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What is a Film Festival?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A film festival is an event at which multiple films are screened for participants. Typically, film festivals are accompanied by panels which may feature directors, cast members, and other film personnel, and awards may be offered at the close of the festival to films of particularly high quality. Numerous regions all of the world hold film festivals every year, ranging from the prestigious Berlin Film Festival to smaller regional events which focus on work by local filmmakers.

The first official film festival appears to have taken place in Venice in 1932, when the medium of film was starting to explode in popularity. After the Venice festival, numerous other cities took up the trend, and many started focusing on specific categories within the field of film, such as independent films, documentaries, animation, or gay and lesbian films. Depending on the festival, just getting a screening can be an honor, which explains why movies have advertisement copy like “Screened at Sundance Film Festival!”

In many cases, a film festival includes multiple venues, allowing participants to pick from several films at once. Typically, the films to be shown are included in a catalog which has information about them; this information typically includes showing times and details about panels and discussions. Participants may pay a flat fee for admission, or they may be asked to pay a fee for each screening. Many film festivals issue coupon books or tokens which people can redeem at various screenings of interest.

Getting a film into a film festival is no mean feat. Depending on the festival, the festival may hold an open call for submissions, or filmmakers may be invited to participate. Typically, a panel reviews any proposed films, determining which ones will be shown. If the film festival offers awards, the panel may make award nominations at this time as well. Filmmakers may be required to pay a fee to submit their work.

Often, films premiere at festivals, making them great opportunities to see films which will not reach general audiences for months. Many film festivals also focus on independent distributors, who sometimes have trouble getting their work into large theaters, so in some cases, a film festival may be the only place to see a movie. It is also a unique opportunity to meet the people involved in the production of a film, which can be an interesting experience.

To find a film festival in your area, try searching for the name of a nearby major city and “film festival” in your favorite search engine. If you're lucky, the search will return an assortment of film festivals to choose from, and you may find one which piques your interest.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By croydon — On Apr 12, 2014

@KoiwiGal - Actually, I quite like independent or short film festivals more. Or those ones where people have to film something in a short amount of time and enter it into a competition. You can watch those on video sharing websites online usually, but it's always nice to see them on the big screen.

By KoiwiGal — On Apr 11, 2014

@pastanaga - Documentary film festivals are the best. There are so many awesome documentaries out there that never get seen by the general public because there doesn't seem to be any decent outlet for them.

Sometimes they can be a bit hit or miss, but often they are incredible and a film festival might be the only chance to see them.

I think this is one of the best things about online video subscription though. It gives people more of a chance to find obscure films that they might never see if they live in a town where they don't get film festivals.

By pastanaga — On Apr 10, 2014

I just adore film festivals, particularly when they are local and feature local films. I've been lucky enough to be visiting cities in a couple of different countries while this was going on and seen films I would otherwise have never even known existed.

I find that museums will often have information about local film festivals and might even host them if they have the facilities. Or you can look it up online before you go. That's a particularly good idea if you need English subtitles. Often one or two showings will provide these in big cities.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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