20 Essential International Film Festivals That Yes, You Should Attend

Mar 28, 2023

Since you’re reading MovieMaker, you likely know that the most essential international film festivals are Cannes, Venice, and Berlin. Those European festivals are rivaled in importance in North America by Sundance and Toronto.
If you have the chance to attend any of the above film festivals as a film lover, you should. (If you’ve made it into any of them as a filmmaker, hello — we’d probably love to interview you, because you’ve either made it or in the process of making it.)
But we always want to celebrate other festivals — some widely known, some less so — that don’t always get the attention of the Big Five but are nonetheless crucial for not only promoting the films of their own countries, but the work of great filmmakers around the world. 
Also Read: The 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World
We’ve especially sought out locations we believe you should visit before you die, in the hopes that a film festival will give you the perfect reason to finally book your tickets. 
In cases where the festival dates aren’t finalized, we’ve been as specific as possible.
Cairo, Egypt | November 15-24
One of the oldest and most respected film festivals in the Arab world, Africa and the Middle East, CIFF held its 44th edition in November to honor some of Egypt’s most beloved treasures, its films.
Under the new leadership of director Amir Ramses, the event featured tributes to actress Maha Abu Ouf, director Ali Abdel Khaleq and actor Hesham Selim, all of whom died in 2022. It also welcomed nearly 100 films from more than 50 countries.
Its international jury was led by Japanese director Naomi Kawase, and the Golden Pyramid Award for Best Film went to Firas Khoury’s coming-of-age drama Alam. If you haven’t been to Egypt, bear in mind that worldwide attractions Nile cruises, the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx are within easy distance of the Cairo Opera House, site of the festival.
Copenhagen, Denmark | March 15-26
One of the most celebrated documentary film festivals in the world, and largest doc festivals in Europe, is now underway and celebrating its 20th edition — and is placing a special emphasis on rising filmmakers. INTRO:DOX will hold a day of introductory sessions on March 19 with a collection of sessions specially designed to help up-and-coming filmmakers who were especially hard-hit by the pandemic, giving them opportunities to learn from more established professionals. 
Deauville, France | September 1-10
(L-R) 1-800-HOT-NITE’s Mylen Bradford, Ali Richey, Nick Richey and Dallas Dupree Young at the Deauville Deauville American Film Festival, one of our 20 Essential International Film FestivalsEstablished in 1975 in coastal Normandy, Deauville has attracted big names like Jessica Chastain, Robert Pattison, Nicolas Cage, and Morgan Freeman. It’s also a global tastemaker, giving its Grand Prize last year to Charlotte Wells’ much-praised Aftersun.
Also Read: In 1-800-Hot-Nite, Nick Richey Enlists a Cobra Kai Star for a Story of Phone Sex, Snakes and Growing Up
Nick Richey, whose coming-of-age film 1-800-HOT-NITE kicked off a very successful festival run in Deauville, tells MovieMaker he found the festival spectacular in every way. 1-800-HOT-NITE was in competition, and though it screened at the earlyish hour of 10:30 a.m., Richey and his team entered the theater to find a packed house of 1,600 people.
“The Deauville programming, audiences, exposure and environment are absolutely top notch. If there’s a festival out there truly fighting for American independent cinema, it’s Deauville,” Richey says.
Toruń, Poland | 2023
EnergaCAMERIMAGE stands out with its celebration of cinematography — and draws A-list actors and directors grateful for the professionals who know how to make them and their ideas look gorgeous.
Sam Mendes at the 2022 opening of EnergaCAMERIMAGE, one of our 20 Essential International Film Festivals.
Photo by Pawel Skraba, courtesy of the EnergaCAMERIMAGE archive.One of Europe’s most prestigious film festivals, EnergaCAMERIMAGE just celebrated its 30th year by awarding its prestigious Golden Frog award to Tár, shot by Florian Hoffmeister and directed by Todd Field. (The award is often a major Oscar predictor in the cinematography category.)
The festival is working to promote year-round film education and celebration, and is starting construction this year on a new cultural center to further promote its work.  
Palma de Mallorca, Spain | October 18-24
Founded and led by the indefatigable Sandra Lipski, this festival on a Spanish island paradise has welcomed everyone from Ana de Armas to Mads Mikkelson to Danny DeVito. They’re drawn not only by the stunning, sun-kissed beauty of the Balearic Islands of the Mediterranean, but also by the relaxed, snobbiness-free atmosphere.
Last year’s guests included Ruben Östlund, who presented his opening night film, Triangle of Sadness, winner of the Palma d’Or at Cannes. In keeping with the setting of his film, he also did a Q&A with Lipski on a yacht, the Falcao Uno, in the Palmas Port with Palma’s iconic cathedral in the background.
Other 2022 highlights included the Cinematography Icon Award for Ed Lachman, and the Mallorca Film Commission presenting the first annual Mallorca Film Award to honor actress Icon Nastassja Kinski.
EMIFF welcomed more than 250 films and 10,000 audience members over seven days to enjoy galas, screenings, panels, drive-in cinema, and much more. Submissions for the upcoming 12th edition are now open.
Marseille, France | July
Each summer, France’s oldest city celebrates its newest cinema, offering some 130 films to nearly 24,000 guests in theaters, libraries, open-air amphitheaters and art galleries throughout the city.
