
- Chattanooga Film Festival – Chattanooga, Tennessee, US, 8 years – MMGe30, MMGe25, DC55, MMGe50, GGe20
- Cinepocalypse (formerly Bruce Campbell’s Horror Film Fest) – Chicago, Illinois, US, 7 years – MMGe30, GGe20, MMGe25, DC55, MMGe50
- Dead by Dawn – Edinburgh, UK, 28 years – exEFFFF, RHoFa40, HR20, GGe50, DC55
- L’Etrange Festival – Paris, France, 25 years – MMGe10, HR20, MMGe25, DC55, MMGe50
- Fantafestival – Rome, Italy, 40 years – exEFFFF, GGe50, DC55
- Fantasy FilmFest – Berlin / Nuremberg / Munich / Frankfurt / Cologne / Stuttgart / Hamburg, Germany, 34 years – HR3, MMGe30, GGe20, MMGe25
- Gerardmer International Fantastic Film Festival – Gerardmer, France, 27 years – HR10, MMGe50
- GenreBlast – Winchester, Virginia, US, 5 years – MMGe50, FFGe25, GGe50
- Grossmann Fantastic Film & Wine Festival – Ljutomer, Slovenia, 16 years – MIFF, MMHoSF5, MMGe30, MMGe50, GGe20
- Horrible Imaginings (focused on indie genre films) – San Diego, California, US, 10 years – RHoFa40, MM50-2018, MMGe30, DC55, MMGe50, FFGe25
- Lund Fantastic Film Festival – Malmo/Lund, Sweden, 26 years – RHoFa20, MIFF, HR10, GGe50, MMGe25
- Macabro (focused on Ibero-American genre films) – Mexico City, Mexico, 19 years – MMGe15, MMGe30, FD, DC55, MMGe50, GGe50
- Monster Fest – Melbourne, Australia, 10 years – DC55, MMGe50, GGe50
- Night Visions – Helsinki, Finland, 23 years – HR10, MMGe30, MMGe25, DC55, MMGe50, GGe50
- Noir in Festival (for noir, mystery, crime & thriller films) – Milan, Italy, 30 years – sFIAPF, V50
- On Vous Ment! Mockumentary Film Festival (for mockumentary & found footage films) – Lyon, France, 5 years
- Panic Fest – North Kansas City, Missouri, US, 8 years – MMGe30, MMGe25, DC55, MMGe50, FFGe100
- Popcorn Frights – Miami, Florida, US, 6 years – DC55, MMGe50
- San Sebastian Horror & Fantasy Film Festival – San Sebastian, Basque Country, Spain, 31 years – RHoFa20, MIFF, DC55
- SLASH Filmfestival – Vienna, Austria, 11 years – MMGe25, DC55, MIFF
- Trieste Science+Fiction Festival (for sci-fi films) – Trieste, Italy, 41 years – MIFF, GGe50
- Unnamed Footage Festival (for found footage & mockumentary films) – San Francisco, California, US, 5 years
Top 100 Genre Film Festivals:
(in alphabetical order from 51th to 100th)
Colored blue are the newly-added festivals & those that climbed in the top at the latest updates. Colored green are the festivals with direct FilmFreeway submission links. Colored red are the festivals with direct Festhome submission links only. Festivals must be at least 2 years old to be included in top 100.
