Plan a weekend getaway to one of these amazing destinations and attend some of the best film festivals in 2016. Watch movies under the stars in Hawaii, relax on a small island on the East Coast, or travel to New York or San Francisco.
Our list includes must-see film festivals in Wisconsin, Virginia, Missouri, New Jersey, Michigan, Florida and many more. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
1.Big Island Film Festival
© Big Island Film Festival
Known as the "Talk Story" festival, the Big Island Film Festival is a celebration of filmmakers who produce independent narrative films. The festival is a five-day event that showcases feature and short films by independent filmmakers from all over the world. There is a Q&A session after each film to provide immediate feedback from the audience and to connect the filmmaker and the audience at just the right moment.
Top feature and short films are presented with the Golden Honu Awards in a number of categories. A Scriptwriting Contest for feature films has been recently added.
Big Island of Hawaii, May 26 - Monday, May 30, 2016
2.Nantucket Film Festival
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The Nantucket Film Festival is a writers’ festival whose mission is “to promote the cultural awareness and appreciation of the art of screenwriting in the world of cinema.” Every year for six days, the festival places the spotlight on screenwriters in contemporary cinema, showing the vital contribution of screenwriting to filmmaking.
Established in 1996 by Jill and Jonathan Burkhart, the festival has grown immensely in popularity, with movie enthusiasts from all over the world coming to see preview screenings of the most talked-about or controversial films and enjoy a range of signature programs such as the Screenwriters Tribute, which honors the achievements of prominent screenwriters.
The Nantucket Film Festival screens more than 100 films, both domestic and international, every year, including features, shorts, documentaries, and narratives from every genre, placing special emphasis on storytelling.
Nantucket, June 22-27 2016
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3.San Francisco Green Film Festival
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There cannot be a better place to have an environmental film festival than San Francisco. Launched in 2011 with 90 international films covering topics ranging from agriculture to mining and from rainforests to monkeys, the San Francisco Green Film Festival has a mission of screening environmental films that will educate people, connect viewers, moviemakers, and environmental experts, and encourage new ideas and actions.
Besides the movies shown during the festival, the festival allows for year-round screenings of about 100 relevant and compelling movies from more than 20 countries. The festival offers a venue for many short environmental films with relevant and urgent topics that would otherwise not be seen.
San Francisco, April 14-2016
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4.San Luis Obispo International Film Festival
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The San Luis Obispo International Film Festival is a six-day annual event that showcases classic and contemporary films in a number of venues such as the city’s classic Art Deco Fremont Theatre and the independent Palm Theatre. The festival celebrates variety in the movies it shows, which include everything from topics documentaries on current topics to old and much loved cinema classics. Some of the screened independent films cannot be seen anywhere else outside the festival.
What all these films have in common is that they prove movies matter, whether they entertain, inspire, or educate. In parallel to the movie screenings, the festival has a range of Red Carpet Events that welcome Hollywood big names, wine tastings paired with special movies and special question and answer sessions with movie makers after screenings of their works take place.
San Louis Obispo, CA, March 15-20, 2016
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5.True/False Film Festival
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The annual True/False Film Festival, which has been held in the lively college town of Columbia, Missouri for the last 13 years, stopped being just a local event years ago. While the festival does not limit itself to any particular topic, nor does it advocates for or against any of the film’s subject matter, it does attempt to challenge viewers to think carefully and critically about the film content and to question their own assumptions.
During the four-day event, the festival screens about 60 of the best documentary films from all over the world at several locations around the town, and the event attracts a large number of movie industry insiders. The festival offers two awards: The True Vision Award, given to a filmmaker, and the True Life Fund, given to the subjects of a documentary film as a real, tangible form of assistance.
Columbia, Missouri, March 3-6, 2016
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6.Montclair Film Festival
© Montclair Film Festival
Currently in its fifth year, the Montclear Film Festival is a Montclear, New Jersey community-based film event that quickly gained an excellent reputation with the film industry insiders and public alike. It was declared a favorite film festival and the winner of the Discover Jersey Arts 2012 People’s Choice Awards.
While international in nature, the festival’s focus is on establishing a cultural focal point in the town of Montclair and the region. After it was established, the festival quickly became an internationally acclaimed event during which organizers screen a wide range of films in seven venues. The festival has a diverse and rich public and offers educational programs between the festivals, with events such as Free Summer Series Under the Stars, Kidz Shortz Filmmaking Competition, and Free African American Heritage Month screenings.
Montclair, NJ April 29 - May 8, 2016
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7.Florida Film Festival
© Florida Film Festival
The Florida Film Festival is the celebration of the best American independent films and foreign cinema productions. For the last 25 years, this 10-day Oscar-qualifying festival presents about 170 films in an American Independent Film Competition for feature productions, documentaries, shorts, and animation, as well as an International Spotlight Films that shows films already in distribution.
