10 Film Festivals We Can’t Wait To Attend — Virtually or in Person

Missing film lately? Probably not, seeing as how we have all spent the last 10 months playing armchair critic thanks to safer-at-home orders and HBO Max, Netflix and Hulu+ subscriptions. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, we’ve devoured everything from tabloid docu-series The Tiger King to estrogen-fueled comic book blockbuster WW84 (and dissected them all with friends and colleagues over Zoom and social media). 

But how about glorious surround sound, screens the size of a city block and buttery movie theater popcorn? These things we definitely miss (though not concession stand prices). True, movie magic is a shared experience, like in 1978 when we all gasped when an unsuspecting teenager got pulled under in the opening scene of Jaws, or in 1989 when we all doubled over as Meg Ryan faked an ‘O’ in When Harry Met Sally.

In a film festival setting the thrill is even further heightened. At these grand events, red carpets are rolled out, casts and crews drop in for post-film discussions and audiences aren’t just movie buffs — they’re cinephiles! Many film festivals paused this past year while others happened virtually. And as the vaccine rollout pushes ahead, 2021 might just mean the return of in-person moviegoing. But whether you’re bound for Austin, Park City or Telluride in the coming months, plan to attend virtually, or wait until 2022 to resume your film fanaticism, here are 10 US festivals we can’t wait to attend when it’s safe to do so.

American Black Film Festival (Aug)

 
 
 
 
 
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Founded in 1997, this showcase for Black artists, takes over Miami for 10 sizzling days each August. Calling itself the world’s largest community of black film and TV enthusiasts, ABFF boasts numerous milestones: It’s where producer Will Packer (whose films have collectively earned more than $1 billion at the box office) screened his first feature film and where director Ryan Coogler won the HBO Short Film Competition in 2011 before going on to write and direct Black Panther. Another reason to be excited? A spin off fest, The 1st Annual ABFF Comedy Festival, debuts in June. 

Austin Film Festival (Oct 21-28)

Although it’s hard to sit still in the honky-tonk paradise that is the Lone Star capital, it’s worth it for this excellent fest which director and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill, The Empire Strikes Back) once declared the best in the world while Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) says it is hands down the best. The combination festival and in-tandem screenwriting conference (the first of its kind) counts the Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson and Ron Howard among its past attendees and we’re declaring the $65 Film Pass, which grants access to 30+ films and is already on sale, kind of an amazing deal.

Chicago International Film Festival (Oct 13-24)

This fall fest boasts several claims to fame. Founded in 1964, its the longest running competitive film fest in North America. Secondly, it’s an eyebrow raiser thanks to its provocative poster art often featuring nude models and shot by Chicago photographer Victor Skrebneski (who passed away in 2020 at age 90). Lastly, it’s been the launching pad for directors like Martin Scorsese whose debut feature film “Who’s That Knocking at My Door” world premiered at CIFF. Today, the festival serves audiences alternatives to Hollywood blockbusters, while still bringing plenty of red-carpet razzle dazzle.

Frameline45 (June)

Frameline movies
Frameline44 San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival. ©Barak Shrama

San Francisco rolls out the rainbow carpet each June for a full month of Pride festivities including Frameline: The San Francisco LGBTQ+ Film Festival. The oldest queer film fest in the world, this 11-day event is attended by more than 60,000 people and has included prestigious screenings like Oscar winner Rob Friedman and Jeffrey Epstein’s “The Celluloid Closet” and the original British TV series “Queer as Folk” before it was remade by Showtime. Attendees are enthusiastic (and vocal) and if you’ve never seen a screening at the beautiful Castro Theatre, you can’t call yourself a true cinephile. 

Mill Valley Film Festival (Oct. 7-17) 

 

A top draw for film goers and celebrities every year north of San Francisco, the Mill Valley Film Festival is about to celebrate 44 years this fall. With a knack for premiering and showcasing future Oscar winners recent line ups have included,  Green Book, which subsequently picked up three golden statues.  Celebrities galore, pop in including recently, Amy Adams and Nicole Kidman to Mahershala Ali and Timothée Chalamet, here are just some of the big names who have visited Marin over the years. Besides the glit and glamour, Zoe Elton, the festival’s Director of Programming, created Mind the Gap program, which supports inclusion and equity in filmmaking. 

