I go to about 30 film festivals a year. Everyone knows Cannes, Sundance, SXSW. These are the very best of the smaller fests filmmakers might overlook. Surround yourself with amazing people. Trust me.
  1. IndieMemphis
    Memphis, TN. Late October. This is my all time favorite! The first time I went (2011) it changed my idea of what a film fest could be. It's a long weekend, so everyone is able to stay the whole time, and everyone does everything together. It's a roving band of filmmakers, jurors, and artists going to each other's screenings to fun day trips to parties. IndieMemphis treats the filmmakers so well, and it's a good one if you're broke because there's so much food and alcohol for free.
  2. Sidewalk FF
    Birmingham, AL. Late August. Very similar to IndieMemphis (whose director, Erik Jambor, started Sidewalk). Instead of a shuttle getting everyone around, they have a party bus. This is consistently the most debauched festival I attend. I've found that loads of film people come every year, whether they have a film or not, because it's so much fun and so easy to become really close to someone you just met because Sidewalk definitely fosters that kind of atmosphere.
  3. Cucalorus
    Wilmington, NC. Mid November. Dan Brawley definitely wins for most creative parties and venues. Like IndieMemphis and Sidewalk, you'll see a bunch of the same people every year. These top three are the best part of any filmmakers festival circuit. Bonus points for being the city where Cape Fear, Blue Velvet, and Dawson's Creek were filmed. Wilmington is suuuuper David Lynchian, if you're into that sort of thing (I am for sure). So much free food and booze you can't escape it if you tried.
  4. Maryland FF
    Baltimore, MD. Early May. A recent addition to my festival circuit and I am very grateful for that. John Waters welcomes you to the city. The day before the festival starts, there is a fascinating filmmaker only day long summit where everyone speaks freely, honestly, and off the record. I've learned more in these few hours than I did in a year of film school. You won't hear filmmakers speak so candidly anywhere else. The programming is brave and challenging. A real filmmakers festival.
  5. Waterfront FF
    South Haven, MI. Mid June. Waterfront was started by three siblings who had a lot of money and decided to put together an awesome little fest. The town is TINY and everyone (even the famous people) all stay in the boatel- a hotel on the water. They plan so many parties and events that there is always something going on. There is a filmmakers lounge in one room at the boatel that is where they keep their insane stash of alcohol that is unattended at night and unlocked, so go nuts.
  6. True/False
    Columbia, MO. Early March. This is widely accepted to be the very best documentary film festival in the United States. If you know me in real life, you know I deal strictly in narrative films at my day job, but that my personal interest lies in docs. I actually pay my own money to attend even though I go to so many festivals already because I can't bear to miss out on this one, which I think says a lot about how incredible this festival is.
  7. Honorable mentions:
    New Orleans Film Festival, October. Dallas International Film Festival, April. Palm Springs Shorts Film Festival, June. Denver Starz Film Festival, November. Cleveland International Film Festival, March. Not a festival, Sundance Institutes filmmaker labs and Creative Producing Summit will change your life, June (labs), early August (summit). Also not strictly a film festival, but HATCHfest in Bozeman, MT is a "think tank meets summer camp" with the smartest, most creative innovators around, Sept