Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Film Festivals Work

Notable North American Festivals

The United States and Canada are home to dozens of festivals, both big and small. Here are just a few:

  • Ann Arbor Film Festival Web site: History: Established in 1963, the Ann Arbor Film Festival is the longest-running independent film festival in North America. Where: Ann Arbor, Michigan When: March Length of festival: One week Awards: The festival awards about 30 prizes in categories such as experimental, animation, documentary and narrative. Submissions: Tickets:
  • Miami International Film Festival Web site: History: For more than two decades, the Miami International Film Festival has showcased international and American films, with a special emphasis on Ibero-American cinema (from Spain, Portugal and all of Latin America). The festival has launched the careers of such directors as Pedro Almodóvar ("Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown") and Atom Egoyan ("The Sweet Hereafter"). Where: Miami, Florida When: February Length of festival: 10 days Awards: Three grand jury prizes are awarded by three different juries, one for each competition category (World Dramatic Competition, Ibero-American Dramatic Competition, World Documentary Competition). There are also two audience awards in the dramatic and documentary categories. Submissions: Tickets:
  • Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) Web site: History: The biggest film festival in the United States, the SIFF was started in 1976 by two Canadian film fans, Dan Ireland and Darryl Macdonald. Where: Seattle, Washington When: May/June Length of festival: Four weeks Awards: The SIFF awards about $20,000 in prizes each year. Audience-decided Golden Space Needle Awards include Best Film, Best Documentary, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Short Film. Juried award categories include the New American Cinema Award, the New Director's Showcase Award, the Refracting Reality Documentary Award, Short Film: Animated, and Short Film: Live Action. Submissions: Tickets:
  • South by Southwest (SXSW) Web site: History:Since 1987, SXSW has produced the internationally recognized Music and Media Conference and Festival. In 1994, SXSW added conferences and festivals for the film industry. The festival screens 150-200 independent films produced during the past year, as well as works from established directors. Where: Austin, Texas When: March Length of festival: 10 days Awards: Reel Shorts, Animated Shorts, Experimental Shorts, Music Videos, Texas High School Competition, Documentary Feature, Narrative Feature, 24 Beats per Second, Emerging Visions, Lone Star States, Documentary Feature, Narrative Feature Submissions: Tickets:
  • Sundance Film Festival Web site: History: Originally dubbed the U.S. Film Festival, Sundance was renamed in 1991 when it became part of actor Robert Redford's Sundance Institute in Park City, Utah. Today, Sundance is considered one of the premiere independent film festivals in the world. Each year, it screens more than 125 feature-length films and about 90 short films. Where: Park City, Utah When: January Length of festival: 10 days Awards: Dramatic Grand Jury Prize, Documentary Grand Jury Prize, Dramatic Audience Award, Documentary Audience Award, World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award, World Cinema Documentary Audience Award, Dramatic Directing Award, Documentary Directing Award, Excellence in Cinematography Award, Freedom of Expression Award, Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, Special Jury Prizes, Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking, Jury Prize in International Short Filmmaking, Online Film Festival Jury Awards Submissions: Tickets:
  • Telluride Film Festival Web site: History: Telluride was launched in 1974 by James Card, who was then in charge of a motion-picture collection at the George Eastman House. Card founded the festival as a place to spotlight obscure and hard-to-find films. Where: Telluride, Colorado When September Length of festival: Four days Awards: There are none. Filmmakers receive recognition and attention if their film is chosen among the 15 shorts and 30 features screened each year. Submissions: Tickets:
  • Toronto International Film Festival Web site: History: Although it began in 1976 as a forum to screen films from other festivals, the Toronto International Film Festival has become one of the most prestigious film festivals in North America. Where: Toronto, Ontario, Canada When: September Length of festival: 10 days Awards: Peoples' Choice Award, Best Canadian First Feature, Best Canadian Feature Film, Best Canadian Short Film, Discovery Award Submissions: Tickets:
  • Tribeca Film Festival Web site: History: Founded in 2002 by Robert DeNiro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff, the Tribeca Film Festival was a response to the attacks on the World Trade Center. It was conceived to foster the economic and cultural revitalization of Lower Manhattan through an annual celebration of film, music and culture to promote New York City as a major filmmaking center and allow its filmmakers to reach the broadest audience as possible. Where: New York, New York When: April/May Length of festival: 12 days Awards: Best Narrative Feature, Best Actor in a Narrative Feature, Best Actress in a Narrative Feature, Best New Narrative Filmmaker, Best Documentary Feature, Best New Documentary Filmmaker, Documentary Special Jury Prize, Make in New York Best Narrative Feature, New York Loves Film Best Documentary Feature, Audience Award, Best Narrative Short, Best Documentary Short, Best Student Visionary Short. Submissions: Tickets: