8 Can't-Miss Film Festivals for Movie Lovers

Hang with other film lovers at these best fests.

Most hardcore film aficionados know that attending the annual major film festivals at such locations as Cannes, Toronto, Telluride, Sundance and New York is the best way to keep up with what is happening in current cinema. It's also a way to get the inside scoop on potential Oscar contenders.

Cosmic Voyage Movie

Pamela Gentile; courtesy of San Francisco Silent Film Festival

But for film lovers who are more interested in less traditional, offbeat or predominantly genre-focused approaches to cinema, there are countless options out there. Here are eight unique film festivals around the globe that cater to very diverse but specific film communities.

Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival

Sitges Festival International de Cinema Fantastic de Catalunya

SITGES FESTIVAL INTERNATIONAL DE CINEMA FANTASTIC DE CATALUNYA 

First launched in 1968, Sitges is generally acknowledged as the best fantasy film festival in existence and serves up the latest in contemporary horror and science-fiction/fantasy cinema from celebrated directors like Terry Gilliam and David Cronenberg to cult favorites (Takashi Miike, Eli Roth) to independent film discoveries (Robert Egger’s The Witch). The programming may stretch the boundaries of the genre by including crime thrillers (Jun-hee Han’s Coin Locker Girl), documentaries (Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World) or unconventional psychological dramas (Valley of Love with Isabelle Huppert and Gerard Depardieu) but you can also expect short subjects, anime, selected episodes from TV series like Penny Dreadful and retrospective programming that honors past masters like Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Narcisco Ibanez Serrador. Discounted rates for attendees are available at Hotel Dolce Sitges, Hotel Subur, Hotel Capri and other convenient lodging choices.

Napoleon Film

Pamela Gentile; courtesy of San Francisco Silent Film Festival

SAN FRANCISCO SILENT FILM FESTIVAL 

Currently celebrating its 21st year, this event attracts silent film fans from around the world due to magnificent presentations that honor silent cinema as an art form. Rare, newly discovered archival prints and beautifully restored masterpieces are unveiled in the historic Castro Theater with live musical accompaniment by renowned soloists, composers and orchestras. Kevin Brownlow, Serge Bromberg, Jeffrey Vance and other silent film historians are often on hand to introduce films and a sample program can include everything from the fantasy spectacle of Fritz Lang’s Destiny (1921) to Douglas Fairbanks in the action comedy, When The Clouds Roll By (1919) to Within Our Gates (1920) from black cinema pioneer Oscar Micheaux. Among the convenient and affordable lodging choices are the boutique Metro Hotel, The Inn on Castro and the retro favorite, Becks Motor Lodge. San Francisco is also host to the annual Noir City Film Festival which recently celebrated its 14th year.

The Margaret Mead Film Festival

Margaret Mead Film Festival

MARGARET MEAD FILM FESTIVAL 

Presented by the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, this annual fall event was first created in 1977 in honor of anthropologist Margaret Meade on her seventy-fifth birthday. The focus has always been on non-fiction film that increases the viewers’ awareness of the complexity and diversity of people and cultures on the planet. The format can range from documentary to animation to experimental works and to give you some idea of the festival’s scope, past premieres have included Paris is Burning (1990), Jennie Livingston’s fascinating survey of the urban transgender community and East Punk Memories (2012) about the Eastern Bloc music scene in Hungary. The Excelsior Hotel, Park 79 and Lucerne Hotel are among the nearby top favored accommodations.

Animafest, Zagreb

Animafest Zagreb; www.animafest.hr

ANIMAFEST ZAGREB FILM FESTIVAL 

You might not know this but Zagreb in Croatia is host to the second oldest film festival in the world dedicated solely to animation (the oldest is the Annecy International Animation Film Festival in France). Now entering its 26th year, the event presents over 300 features and shorts and offers programs that cater equally to children, families and adults with every style of animation imaginable - stop-motion, computer graphics, hand-drawn, puppetry, 3-D and often new digital technologies. First founded in 1960, Animafest is famous for the breadth and depth of its programming which honors masters of the genre (this year Belgian animator Raoul Servais is the recipient of a lifetime achievement award) and open-air screenings in lovely Zrinjevac Park. This year’s line-up includes Pedro Rivero and Alberto Vazquez’s Psiconautas, the Forgotten Children which addresses ecological catastrophe; Extraordinary Tales, Raul Garcia’s adaptation of five Edgar Allan Poe short stories, the cyberpunk fantasy The Empire of Corpses from Ryotaro Makihara and new shorts from British, Swiss and Russian filmmakers, among others. Regular attendees recommend the Hilton Double Tree, Hotel Esplanade and Hotel Jagerhorn for Animafest attendees. 

Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer

Turner Classic Movies; filmfestival.tcm.com

TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL 

In seven short years the TCM Classic Film Festival has become the ultimate must-attend event in the U.S. for any classic film lover. And it not only celebrates Hollywood’s golden past but also peak achievements in world cinema. Pictured above are Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer from the festival's 2015 screening of The Sound of Music. Among the guests of honor at this year’s event in late April were Faye Dunaway, Elliott Gould, Gina Lollobrigida, Anna Karina, Carl Reiner and director John Singleton to name just a few. Screenings included Holiday in Spain aka Scent of Mystery (1960), presented in Smell-o-Vision, Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows (1955), Walt Disney’s Bambi (1942), the Pre-Code rarity Pleasure Cruise (1933), Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973), the silent epic Intolerance (1916), Jean-Luc Godard’s Band of Outsiders (1964), the 3-D sci-fi thriller Gog (1954) and the astonishing wild animal drama Roar (1981) starring Tippi Hedren and Melanie Griffith. The most convenient, top pick accommodations are the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and the W Hotel.

Piazza Maggiore, Italy

Lorenzo Burlando/Cineteca di Bologna

IL CINEMA RITROVATO

What could be better than combining a trip to Italy’s food capitol (Bologna in the Emilia Romagna region) with one of the most comprehensive and extensive film programming events of its kind in the world? The 29th edition of Il Cinema Ritrovato takes place June 25-July 2 and will offer 427 films (a mixture of 35mm and digital restorations) ranging from 1895 up to the current year. The venues include six theaters plus special event screenings at the Bologna Opera House and Piazzetta Pasolini with outdoor presentations at the Piazza Maggiore. All silent films are presented with live musical accompaniment and the international selection of movies are shown in their original language with subtitles. Past highlights include a 12-film retrospective of the Russian filmmaking team of Olga Preobrazenskaja and Ivan Provov, Allan Dwan’s 1954 western Silver Lode, Charlie Chaplin’s The Count (1916), Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (1998), shown in a rare dye-print transfer, and A Simple Event (1973), a landmark of the Iranian New Wave from Sohrab Shabid Saless. The city offers several lodging choices with special rates for attendees that range from high end (Art Hotel Corona door) to moderate (Hotel Palace). 

Virginia Film Festival

Virginia Film Festival; virginiafilmfestival.org

VIRGINIA FILM FESTIVAL 

One of the downsides of attending high profile film festivals like Sundance or Toronto is the overwhelming scope of it as well as the crowds and the challenge of trying to get from one venue to the next in a timely manner. The Virginia Film Festival is a highly accessible alternative and takes place in early November in the laid-back college town of Charlottesville, situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains (The fall foliage is usually stunning). The 29th annual event on November 3-6 focuses on contemporary cinema with over 100 films in a lineup that includes shorts, international, indie, documentary and Hollywood films and a few retrospectives that showcase a visiting director, actor or theme such as civil rights issues, local filmmakers or film preservation. The general vibe is relaxed and casual with the majority of screenings taking place at the Violet Crown ten-screen multiplex in the downtown mall close to some of the city’s best restaurants. Special rates are usually available for attendees at some of the nearby hotels.

 International Documentary Film Festival, Amsterdam

International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam

INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL AMSTERDAM 

Most movie lovers usually have a favorite genre but for some it is documentary film because of its topicality, sense of urgency, diverse subject matter and reality-based narratives. There is no better place than the IDFA to indulge your love of the form and each year there are more than 200 entries on display from around the world. Founded in 1988, this year’s event is scheduled for November 16-27 with most of the screenings taking place at venues in the Muntplein neighborhood of Amsterdam. Prizes are given for best feature length, best short form and best student documentary as well as the festival favorite selected by audiences. Among the award-winning films from recent years are Jerzy Sladkowski’s quirky and humorous Don Juan (2015), Laurent Becue-Renard’s Of Men and War (2014) which explores post-traumatic stress disorder, Song from the Forest (2013), Michael Obert’s fascinating study of the Bayaka pygmies’ musical traditions and First Cousin Once Removed (2012), Alain Berliner’s compassionate portrait of an Alzheimer’s patient. For accommodations, the NH Caransa, NH Carlton and the NH City Centre are popular choices.

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