- Abertoir: The International Horror Festival of Wales – Aberystwyth, UK, 15 years – MIFF, RHoFa40, GGe50, DC55
- Another Hole in the Head – San Francisco, California, US, 17 years – MMGe50, GGe20, FFGe100
- Atlanta Horror Film Festival – Atlanta, Georgia, US, 14 years – RHoFa40, GGe50, FFGe50
- Ax Wound Film Festival (for women’s genre films) – Brattleboro, Vermont, US, 6 years – MMGe30, FD, BFWo, FFGe100
- Berlin Sci-fi Filmfest – Berlin, Germany, 4 years – FFGe25
- Blood in the Snow Film Festival – Toronto, Canada, 7 years – MMGe30, GGe50, DC55, FFGe50
- Boston Sci-Film Festival – Boston, Massachusetts, US, 45 years – noMMHoSF5, DC55, GGe50, FFGe100
- Buried Alive Film Fest – Atlanta, Georgia, US, 14 years – RHoFa40, GGe50
- Etheria Film Festival (for women’s genre short films) – Los Angeles, California, US, 7 years – BFWo, MMGe25, DC55, MMGe50, GGe10
- Fancine Malaga – Malaga, Andalusia, Spain, 29 years – MIFF, GGe50
- FANT Bilbao – Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain, 26 years – RHoFa40
- Feratum – Tlalpujahua, Mexico – 9 years – MMGe25
- Final Girls Berlin Film Festival (for women’s genre films) – Berlin, Germany, 4 years – BFWo, DC55, MMGe50
- Future Gate Sci-Fi Film Festival – Prague, Czech Republic, 8 years
- Freak Show Horror Film Festival – Orlando, Florida, US, 15 years – MMHo13, RHoFa40, noMMHoSF5
- GrimmFest – Manchester, UK, 11 years – RHoFa40, MMGe30, MMGe50
- Haapsalu Horror & Fantasy Film Festival: HOFF – Haapsalu, Estonia, 13 years – MIFF, GGe50
- HARD:LINE Film Festival – Regensburg, Germany, 8 years – MIFF
- Hexploitation (formerly Fright Night Theatre Film Festival) – Hamilton, Canada, 11 years – MMGe30, FD, FFGe100
- Horror-on-Sea (focused on indie horror films)- Southend-on-Sea, UK, 8 years – DC55
- Horrorthon IFI (now also accepts feature film submissions) – Dublin, Ireland, 23 years – exEFFFF, DC55
- Idaho Horror Film Festival (focused on short films) – Boise, Idaho, US, 7 years
- The International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival – Phoenix, Arizona, US, 15 years – noMMHoSF5
- Lausanne Underground Film & Music Festival – Lausanne, Switzerland, 19 years – GUn6
- LUSCA Fantastic Film Fest (formerly Puerto Rico Horror Film Fest) – San Juan, Puerto Rico, US, 13 years – MMHo13, GGe50, DC55
- Maskoon Fantastic Film Festival (open submissions for short films only) – Beirut, Lebanon, 5 years – MIFF
- MidWest WeirdFest (from the founding director of A Night of Horror Film Festival, focused on indie genre films) – Eau Claire, Wisconsin, US, 5 years – FFGe100
- Mile High Horror Film Festival (reopened after a hiatus) – Denver, Colorado, US, 7 years – MMHo13, MMHoSF5, GGe50
- Molins Horror Film Festival: TerrorMolins – Molins de Rei, Catalonia, Spain, 39 years – MIFF
- Nevermore Film Festival – Durham, North Carolina, US, 21 years – DC55, FFGe100
- Nocturna Madrid – Madrid, Spain, 8 years
- NOLA Horror Film Fest – New Orleans, Louisiana, US, 9 years – MMHo13, MMGe50, FFGe25, GGe50
- North Bend Film Festival (focused on surrealist genre films) – North Bend, Washington, US, 4 years – DC55, MMGe50
- Offscreen Film Festival (possibly invitation-based) – Brussels, Belgium, 14 years – DC55
- Paris International Fantastic Film Festival: PIFFF – Paris, France, 10 years – GGe50
- Portland Horror Film Festival – Portland, Oregon, US, 5 years – FD, MMGe50, GGe50, FFGe100
- RamaSkrik – Oppdal, Norway, 10 years – MMGe30
- Ravenna Nightmare – Ravenna, Italy, 17 years – RHoFa20, exEFFFF
- Razor Reel Flanders Film Festival – Bruges, Belgium, 13 years – MIFF
- Renegade Film Festival (formerly Women in Horror Film Festival) – Atlanta, Georgia, US, 4 years – BFWo, GGe50, MMGe50, FFGe50
- Sacramento Horror Film Festival (focused on short films) – Sacramento, California, US, 14 years – MMHoSF5, RHoFa40, GGe50
- Sci-Fi-London – London, UK, 19 years – noMMHoSF5, GGe50
- South African HorrorFest (focused on indie horror films) – Cape Town, South Africa, 16 years – MMGe50
- Splat!FilmFest – Lublin & Warsaw, Poland, 5 years – MIFF, MMGe25
- Spooky Movie International Horror Film Festival – Washington, D.C., US, 14 years – DC55
- Sydney Underground Film Festival – Sydney, Australia, 14 years – MMUn5, GUn6
- TromaDance (focused on underground indie genre films) – New York City, NY, US, 20 years
- Vortex Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror Film Festival (formerly Rhode Island International Horror Film Festival) – Providence, Rhode Island, US, 21 years – MMHo13
- What The Fest!? (probably invitation-based) – New York City, NY, US, 3 years – MMGe25
- Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival – Yubari, Japan, 28 years – RHoFa40, MMGe30
Top 150 Genre Film Festivals:
(in alphabetical order from 101st to 150th)
Newly-added section! Colored green are the festivals with direct FilmFreeway submission links. Colored red are the festivals with direct Festhome submission links only. Festivals must be at least 2 years old to be included in top 150.