The viewers can also see select Florida student movies and Midnight Movies. Important elements of the event are special tributes, guests and screenings, panels and seminars. But, what everyone really comes to see is which of the American Independent films will qualify for Grand Jury Awards, Special Jury Awards, and Audience Awards at the Oscars.
Maitland, Florida, April 2016
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8.New York International Children's Film Festival
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Founded in 1997, the New York International Children’s Film Festival is based on the belief that movies with disturbing and controversial topics are not beyond kids’ interest and understanding. The festival supports the production and dissemination of films for children from ages 3 to 18 that are intelligent, thoughtful, and provocative.
These films go beyond simply entertaining and encourage active and critical viewing, stimulate discussion about the topics movies depict, and generally develop kids’ appreciation for the arts.
Out of about 2,500 submissions from all over the world, the festival shows about 100 feature and short films during the one week of screenings, which take place in various venues all over NYC. Children as well as adults vote for the best films, which qualify for the Academy Award.
New York City, Feb 26 - March 20, 2016
9.Maui Film Festival
© Maui Film Festival
Only in Hawaii does a movie festival turn into a large party – here, you’ll see movies by day and famous chefs and their culinary delights by night. Since 2000, Wailea, Maui has been hosting the annual Maui Film Festival, attracting movie buffs to a five-day long celebration of unique films, features, documentaries, short films, and international films.
From approximately 1000 submitted films, about 50 are selected, ranging from multimillion-dollar studio productions to independent and first time films. Filmmakers’ panels, tributes, galas, and award ceremonies accompany the movie screenings, ending every night in a huge party Hawaii style.
Maui, June 2016
Fun destinations: 25 Best East Coast Beaches and 25 Best Beaches in Florida.
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10.Traverse City Film Festival
© Traverse City Film Festival
The Traverse City Film Festival was co-founded in 2005 by the Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore with the lofty goal of helping “save one of America's few indigenous art forms—the cinema.” The festival, held in Traverse City, Michigan, screens independent, documentary, and foreign films that are capable of enlightening and entertaining at the same time, benefiting the art of movie making instead of focusing on the bottom line.
One of the popular attractions of the festival is the showing of free classic movies on an enormous outdoor inflatable screen, and the festival’s panel discussions with the movie makers – actors, directors, writers and others – are always well-attended. During the festival, daily classes on filmmaking are offered for film students and film enthusiasts.
Traverse City, July 26 - 31, 2016
Weekend getaways in the Midwest: Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, from Chicago, from Minneapolis, North Dakota, Nebraska and Missouri.
11.Boulder International Film Festival
© Courtesy of Bill Bogusky
The Boulder International Film Festival is considered to be one of the most innovative and influential film festivals in the US. Founded in 2004 by Boulder filmmakers and sisters Kathy and Robin Beeck to celebrate "the bold spirit of independent filmmaking,” the festival is a filmmakers’ festival that focuses on great storytelling regardless of the budget spent on making a movie.
The festival screens movies created by some of the most renowned and established moviemakers, but also those of new, emerging talents. It aims to bring together moviemakers, the movie industry, the press, and movie buffs to enjoy four days of great movies, from unknown new feature films, animations, documentaries, and short films to those that have received Oscar nominations and have experienced great box-office success.
Boulder, Colorado, March 3-6, 2016
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12.Martha's Vineyard Film Festival
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The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival is as much a community event as it is a film festival. It screens independent and lesser-known documentaries, narratives, and short films on subjects that resonate with its audiences, including the environment, family dynamics, politics, subcultures, the arts, alternative lifestyles, and special individuals that have made a difference in society.
The selected films come from all over the world and are drawn from the most reputable festivals such as Berlin, Sundance, and Cannes. The movies are only a part of the festival offerings – the movie buffs can meet celebrated movie industry personalities and enjoy the debates and discussions on the movies they have seen and on the topics depicted in them.
Matha's Vineyard, March 17-20, 2016
13.Sedona International Film Festival
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The Sedona International Film Festival features the latest independent films from all over the world, showing the power of independent film to educate and inspire viewers and filmmakers to make a difference. The festival screens the best in documentaries, narrative features, short films, animated features, and foreign language films regardless of the genre.
The festival is in its 22nd year and over a period of nine days it shows about 160 films and organizes a series of discussions, panels, and seminars in Harkins Sedona Cinemas, the Mary D. Fisher Theatre, and the Sedona Performing Arts Center.
Sedona, Arizona, February 20-28, 2016
14.Kansas City FilmFest
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The Kansas City FilmFest focuses on independent documentary, animated, and narrative films. Founded in 2001, Kansas City Filmfest is a juried festival that attracts international, national, local, and regional filmmakers. Its goal is to increase awareness and recognition of independent and classic movies within the general movie-going public, as well as to distinguish filmmakers and screen personalities for their contributions.
