Best Film Festival (2015)


Move over Cannes! The film festival circuit in the USA is packed with fantastic events, from heavy hitters to up-and-comers screening tomorrow's biggest names in cinema. Over the course of four weeks, USA TODAY 10Best readers cast ballots for their favorite film festivals from a list of 20 nominees, and now we have a winner.

  • Cinequest Film Festival

    Cinequest Film Festival
    San Jose, Calif.

    Cinequest takes place late February to early March in San Jose, Calif where many tech giants reside. As would be expected in Silicon Valley, this 13-day digital film festival aims to encourage creativity and recognize new technology in the film industry. Visitors can expect to see global innovators and learn more about cutting-edge movie-making. It’s like experiencing the future of film – today. Cinequest recognizes mavericks, trendsetters and pioneers whose unique visions stand out in the industry.
    Photo courtesy of Cinequest

  • Cleveland International Film Festival

    Cleveland International Film Festival

    The nonprofit Cleveland International Film Festival takes place in Ohio every March and draws substantial crowds, often close to 100,000. The fest features nearly 200 feature films and more than 200 shorts (it's an Academy-qualifying fest for short filmmakers). One goal: for the attendees to learn something from each film. The Cleveland film fest launched in 1977 and it continues to grow, yet it remains affordable and even offers free films for college students.
    Photo courtesy of Cleveland International Film Festival

  • Pan African Film Festival

    Pan African Film Festival
    Atlanta & Los Angeles

    The Pan African Film Festival every February highlights top filmmakers of African descent and top-notch films that help tear down negative stereotypes. The event, founded in 1992, aims to use film and art as a way to make important cultural changes, such as improving racial tolerance and communication between people of different backgrounds. Festival attendees have the chance to view more than 150 new films every year, plus experience red carpet screenings, receptions, panels, workshops and other film-related events.
    Photo courtesy of Pan African Film Festival

  • Santa Barbara International Film Festival

    Santa Barbara International Film Festival

    The reputable Santa Barbara International Film Festival has found its home in Santa Barbara, Calif., since the mid-80s. The 11-day-long event brings hundreds of films from around the world to historical theaters. The more than 85,000 participants also check out panels and educational programs featuring industry leaders. Lucky visitors may even catch glimpse of a star; in the past, this festival has recognized the likes of Cate Blanchett, Martin Scorsese and even Oprah Winfrey.
    Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara International Film Festival

  • Full Frame Documentary Film Festival- Durham, N.C.

    Full Frame Documentary Film Festival- Durham, N.C.

    The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival is a popular festival that focuses on non-fiction works, encouraging dialog between artists and their audiences. Since its small beginning in 1998, it has grown to become one of the most esteemed gatherings for documentary films. The fest shows more than 100 films by international filmmakers, plus it offers panels, discussions and networking. Catch it for four days every spring in Durham, N.C. Throughout the year, the nonprofit Center for Documentary Studies, which organizes the festival, continues its mission with other events.
    Photo courtesy of Mark Schueler

  • True/False Film Fest

    True/False Film Fest
    Columbia, Mo.

    The True/False film festival in Missouri every February or March highlights emerging documentaries at various locations in downtown Columbia. The festival kicked off in 2003 with the intention of celebrating the new wave of documentaries that were hitting the screen at the time. Today it’s known for bringing together nonfiction films from around the world, and it continues to grow, now drawing more than 40,000 attendees every year. Films screened here are diverse and challenge the audience to think critically.
    Photo courtesy of True/False Film Fest

  • Napa Valley Film Festival

    Napa Valley Film Festival
    Napa Valley, Calif.

    Napa Valley in California is known for more than its vineyards. It’s also home to the Napa Valley Film Festival, a newer event movie-lovers can attend in November. The festival features more than 125 indie films in 12 different locations. In true Napa Valley style, this unique festival also includes wine tasting, food demos, parties and awards. The nonprofit organization that runs the event keeps up the momentum year-round, too, with film programming long after the festival wraps up.
    Photo courtesy of Napa Valley Film Festival

  • Palm Springs International ShortFest

    Palm Springs International ShortFest

    Every summer the Palm Springs International ShortFest brings hundreds of short films to Palm Springs, Calif. The week-long event is best known for being one of the select Oscar-qualifying short-film fests in the nation. Beyond viewing films, attendees can also enroll in master classes and discussions, and admission is free for industry attendees. A spin-off of the Palm Springs International Film Festival in January, this event is run by the nonprofit Palm Spring International Film Society, which holds film-related programming and events throughout the year.
    Photo courtesy of oguzhanedman

  • Seattle International Film Festival

    Seattle International Film Festival

    The Seattle International Film Festival, or SIFF for short, is the biggest and one of the longest in the nation. Founded in 1976 in Seattle, it draws more than 150,000 attendees every year and lasts for 25 days. The programming aims for diversity, spanning more than 80 countries. Attendees who stay the length of the festival can catch upwards of 450 films. SIFF is known for having premiered highly acclaimed films, from Braveheart to Return of the Jedi to Poltergeist. Celebrities – Edward Norton, Jessica Biel and others – have participated in the celebrations, too.
    Photo courtesy of Seattle International Film Festival

  • Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival

    Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival

    Outfest is a film festival designed to promote equality in lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender people on and off the screen – and behind it, too. Films showing at the festival promote equality, as well as the artistic expression of gender and the LGBT culture. Outfest was started by UCLA students in the ‘80s, and has since risen to become a leader in LGBT rights. The goal: Spark change, one story at a time. Los Angeles hosts the festival each summer, and guests under 21 years of age get free membership.
    Photo courtesy of Outfest

Cinequest, an annual festival in San Jose, Calif. aiming to encourage creativity and recognize new technology in the film industry, took home top honors. Runner-up Cleveland International Film Festival not only screens features, it's also an Academy-qualifying festival for shorts.

The top 10 winners in the category Best Film Festival are as follows:

  1. Cinequest Film Festival - San Jose, Calif.
  2. Cleveland International Film Festival
  3. Pan African Film Festival - Atlanta & Los Angeles
  4. Santa Barbara International Film Festival
  5. Full Frame Documentary Film Festival- Durham, N.C.
  6. True/False Film Fest - Columbia, Mo.
  7. Napa Valley Film Festival - Napa Valley, Calif.
  8. Palm Springs International ShortFest
  9. Seattle International Film Festival
  10. Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival

A panel of experts picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Other nominees included the DC Shorts Film Festival, Miami International Film Festival, Breckenridge Film Festival, Hamptons International Film Festival, AFI DOCS, Sundance Film Festival in Park City, South by Southwest Film in Austin, Telluride Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival in New York and the Chicago International Children's Festival.

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