- 15 Second Horror Film Challenge (for micro-shorts of max 15 seconds) – online and various conventions around the world, 6 years – FFGe50
- BoneBat “Comedy of Horrors” Film Fest – Redmond, Washington, 10 years – DC55
- Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival – Buffalo, New York, US, 8 years – FFGe50
- BUT Film Festival (focused on underground indie films) – Breda, Netherlands, 15 years
- Canary Islands Fantastic Film Festival: Isla Calavera – San Cristobal de La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain, 4 years
- Celluloid Screams: Sheffield Horror Film Festival – Sheffield, UK, 12 years – DC55
- Cinefantasy – Sao Paulo, Brazil, 11 years
- Comic-Con (focused on short films) – San Diego, California, US, 15 years – R100, coMMHoFa
- Court Metrange Festival (for short films) – Rennes, France, 17 years – MIFF
- Crimson Screen Horror Film Fest – Charleston, South Carolina, US, 8 years – FFGe25
- Cryptshow (focused on short films) – Badalona, Catalonia, Spain, 14 years – FD
- Dracula Film Festival – Brasov, Transylvania, Romania, 8 years – DC55
- Dragon Con (for short films) – Atlanta, Georgia, US, 32 years – RHoFa40, coMMHoFa, GGe50, DC55
- Fantasmagoria – Medellin, Colombia, 3 years
- Fantastic Zagreb – Zagreb, Croatia, 9 years
- Fixion Fest – Santiago, Chile, 13 years
- Frightening Ass Film Fest – Chattanooga, Tennessee, US, 10 years
- Fright Nights Horrorfilmfestival – Linz, Austria, 15 years
- Full Moon Horror & Fantasy Film Festival – Biertan, Transylvania, Romania, 9 years
- Gen Con (focused on short films) – Seattle, Washington, US, 10 years – noMMHoSF5, FFGe100
- Horrorant Fright Nights – Athens, Greece, 7 years
- HorrorHound – Cincinnati, Ohio, US, 10 years – FFGe25
- H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival (for Lovecraftian films) – Portland, Oregon, US, 24 years – noMMHoSF5, FFGe100
- The Icon Festival for Science Fiction & Fantasy – Tel Aviv, Israel, 22 years
- Insolito: International Horror & Fantasy Film Festival – Lima, Peru, 3 years
- Ithaca Fantastik – Ithaca, New York State, US, 7 years
- Macabre Faire (focused on indie genre films) – Long Island, New York, US, 6 years
- Madeira Fantastic FilmFest – Funchal, Madeira, Portugal, 5 years
- Melbourne Underground Film Festival – Melbourne, Australia, 20 years – R100, noMMUn5, GUn10
- Miami International Science Fiction Film Festival: MiSciFi – Miami, Florida, US, 7 years
- Monsters of Film – Stockholm, Sweden, 9 years
- Montevideo Fantastico – Montevideo, Uruguay, 15 years – FFGe100
- The Optical Theatre Film Festival – Rome, Italy, 6 years
- Out of this World: Queer Genre Film Festival (formerly Out for Blood) (for LGBTQ+ genre films) – Cambridge, England, UK, 3 years
- Panama Horror Film Fest – Panama, Panama, 5 years
- Pumpkin Fantasy Film Festival – Beijing, China, 6 years
- Requiem Fear Fest (formerly Montreal HorrorFest) – Montreal, Canada, 8 years
- San Diego Underground Film Festival – San Diego, California, US, 6 years – MM50-2019, FFGe100
- Santiago Horror Film Festival – Santiago, Chile, 3 years
- Sick Chick Flicks Film Festival (for women’s short genre films) – Cary, North Carolina, US, 5 years – BFWo, FFGe100
- Sick ‘n’ Wrong Film Festival – Orlando, Florida, US, 5 years – DC55, FFGe100
- Sin City Horror Fest – Las Vegas, Nevada, 4 years – FFGe100
- Soho Horror Film Festival – London, UK, 2 years – MMGe25
- South Texas Underground Film Festival – Corpus Christi, Texas, US, 8 years – noMMUn5, FFGe50
- Taipei Golden Horse Fantastic Film Festival – Taipei, Taiwan, 11 years
- TOHorror Fantastic Film Fest – Torino, Italy, 20 years