The festival features over 100 films every year and offers filmmakers the opportunity to win recognition and cash prizes for their categories. Since 1997, the festival has awarded more than $200,000 in cash. Filmmakers also have an opportunity to meet big movie industry names who come to the festival as judges.
Kansas City, April 13-17, 2016
15.Maryland Film Festival
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The Maryland Film Festival has a goal of bringing filmmakers to Baltimore in order to expand moviegoers’ horizons through movies and videos with diverse voices and unique, uncompromising vision. It is a five-day event during which the festival screens about 50 features and 75 short films, which are documentary, narrative, animation, and experimental.
Besides contemporary American films, the festival also shows a few cutting-edge features from different countries each year. The festival invites celebrity guest hosts who are not part of the film world to present their favorite movies. Some of the previous years’ guests were musicians Branford Marsalis and Harry Belafonte.
Baltimore, Maryland, May 2016
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16.Omaha Film Festival
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The Omaha Film Festival was established in 2005 to celebrate the artistic, historical, and educational importance of movies. It offers a platform for independent film artists to show their work and introduces moviegoers to original and innovative new movies as well as classic cinema masterworks. From approximately 500 entries from all over the world, the Omaha Film Festival showcases about 90 selected films every year during the five-day event.
The movies include features, short films, documentaries, animated short films, world premiers, and advanced screenings of movies that have been already widely distributed. There is a special section for movies made in Nebraska.
Omaha, March 8-13, 2016
17.Northern Virginia International Film and Music Festival
© Northern Virginia International Film and Music Festival
The Northern Virginia International Film and Music Festival was established in 2015 to celebrate the country’s recognized filmmakers, screenwriters, and musicians. The festival is a ten-day-long event with movie screenings, panels, seminars, concerts, and events that end with a big party and an Awards Ceremony.
The movies screened are chosen regardless of their budget, style, origin, or genre. There is something for everyone, from car chases to war documentaries, spaceships, and first kisses. All events are held in Angelika Film Center at Mosaic. (website)
Fairfax, Virginia, April 2016
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18.Green Bay Film Festival
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The Green Bay Film Festival was established in 2011 by the Film Green Bay in order to showcase independent films from Wisconsin and other countries. The movies compete in a range of categories: documentaries, features, shorts, Best Short Film, and Wisconsin shorts. Besides movie screenings, the festival also organizes talks, seminars, award ceremonies, and parties.
Movie screenings and events are held in a range of different venues all over town. One of the festival activities is “Festival Around Town,” showing independent films at several locations before and after the festival weekend celebration.
Green Bay WI, March 3-6, 2016
19.Sun Valley Film Festival
© Sun Valley Film Festival
Launched in March 2012, the Sun Valley Film Festival features a week-long celebration of filmmaking by showing about 60 films from a variety of genres, from film student works and documentaries to children movies, web series, music videos, and narrative features. The Festival ‘s One Potato short screenplay competition was launched to promote filmmaking in Idaho.
The WILD TO INSPIRE film contest was launched with National Geographics, and the High Scribe Screenplay Competition offers winners an opportunity to discuss their work with some of the biggest names in the movie industry. The movies are shown in the town’s meticulously restored Liberty Theatre, and the screenings are followed by networking dinners, forums, debates, discussions and, of course, lively parties.
Sun Valley, Idaho, March 2016
You may also like: Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival.
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20 Best Under-the-Radar Film Festivals
- Big Island Film Festival, Photo: Big Island Film Festival
- Nantucket Film Festival, Photo: Courtesy of jovannig - Fotolia.com
- San Francisco Green Film Festival, Photo: Courtesy of Oleksandr Dibrova - Fotolia.com
- San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, Photo: Courtesy of Tombaky - Fotolia.com
- True/False Film Festival, Photo: Courtesy of Henryk Sadura - Fotolia.com
- Montclair Film Festival, Photo: Montclair Film Festival
- Florida Film Festival, Photo: Florida Film Festival
- New York International Children's Film Festival, Photo: Courtesy of andreykr - Fotolia.com
- Maui Film Festival, Photo: Maui Film Festival
- Traverse City Film Festival, Photo: Traverse City Film Festival
- Boulder International Film Festival, Photo: Courtesy of Bill Bogusky
- Martha's Vineyard Film Festival, Photo: Courtesy of patrick1050 - Fotolia.com
- Sedona International Film Festival, Photo: Courtesy of chasingmoments - Fotolia.com
- Kansas City FilmFest, Photo: Courtesy of Tommy Brison - Fotolia.com
- Maryland Film Festival, Photo: Courtesy of Melpomene - Fotolia.com
- Omaha Film Festival, Photo: Courtesy of Henryk Sadura - Fotolia.com
- Northern Virginia International Film and Music Festival, Photo: Northern Virginia International Film and Music Festival
- Green Bay Film Festival, Photo: Courtesy of Henryk Sadura - Fotolia.com
- Sun Valley Film Festival, Photo: Sun Valley Film Festival
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of leekris - Fotolia.com
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