Film Lovers, These 9 Unique Festivals Are For You

Article by: emily ward|@_drawylime

Sat April 07, 2018 | 13:40 PM

Just three months into 2018, our friends in film have been very busy. The film industry's ultimate event, the Academy Awards , has come and gone, along with high-profile film festivals like the  Sundance Film Festival , Berlin Film Festival , Palm Springs International Film Festival and Cartagenas Film Festival . Artists, cinephiles, industry insiders, and film enthusiasts looking to the year ahead, take note. Now is a great time to turn towards the smaller, niche film festivals on offer around the world.

Storytellers come in all shapes, sizes, motivations and skill levels. For those called to create – or those who simply crave exposure to cutting-edge cinema – countless techniques and technologies await your vision. And your options are constantly evolving. Want to share that story with the world? Guarantee you there's a perfect festival out there to fit your vibe.

Spanning genres from horror to LGBTQ stories, from animation to local subcultures and virtual reality, we found nine global film festivals giving rise to unique voices and genres.

SXSW Virtual Cinema, Austin, Texas (March 9-18, 2018)

For two solid weeks each March, SXSW takes over Austin, Texas, for a colossal celebration of music, technology, comedy, and innovation showcases in between. One of those two weeks belongs to the cinema, as SXSW Film Week plays host to dozens of star-powered, sometimes quirky, sometimes groundbreaking, often high-profile, projects (like Wes Anderson's upcoming "Isle of Dogs," recently announced as the fest's closing night film). Each year, SXSW's film slate guarantees a stack of world premieres, under-the-radar standouts, critical darlings riding the buzz from January's Sundance Film Festival, and as of 2016, a virtual reality showcase. Dubbed "SXSW Virtual Cinema," more than 20 innovative VR/AR concept films will debut in 2018. Fans of Meow Wolf, don't miss the popular Santa Fe art collective's first foray into virtual reality entitled "The Atrium."

Aspen Shortsfest, Aspen, Colorado (April 3-8, 2018)

Along with fellow shorts film festival heavyweights Palm Springs International ShortFest and France's Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, Aspen Shortsfest offers a dedicated platform for storytellers who specialize in the shorter side of storytelling. Many cinephiles and film fans consider shorts to be among the most experimental, interesting and unique pieces circulating through the film world; with a history spanning more than twenty-five years, Shortsfest attracts top global shorts to its Colorado program. For Oscar hopefuls, would-be nominees can qualify with a run at the fest.

Vancouver Virtual Reality Film Festival, Vancouver, British Columbia (May 18-20, 2018)

As one of the buzziest technologies to emerge in recent years, virtual reality has grabbed the world's attention – and thanks to its potential to transport viewers, thousands of storytellers have naturally jumped to experiment with the medium. As the need to show and honor these artists' works grew, YVRFF was born. When YVRFF premiered in 2017, Vancouver was a natural fit. Visual effects specialists have long considered the city a cutting-edge hub that produces some of the industry's finest work. Run by nonprofit tech culture group YVRFF, this virtual reality festival is the premier event in Canada. Virtual reality's potential is staggering, and we're still just starting to scratch the surface. Plan to see more events like YVRFF in the coming years.

Mountainfilm Film Festival, Telluride, Colorado (May 25-28, 2018)

Telluride, Colorado, is home to not one but two massive film festivals. One of those is  Mountainfilm Film Festival , the ultimate love letter to Colorado's natural wonders. Thematically dedicated to the great outdoors, this documentary fest hosts nonfiction stories from our environmental, athletic, cultural, climbing, political and social justice communities. Colorado's longest-running film festival, Mountainfilm unites outdoor enthusiasts, visionaries in the environmental community, and world-class athletes. Pre-selected symposium themes, like 2018's "Migration," guide the fest's programming, with attendees encouraged to participate in interactive workshops, talks, panels and info sessions.

Animafest, Zagreb, Croatia (June 4-9, 2018)

When you think "animation," do you just think of those cartoons you watched as a kid? Ah, but this niche storytelling medium lives in a rich, zany world, and Animafest is just the place to change your mind. Touted as a festival "by the filmmakers, for the filmmakers," creativity bursts everywhere at this Croatian fest. It was an early champion of the animation community (the fest began in 1972) and is Europe's second-longest running animation festival, meaning famous creators like Jim Henson, David Silverman, Andreas Hykade, David O'Reilly, Nicole Solomon, Jiří Brdečka and Yoji Kuri have all stopped by throughout the fest's history. Animafest pays honor to the art form's craft in evolving techniques, bright colors, dark colors, quirky characters, experimental dialogue and stunning storytelling. It's pure delight. Oh, did we mention it's in gorgeous Croatia? 

Sheffield Doc/Fest, Sheffield, England (June 7-12, 2018)

For documentary filmmakers and enthusiasts in the UK, Sheffield Doc/Fest needs no introduction. Since it began in 1994, it's become the largest doc festival in the country. Over 60 countries are represented, and more than 30,000 people attend, making Sheffield the third largest event of its kind in the world. While nearly all major film festivals dedicate a portion of their programming to the genre, docs occupy Sheffield's entire slate. In recent years, the fest's "Alternate Realities" program has opened opportunities to emerging creators with grants geared towards immersive and interactive filmmaking. Not a filmmaker yourself, but still a passionate fan? Visit this renowned fest for your pick of hundreds of films, workshops, panels and networking events during the festival's five-day run.

Midnight Sun Film Festival, Sodankylä, Finland (June 13-17, 2018)

In addition to the area's stunning landscapes, Lapland, Finland, is famous for its coordinates; the city, perched above the Arctic Circle, is one of a few places in the world where the summertime sun doesn't quite set. Enter: Midnight Sun Film Festival . Thousands make the trek to experience Midnight Sun's 24-hour-a-day programming taking place in the middle of this natural phenomenon. You might be there for the eternal sunshine, but try to catch a local Finnish film or two, or even a director's panel with esteemed directors like former guests Olivier Assayas, Jirí Menzel, Pedro Costa and Mike Leigh.

Sprout Film Festival, New York, New York; Various locations and dates

Since its founding in 1979, the Sprout Film Festival  has become the film world's top event for the disabled community, whose voices and stories may not always be heard and told. By elevating stories that span all abilities and viewpoints, the event has expanded in recent years from its New York origins to a film festival with nationwide events.

Outfest, Los Angeles, California (July 12-22, 2018)

"Creating change, one story at a time." It's not just a slogan, but a passionate mission for Outfest , the world's first, largest and longest-running film festival dedicated to LGBTQ films and voices. Positioned in the film industry's epicenter, Outfest screens more than 150 feature and short films to crowds of more than 40,000 in venues all around Los Angeles. Regarded as "the preeminent LGBTQ film festival in the world," the festival awards more than 20 coveted prizes each summer.

Fantastic Fest, Austin, Texas (September 20-27, 2018)

One of the best parts of a film festival are often those special midnight horror screenings, like Sundance Film Festival's "Midnight Films," which bring horror films and "B Movies" to sold-out crowds packed into Park City's Egyptian Theater. If these films are your jam, look no further than Fantastic Fest. Hosted by craft movie chain Alamo Drafthouse and Ain't It Cool News, the Austin, Texas, genre fest packs seven days full with horror films, sci-fi, fantasy, B-movies, action thrillers and cult classics. The "Horror Jury Awards" bestow excellence in the horror genre, with honors for Best Picture, Best Makeup, Best Script and Best Special Effects. Don't miss any of FantasticFest's "secret screenings," where you're likely to find surprise guest stars and fun cult classics.