Orcas Island Film Festival (Oct 7-11)

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A free film a week until things get back to normal? Now that’s our kind of festival! Good things come in small packages at this gem of a fest which happens every fall in the San Juan Islands, just a few hours (and a ferry ride) from Seattle. OIFF screens a modest three dozen films over the course of just several days, but thanks to strong curation, it boasts 51 Academy Award nominations among the films shown since the fest’s 2014 Inception. And yes, the fest is offering virtual cinema until its in-person October return.

Palm Springs International Film Festival (Jan 2022)

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Winter storms got you down? You could do a lot worse than spending January in sunny Palm Springs. This festival started only in 1989 and was originally promoted by then mayor Sonny Bono, but has since grown to become an esteemed showcase of foreign films including many that go on to be Oscar nominated. With its proximity to Hollywood, it’s a star-studded event including past appearances from Brad Pitt, Dustin Hoffman, Anne Hathaway and Leonardo DiCaprio. Plus, PSIFF took 2021 off due to the pandemic, which means its 2022 return will likely include plenty of pent-up enthusiasm.

Sundance Film Festival (Jan/Feb 2022)

Sundance Film Festival
Director of Programming Kim Yutani, actors Cailee Spaeny, Charlie Day and Mary Elizabeth Ellis, directors Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones, and actors Lamorne Morris and Bradley Whitford attend the Q&A at the virtual Premiere of How It Ends Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

The mother of indie film fests, this celebration of American (and more recently international) filmmaking has become a kingmaker for limited budget movies and a place where cinematographers, starlets and snow bunnies collide both in screening rooms and on the slopes. Founded in 1978 by Robert Redford, previous Sundance breakouts include Blood Simple, Clerks, Little Miss Sunshine, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Get Out among many others. 2021 offered a hybrid of virtual screenings and limited in-person events, so expect 2022 to come roaring back with a vengeance.

Telluride Film Festival (Sept 2-6)

You’ve probably already downloaded and watched many of the films that screened at Telluride’s 2020 virtual fest including Nomadland, The Bee Gees: How Can you Mend a Broken Heart and All in: The Fight For Democracy. TFF is considered prestigious thanks to its insistence that all films be North American premieres. As in, this is where Michael Moore’s Roger & Me world premiered and where Blue Velvet, The Crying Game, Strangers in Paradise and Brokeback Mountain all made their American debuts. In anticipation of pent-up demand, the festival just announced an extra day. 

Tribeca Film Festival (June 9-20)

 

 
 
 
 
 
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One of more than a dozen film fests happening annually in NYC, this one was made famous by actor, director, producer and Trump critic Robert DeNiro who cofounded the fest in 2001. (Yup, that means the fest will celebrate its 20th anniversary in June!) We love that during its pandemic hiatus, the fest launched a drive-in series in major cities across the country and this year will screen films whose premieres didn’t happen due to the fest being cancelled in 2020. As you can imagine, Tribeca is a celeb magnet and in 2019 attracted Katie Holmes, Phoebe Robinson, Questlove, Rashida Jones and others. 

True/False Film Festival (May 5-9, 2021)

 

 
 
 
 
 
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If you’re a documentary film junkie like us, you will dig this festival which normally happens every March in the lively college town of Colombia, Missouri, but has been kicked to May and will happen entirely outdoors in the interest of public safety. Celebrated docs like Murderball and The Fog of War have screened here. By the way, the town is no stranger to the truth; its Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri is one of the oldest and most prestigious journalism schools in the world.


 

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Jason Vietnam

Jason Heidemann is a Los Angeles-based travel writer and cultural reporter who was previously an editor at Time Out Chicago, a columnist at the Chicago Tribune and has appeared on numerous TV shows on CBS, ABC and FOX among others.