The Lists

The Most Important Film Festivals in the World

Previously, we’ve rounded up the best music, jazz, dance and classical music festivals in the world. Now it’s time for the cineastes among us. What are the most important film festivals in the world? Our correspondent Abbie Martin Greenbaum has compiled our list of the top 10 best film festivals in the world: Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Sundance, Toronto and more.

the most important film festivals in the world

Film festivals are some of the most exciting times of the year for cinema fanatics. These extremely high profile events bring together filmmakers, actors and fans alike, giving everyone a chance to see some of the movies that will make the biggest impression the following year. Often entire teams behind a film will be in attendance, receiving the full red carpet treatment.

Many of these festivals are also an opportunity for business deals and distribution agreements. so they appeal to both those interested in the arts as well as those in the media and entertainment industry.

Should you fall into either of those categories, here are some of the most prominent film festivals of the year.

1. Sundance

Founded by Robert Redford and chronologically the first significant film festival of the year, the Sundance Film Festival – January 23 – February 2, 2019, is held in Park City, Utah. This winter wonderland is primarily a showcase for independent and new filmmakers, and has been a starting point for many beloved movies. They program includes both international and American films, documentary and short features. The top honor is the Grand Jury Prize. In 2019, the winner was Clemency, directed by Chinonye Chukwu and starring Alfre Woodard and Wendell Pierce.

The Sundance Film Festival, Park City, Utah. Photo by David Becker/Getty Images.

2. Rotterdam

Founded in 1972, the International Film Festival Rotterdam, January 23 – February 3, 2019, does a wonderful job of balancing new and experimental films with more established directors. Many highly acclaimed films are screened all over the Netherlands, and a the top film wins the Tiger Award. This year, the recipient was Present.Perfect from Chinese director Shengze Zhu.

International Film Festival Rotterdam

3. Pan African Film and Arts

Started in Burkina Faso in 1985, the Pan African Film Festival and Arts Festival, February 7 – 18, 2019, is now hosted annually in Los Angeles. It showcases short and feature-length narrative and documentary works by black directors from around the globe. This year’s feature films included Amazing Grace, the documentary about Aretha Franklin. Little Woods by Nia DaCosta and starring Tessa Thompson. And Atone by Wes Miller. It’s always a big week for new work from both established and up-and-coming directors.

“1 Angry Black Man” was featured at the Pan African Film and Arts Festival 2019

4. Berlinale

Along with the Cannes Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival, Berlinale, February 7–17, 2019, is considered one of the “big three.” It’s one of the three most prestigious international film festivals in the world. The Golden Bear is the biggest prize at the festival. In order to be eligible, a film must be premiering for the first time outside its country of origin. This year, the winning film was Symptoms, from director Nadav Lapid. The Jury Grand Prix, essentially the second place prize, went to the French film By the Grace of God. The 2019 jury consisted of Juliette Binoche, Justin Chang, Sandra Hüller, Sebastián Lelio, Rajendra Roy and Trudie Tyler.

The 2019 Berlin International Film Festival Posters celebrating the Golden Bear.

5. South by Southwest

South by Southwest, March 8 – 17, 2019,  is not only a film festival, but also a festival for interactive technology, political debate and television premieres. It’s also one of the largest music festivals in the world. Every March, creators of all kinds flood Austin, Texas. Huge film premieres from 2019 included Jordan Peele’s Us and Olivia Wilde’s upcoming film Booksmart.

Director Olivia Wilde at Featured Session: ‘Booksmart’ Women during South By Southwest 2019 on March 11, 2019

6. Hong Kong

The Hong Kong International Film Festival, March 18 – April 1, 2019, celebrated its 43rd year this spring. Many acclaimed films from other festivals made the crossover to HKIFF. For example, the German film I Was At Home, But, winner of the Silver Bear for best director at Berlinale, was on the program in Hong Kong. The festival opened with the Chinese thriller Bodies at Rest, and closed with By the Grace of God. Attendees recommend keeping an eye out for the film Still Human, which won three awards.

Sammo Hung, Filmmaker in Focus, 2019 Hong Kong International Film Festival. Photo Courtesy the Hollywood Reporter.

7. Tribeca

Founded in 2002, the annual New York Tribeca Film Festival, April 24 – May 5, 2019,  has both US and World narrative competition sections. The awards jury includes filmmakers, actors, producers and cultural leaders. Jurors award work in ten different categories. There are also honors for new voices and prominent members of the creative community. In its 18th edition, the 2019 jury includes Angela Bassett, Drake Doremus, Famke Janssen, Jenny Lumet, and Chloë Sevigny. Last year’s winning film was the US feature Diane, written and directed by Kent Jones.

The Tribeca Film Festival

8. Cannes

Every May, the invitation-only international Cannes Film Festival, May 14–25, 2019, comes to France. Since 1946, it has been one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. Twenty films screen to compete for the Palme D’or, the top prize. Additional movies may premiere out of the competition. Additional prizes include the Grand Prix, and the Prix du Jury.  In 2018, BlacKkKlansman won the Grand Prix, while Shoplifters took home the Palme D’or. This year’s competing films include new work from Ken Loach, Terrence Malik, Pedro Aldomodovar, Céline Sciamma, and many more. There has been some speculation about whether or not Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will be ready to headline the festival, and it looks as if Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die may take its place. Either way, it’s sure to be one of the most memorable cinematic weeks all year.

The Cannes Film Festival

9. Venice

The Venice Film Festival, August 28 – September 7, 2019, is the oldest in the world. The first prize, referred to as The Golden Lion, is its most prestigious award. Other honors include the Silver Lion for directing and the Grand Jury Prize. For the past two years, the winners of the Golden Lion have been Roma and The Shape of Water, showing the correlation between the honored films at Venice and the Oscars.

Alfonso Cuaron wins Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival 2018

10. Toronto

The Toronto International Film Festival, September 5 –15, 2019, is commonly known as TIFF. The festival is unusual among its peers in that it’s a competition without a jury. The only award is the People’s Choice Award. Its winners, such as Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech, often go on to become some of the biggest movies and award recipients of the following year. The audience vote is seen as a good indicator of what the public may think of the work. TIFF is also reliably a place where real business gets done, with big deals often announced in the closing days of the festival.

The Toronto International Film Festival

Those are our recommendations for the most important film festivals in the world. Have fun!

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Abbie Martin Greenbaum grew up in New York City and currently lives in Brooklyn, where she drinks a lot of coffee and matches roommates together for a living. At Oberlin College, she studied English and Cinema, which are still two of her favorite things, along with dessert and musical theater. She believes in magic.

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