- Toronto Indie Horror Fest (focused on indie horror films) – Toronto, Canada, 5 years
- Utopiales Nantes (for sci-fi films) – Nantes, France, 21 years – exEFFFF
- Vancouver Badass Film Festival – Vancouver, Canada, 6 years
- Windy City Horrorama – Chicago, Illinois, US, 3 years – DC55
(the newly-added submission tips are colored blue)
- First of all, if you’ve never made a film before, but you’re thinking of making one, don’t listen to advices about what’s required, if that puts you down. You don’t necessarily need a script or a professional camera or a team or a lot of money. Escape the mental entrapment about what filmmaking is. The best is to find your own ways.
- In case you have no idea whatsoever about how festivals work, here are the basics: the film is not considered a professional artistic film until vetted by at least one festival which has a certain degree of recognition in the industry. The festivals are the gatekeepers. Thousands of them are listed on submission platforms where you put your film out (via private link with password), and then you choose which festivals to submit to (some also accept submissions via email or directly on their websites). Most festivals hire programmers to watch all the films and select a few. In continental Europe, Asia and South America, a lot of fests get funded from the state budget, but in North America, UK and Australia, almost all of them take submission fees, which can still be waived in some cases. For feature films, make sure to have the world premiere in a top festival. Your success will depend on that.
- Promote your film (project) like crazy. Use social media, send press releases, anything you can to ignite people’s interest and ultimately the interest of the film industry. A good percentage of your film’s success will be about the expectation and buzz surrounding it.
- Keep your genre feature film below 90 minutes if possible and never above 100 minutes. Most festivals are commercially oriented and don’t wanna risk boring their audiences and fade away in popularity. Even the artsy ones!
- 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.
- 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.
- Get feedback about your final cut from people with experience in the film industry that you trust before submitting to festivals.
- 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 at best similar festivals, never in bigger festivals. Plan carefully your world premiere (and also the premieres at continental and country/state/big city level), don’t settle for a little-known festival if you think your movie can do more than that.
- For short films you don’t necessarily need to have the word premiere in a big festival. A short film can travel the festival circuit in smaller festivals, gathering publicity, before being selected to a bigger one. Although premiering in a big one is still an advantage.
- Don’t waste your money and/or chances submitting to world premiere your feature film in festivals which don’t screen world premieres, but select most of their films from other festivals. Focus initially on discovery festivals known for screening world premieres and leave the rest for your regional premieres.
- Check out the genres & types of films the festival usually screens. If you’ve made a low budged found footage film, but the festival never screened low budget found footage films in the past, you might want to keep the money to submit to festivals which are more relevant for your film. Check out also the geographical region the festival focuses on.
