Film Festivals: What Has Changed and What to Expect in 2024

Film festivals have continuously evolved over the years, reflecting the changing eras by adapting to technological advancements and societal trends. Each film festival has a unique theme or message that represents their brand.

The Cannes Film Festival, for instance, was deliberately created as a response to the fascist influences behind the Venice Film Festival, which was under the control of Mussolini’s Italy at the time. Since its inception, Cannes has been committed to showcasing films that convey the truth, especially when it comes to films with political themes. 

But getting people to watch an independent film is a difficult task. Indie filmmakers often struggle to find an audience, given their low budgets and limited resources. That makes festivals an important part of the film industry’s ecosystem. Film festivals exist to amplify indie voices and to shine a spotlight on up-and-coming filmmakers who are pushing the boundaries of cinema. 

Festivals are also vital for connecting filmmakers to distributors. And many festivals focus on specific genres, cultures, or even social themes. That makes them unique gathering places for people with shared interests and creative goals. 

Navigating Film Festivals

You might be wondering, “How can I navigate the exhilarating and daunting world of film festivals?” In an ideal world, you would start by thinking about your festival strategy during pre-production, specifically when budgeting for your films. But the truth is that filmmakers often spend all their money creating their films and leave little to no funds to submit to film festivals. So, be sure to set aside some money for your submission costs.

Once the film is completed (or close to completed), you can begin submitting to film festivals. These submissions are usually done online through a specific festival’s website or on FilmFreeway, an online portal that aggregates film festivals.

Festivals also vary greatly in size and focus. There are large, international events like Cannes or Sundance, which can significantly boost your film’s visibility. There are also smaller, niche festivals that are better suited to low-budget or experimental cinema.

Researching and evaluating which festivals to apply to is critical to a successful film festival campaign. When researching, consider the reputation of the festival itself, the types of films it typically screens, the networking opportunities it offers, and the kinds of audiences that usually attend.

It is up to you to decide which festivals are best for you. Proactive research and planning can ensure that you are armed with the best information when it comes time to submit your film.

2024 film festival calendar

To help with your research, here’s a list of festivals that can serve as a great jumping-off point for your film fest journey. Below is a brief breakdown of some festivals based on prestige, style, and genre.

Legacy Film Festivals

Sundance Film Festival

Renowned for its promotion of independent cinema, Sundance is an annual event in Utah that showcases new work from American and international filmmakers, fostering a vibrant community of artists and audiences. 

Festival Dates: January 18 – January 28, 2024

Website: Sundance Film Festival

Berlin International Film Festival

Also known as the Berlinale, BIFF is a prestigious global cinema event held annually. Famous for showcasing a diverse mix of films from around the world and fostering a rich cultural dialogue.

Festival Dates: February 15 – February 25, 2024

Website: Berlin International Film Festival

South by Southwest Film Festival

South by Southwest (SXSW), held in Austin, Texas, is a multi-faceted event blending music, interactive media, and film. The fest is known for showcasing cutting-edge, independent cinema and fostering creative and professional growth in the film industry.

Festival Dates: March 8 – March 16, 2024

Website: South By Southwest

Cannes Film Festival

Cannes is an iconic annual event in France that celebrates international cinema, attracting the film industry’s elite and premiering some of the most critically acclaimed movies.

Festival Dates: May 14 – May 25, 2024

Website: Cannes Film Festival

Tribeca Film Festival

The Tribeca Film Festival, founded in 2002 by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff, is an annual event in New York City that celebrates diverse storytelling in film, television, virtual reality, and online media.

Festival Dates: June 5 – June 16, 2024

Website: Tribeca Film Festival

Venice International Film Festival

Venice International is the world’s oldest film festival. It’s a prestigious cinematic event held annually in Venice, Italy, celebrated for showcasing an eclectic mix of international films and premiering some of the industry’s most anticipated works.

Festival Dates: August 28 – September 7, 2024

Submissions Open: February 2024

Website: Venice International Film Festival

Toronto International Film Festival

TIFF is a well-attended festival famous for showcasing a diverse array of films from around the world and serving as a launchpad for both emerging and established filmmakers.

