It’s easy to assume that film festivals are reserved for celebrities walking the red carpet in impossibly beautiful (and out-of-our-budget) gowns. But it turns out that this idea is incorrect—and probably causing you to preemptively write off an experience that is more attainable than you’re giving it credit for.
In fact, film festivals are reserved for anyone who loves film, the arts, or simply wants a reason to plan a trip to a new locale. An interactive and enriching opportunity to explore a city through the eyes of its art scene, film festivals offer a unique way to travel, complete with a schedule of activities. And, okay, a few celebrity spottings don’t hurt.
Not sure where to start? Check out our top nine picks for film festivals worth the price of airfare.
1. Festival de Cannes
May 11-22, 2016
Perhaps the most famous film festival in the world, the Festival de Cannes will be entering its 69th year in 2016. Recently, Australian filmmaker George Miller was announced as this year’s president, and it will be his second time being in charge of awarding the coveted Palme d’Or—the “gold medal” of the Cannes festival. One of the best parts about this event (besides the star-studded list of attendees and the famed red carpet) is the locale: Cannes, France. A resort town on the French Riviera, the stunning architecture, rolling beaches, and culinary landscape of this waterfront city are enough to make you want to never go back home (or back to reality).
2. Los Angeles Film Festival
Los Angeles, CA
June 1-9, 2016
As the vibrating hub of the entertainment industry, it’s no shock that Los Angeles has one of the most esteemed film festivals in the world. A celebrity-filled event with many days of screenings, the epicenter of this festival is the theater at LA Live—one of the best spots for tourists to post up while visiting the city. When not stalking celebs on the red carpet or sitting down to a screening yourself, guests can take advantage of the area’s world-renowned beaches or explore the bustling metropolitan area. Additionally, compared to other festivals, the LA Film Festival is perhaps one of the most outsider-friendly—while some festivals make screening tickets or festival passes almost impossible to nab, anyone can grab a ticket to this festival online.
3. Toronto International Film Festival
September 8-18, 2016
One of the most prestigious film festivals in the world, the Toronto International Film Festival is a high-profile event that continually draws high-profile pictures, celebrated stars, and talented filmmakers. One of the fall festivals, TIFF is notorious for generating buzz—and perhaps, predicting the nominees and winners—for the following year’s Oscars. Thus, TIFF has become a bit of a pre-Oscars tryout, a test run for many of the year’s biggest films alongside some lesser-known pictures for which recognition at this festival could mean even more accolades down the line. Judging by its recent history of improving and growing year after year, we can assume that 2016’s festival will be its best yet.
4. Austin Film Festival
October 13-16, 2016
Touting itself at “The Writers Festival,” the Austin Film Festival appropriately strives to highlight the best screenwriting of the current film and TV scene. This festival is known for having a prestigious screenwriting competition, as well as screenwriting panels in addition to its screenings. The Austin Film Festival has also gained notoriety for some of its more modern, nontraditional programs, like its Scripted Digital Series Competition. For writers it’s a given, but all artists who appreciate film as an art form and are interested in the future of this industry will have a transformative experience at this festival. And while Austin isn’t necessarily the first entertainment-driven city that comes to mind, it should be—Austin’s growing cultural scene has helped it garner a reputation for being one of the country’s most up-and-coming creative locales.
5. Nashville Film Festival
April 14-23, 2016
While Nashville is usually considered more of a music city than a movie city, the long-running Nashville Film Festival helps to remind the public of this city’s ties to great filmmaking. The NaFF draws bigger crowds each year, and has gained additional recognition as an Oscars-qualifying festival, meaning that big winners here are considered for Academy nominations. In addition to the traditional film competition, the festival also boasts a prestigious screenwriting competition and writers conference. The city of Nashville itself provides the perfect backdrop for an event focused so intently on celebrating both artists and their art, as it’s a town that fosters not only musicianship but the an appreciation of the greater arts and entertainment culture.
6. Venice Film Festival
August 31 - September 10, 2016
The cinematic portion of the world-renowned La Biennale di Venezia art show, the Venice Film Festival, is the oldest film festival in the world. Rooted in a strong tradition and part of the larger Biennale event, the festival continues to be one of the biggest players in the entertainment industry today. Every element—from the attendees to the historic screening venues—capitalizes on the sense of gravitas that comes from the festival’s 73 years of experience. In the same vein as the event itself, the entire city of Venice exists at the intersection of history and art: You’re guaranteed to never run out of architecture to appreciate, museums to visit, and monuments to take in. The benefit of the Biennale show speaks to this as well—the event features art, architecture, dance, music, and theater categories in addition to cinema.
7. International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
November 16-27, 2016
The world’s largest documentary film festival, the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, celebrates storytelling in what can be considered its most raw—and most real—form. Cinemas across the city of Amsterdam serve as venues for the more than 200 screenings at this annual festival, which continues to grow year after year. While most festivals relegate documentaries to a single category, the IDFA strives to highlight this art form for its own merit, and has successfully helped documentary film earn additional recognition and awards beyond the festival. Home to the Rembrandt House Museum, the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, and other landmarks, Amsterdam itself is a city with a strong artistic heritage—and thus, is the perfect destination for a trip to enrich the mind and soul.
8. South by Southwest
March 11-19, 2016
Far more than just a film festival, South by Southwest offers interactive and music sessions in addition to the noteworthy film segment. SXSW is known for drawing a young, lively crowd interested in the various forms of modern art that this event features, and is unique in its highly acclaimed technology element. SXSW Film just announced this year’s lineup of 139 features, which includes 89 world premieres, 13 North America premieres, and eight U.S. premieres. The festival strives to highlight new talent and voices, and so 52 of these films are from first-time filmmakers. They’ve also announced their highly anticipated opening night film, which this year will be Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some. Passes are available to the public for just the film section, or for film in combination with interactive or interactive and music.
9. Tribeca Film Festival
New York City, NY
April 13-24, 2016
Founded in part by Robert De Niro, the Tribeca Film Festival obviously draws a star-studded crowd. The yearly event always boasts a schedule filled with celebrity performances, Q&A sessions with the filmmakers, and awards given out for shorts, documentaries, and narratives. The public can attend screenings and other programs via individual tickets, a festival hub pass, or the “Hudson” all-access pass for big fans (and big spenders). This year, the Tribeca Film Festival is putting an emphasis on the modern digital space and the ways in which it interacts with film and entertainment. Starting in 2016, the festival has opened a new competition category, branded storytelling, which will award the best sponsored content collaborations between filmmakers and brands. Of course, there’s no shortage of reasons to visit NYC—but between the celebrity spottings, premieres, and arts culture, the Tribeca Film Festival may just be one of the best.