- 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 synopsis, try to keep it short and catchy, similar to an IMDb plotline.
- 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, diversity or niche focus, anything else unique or sensational about your film. When submitting for any type of premiere (world, regional, local), mention that in your cover letter.
- A lot of important European, Asian, South-American & African film festivals have no submission fees, because they get state support. Find them and definitely submit your film (also keep in mind that some festivals with fees for features have no fees for shorts).
- 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.
- Ask for fee waivers before submitting if you have good reasons to do so which are relevant for the festival, like important awards & festivals for your current or previous film, known actors, being an alumni or anything else sensational, unique or valuable that would make the festival staff want your film.
- Knowing someone in the festival or with more power in the industry can help with at least getting a fair consideration. I used to advise against this practice, but since the established names have so many advantages, it is only fair that indie filmmakers try to use whatever they got to increase their chances of selection.
- Do your online research and also 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).
- The biggest and best festivals for the world premiere of your genre feature film are actually not the ones in this list, but in the top 10 of my Top 100 International Film Festivals list. TIFF, Sundance, SXSW & Tribeca have very popular & powerful sections for genre films, those and Cannes’ side sections should be your priority.
- 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 of distribution.
Festivals to Avoid:
- Online festivals and award events listed on submission platforms. Most are scams and won’t help your career or film in any way, no matter how well rated and reviewed they are (unless they are big festivals that went online temporarily during the pandemic, or well established award events like the European Film Awards).
- Festivals that appear valuable, but are just cash-cows for the owners. Some are outright fake (the event doesn’t happen), while most are pseudo-festivals or scams organised to get as much money as possible from filmmakers while offering them as little value as possible (most of the times zero value).
- Warning signs: multiple different festivals in various locations around the world or the US run by the same company or person(s) (like the numerous festivals run by Billy Adkins in the US via his company Breaking Fate Entertainment: Chicago Horror Film Festival, Indie Horror Film Festival, Horror In The Hills, Smoky Mountain Film Festival, Cinema Soup Film Festival, Laugh Or Die Comedy Fest and more), huge number of submission categories with high fees, huge number of awards given (in order to satisfy filmmakers’ ego and buy their silence), big sounding titles that have no recognition in the industry and just sound similar to established festivals, the event happens far away (different country or city) from the administrative headquarters, the festival mass-sends discount codes to filmmakers to attract more submissions, they take advantage of selected filmmakers by making them pay for promo materials, trophy, the award gala or party, the festival happens in a hotel, in the city outskirts or other improper venue/location, there’s no industry or press or even audience present besides the attending filmmakers, the films selected in previous editions have little to no online presence, the event generally looks more like a business than a film event.
- Established festivals that don’t offer you a fee waiver and you have info that they view paid submissions mainly as a source of revenue and select/invite most of their films directly from premium sources like sales agents, distributors, contacts or other festivals. These festivals can offer you a lot of value if selected, but you can pay big money submitting thinking you have a chance, when you actually don’t. Here’s what a former TIFF programmer had to say: “The top of the festival food chain feasts on submission fees. These festivals have deep industry networks, do extensive tracking of productions, and actively solicit works for their events. At the major festivals and most credible film festivals, submission fees remain a tax on the outsiders and unsolicited entries are merely revenue-generating fodder.” Therefore, unless you’re sure you’ve made a masterpiece (I’m not ironic, if you feel that, go for it), don’t waste your money openly submitting your indie film to top tier festivals.
If your film is found footage, before paying to submit to any festival, make sure they’re not found footage haters. Check if they ever selected indie found footage films in previous years. I wasted lots of money submitting my first movie Be My Cat: A Film for Anne to festivals which never selected a single found footage movie in their entire history (except for big found footage studio hits which are obviously invited for their notoriety and don’t count). Such fests probably have programmers/directors who either hate the genre or think it will put their fest in a bad light, and chances are they won’t even consider your film regardless of how good it is. I won’t name any because things can change, what was valid for my film 5 years ago might not be the case anymore, so check out if the festivals you’re interested in selected any indie found footage film in the last 5 years.