Festival Dates: September 2024

Submissions Open: March 2024

Website: Toronto International Film Festival

Austin Film Festival

The Austin Film Festival, unique for its focus on screenwriting and storytelling, is an annual event in Austin, Texas. AFF celebrates the art of cinema with an emphasis on the writer’s creative contribution to filmmaking.

Festival Dates: October 2024

Submissions Open: March 2024

Website: Austin Film Festival

BFI London Film Festival

Hosted by the British Film Institute, BFI offers a global platform for filmmakers to present their latest works in the United Kingdom’s vibrant capital.

Festival Dates: October 2024

Final Deadlines: June 2024

Website: BFI London Film Festival 

New York Film Festival

The New York Film Festival, known for its diverse selection of films, hosts groundbreaking works from both established and emerging filmmakers in the heart of one of the world’s most culturally bustling cities.

Festival Dates: October 2024

Submissions Open: February 2024

Website: New York Film Festival

Short Film Festivals

Aspen Shortsfest (Colorado, USA)

A prestigious Oscar-qualifying festival known for showcasing innovative and thought-provoking short films.

Festival Dates: April 2 – 7, 2024

Submissions: CLOSED

Website: Aspen Shortsfest

Palm Springs ShortFest (California, USA)

Famous for its diverse range of genres and styles, it’s one of the largest short film events in North America.

Festival Dates: June 18 – 24, 2024

Submissions: CLOSED

Website: Palm Springs International Shortfest

Oberhausen International Short Film Festival (Germany):

Known for its experimental and artistic approach, Oberhausen is a niche, but key festival for short film enthusiasts and creators.

Festival Dates: May 1 – 6, 2024

Submissions: Closed (Feb 1, 2024)

Website: Oberhausen International Short Film Festival  

Genre-Focused Film Festivals

Screamfest Horror Film Festival (Los Angeles, CA)

Known as one of the most significant horror film festivals in the United States, it showcases new work from American and international independent horror filmmakers.

Festival Dates: October 8 – 17, 2024

Submissions Open: April 2024

Website: Screamfest Horror Film Festival 

Fantastic Fest (Austin, TX)

Specializing in genre films such as horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and action, Fantastic Fest is celebrated for its unique and innovative independent films from around the world.

Festival Dates: September 2024

Submissions Open: January 2024

Website: Fantastic Fest

DIY – other ways to get involved

Film festivals are not just industry-specific events. Most festivals are open to the public, who can purchase tickets and attend screenings for soon-to-be-released films. Journalists, bloggers, and influencers also attend festivals to spread the word about new and interesting films. And anyone with an interest and passion for cinema can consider applying for jobs or volunteer opportunities at a film festival.

The explosion of indie films has also caused an explosion in the number of niche film festivals. Today, with the power of social media, it is easier than ever to launch and host a film festival. In some cases, you may even be able to get local government grants or sponsorships to help you finance screenings and events.

Keep in mind that it takes a lot of work behind the scenes to throw an exciting film festival. However, with the right attitude and resources, your community can quickly grow in popularity and become a must-attend event.

Keep creating, keep submitting

Remember, film festivals aren’t the be-all and end-all of your career. It’s not the end of the world if your film doesn’t get picked by your dream festival. Think of it as only a bump in the road of your creative journey. 

And your film doesn’t have to be in a festival to attend one. Film fests offer more than just a platform for screening; they are fertile grounds for networking, forging connections with peers, and potentially finding mentors who can guide and inspire. What’s really important is that you’re getting you and your work out there. 

The essence of filmmaking, and any creative endeavor, lies in the courage to show up and share your vision with the world. For filmmakers, the key is to keep creating and submitting, and remember to embrace the myriad opportunities that these gatherings provide.

As the great Robert Redford once said, “The art of making a film and its content are far more interesting to me than the result or impact.”

Danny Avershal

Danny Avershal is a writer and video producer based in LA. He writes about entertainment, technology, and entrepreneurship, and his work can be seen in Rolling Stone and Fast Company.