It’s a fantastic opportunity for once-in-a-life time film experiences — like the Apichatpong Weerasethakul masterclass held in 2021 — and to experience a truly historic Mediterranean city founded in 600 BC by Greek settlers.
The sense of worldliness remains with FIDLab, which supports international co-productions. The FIDCampus, meanwhile, provides training for Mediterranean students. FIDM also offers offsite screenings throughout the year.
Galway, Ireland | July 11-16
Submissions are now open for this fleadh (that’s Irish for festival) located in a dreamy, bohemian slice of heaven on Ireland’s west coast. Galway rejects pretense and stuffiness in favor of a passionate embrace of cinema.
It goes hard for Ireland, to be sure — last year’s film festival included a screening of Showtime’s Sinéad OʼConnor doc, Nothing Compares, as well as a cavalcade of Irish films, especially by rising filmmakers. But its international outlook was obvious in events like an acting masterclass with Vicky Krieps, and a directing masterclass with Mike Newell.
The fleadh also includes the Galway Film Fair marketplace, a script pitching competition, and chances to mingle with dozens of distributors or sales agents.
When you need to clear your head and unwind, take a stroll along the beach or the rippling River Corrib, or enjoy music and good conversation at one the city’s many charming pubs and coffee spots. 
Lisbon, Portugal | April 27-May 7
Lisbon has always been known for its welcoming spirit: It’s the place everyone in the movie Casablanca is trying to escape to. Its climate, beaches, beauty and affordability also made it a place many Americans fled to during the pandemic, unfortunately driving up prices for the locals.
Indie Lisboa invites filmmakers with open arms by screening more than 270 films each year. It focuses on those outside the mainstream, drawing audiences and industry professionals from around the globe. It offers workshops, masterclasses, debates, a screenwriting lab, a film fund, a pitching forum, and much more.
One of its greatest highlights is IndieJunior, the youthful-facing section of the festival that guides the next generation of audiences — and creators. 
Goa, India | 2023
This 70-year-old festival operates under the beautiful philosophy of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” — the world is one family. Because of gaps between some editions, the latest was its 53rd. It began with a joyous celebration of Bollywood, then continued with a salute to cinema worldwide.
Its big winners were the Spanish-language film Tengo sueños eléctricos (I Have Electric Dreams), which won the Golden Peacock, and best director went to Iranian writer-director Nader Saeivar for No End. Goa also includes a film bazaar in which more than 200 scripts, projects and films from compete for the attention of producers, buyers and programmers from around the world.
Rotterdam, The Netherlands | 2024
In its latest edition earlier this year, Rotterdam is embraced a program called Cinema Regained that created what the festival called “a sphere of collective remembrance for cinematic heritage, offering restored classics, documentaries on film culture, archival discoveries and more.”
It included both brand-new films like the Fırat Özeler’s documentary Kavur, about director Ömer Kavur, as well as rediscovered gems like Kavur’s 1971 short “The Porter.” 
Other films include René Cardona’s Santo conra los jinites del terror (Santo vs. The Riders of Terror) , in which masked Mexican wrestler/secret agent Santo takes on a roving gang of somewhat sympathetic lepers. Rotterdam has cast a wide net, in other words.
Karlovy Vary, Czechoslovakia | June 30-July 8
Held since 1946, one of the most distinguished international festivals endured even during a communist regime that tried to use it as an instrument of propaganda. In 1994, a new team headed by Czech actor Jiří Bartoška and leading film journalist Eva Zaoralová took over and turned the festival into a celebration of unfettered cinema.
Sadly,  Zaoralová passed last year, but her legacy lives on in the festival’s annual screenings of more than 200 films from around the world. Karlova Vary has welcomed a who’s who of A-listers, from Robert De Niro to Michael Douglas to Salma Hayek. It’s not just a film destination, but also a celebrated spa town renowned for its hot springs.
Locarno, Switzerland / August 2-12
Among the oldest and most beloved film festivals in the world, Locarno has spent more than three-quarters of a century celebrating the bravest, most experimental and most exceptional of new cinema.
With massive prizes packages in the hundreds of thousands, and attention from major distributors like Netflix and Pathé Films, Locarno is a major destination for filmmakers and film lovers who are drawn not only to its emphasis on great films, but its majestic location near Lake Maggiore and the Alps.
Its screen on the Piazza Grande is Europe’s largest, and it is known for programming an exceptional number of world premieres.
This year’s celebration will include the return of Locarno Kids HomeMade Movies, in which young filmmakers will be encouraged to create films with the theme “the superhero in you,” and will mark the first time Locarno’s awards categories are gender-neutral. 
Mar Del Plata, Argentina | November 3-13
Based in Buenos Aires Province, this hub of fishing and film is the biggest seaside resort location in Argentina — and home of perhaps the most prestigious film festival in Latin America.
It has had a storied and complex history since its founding in 1954, and glories in film’s power to push empathy across all boundaries.
Its latest Astor Piazzolla Award for Best Feature Length Film went to Saudade fez morada aqui dentro (Saudade Became Home Inside) by Haroldo Borges, which jurors praised for “its ability to beautifully and truthfully portray a dramatic story that shows us that when people care about each other, there is hope.”  
Melbourne, Australia | August 3-20
Now entering its 71st year, one of the oldest continuous film festivals in the world is also one of the most generous: Its main prize, the Bright Horizons Award, is worth nearly $100,000.
Last year it went to Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman’s acclaimed U.S.-Rwandan production Neptune Frost, which the jury praised for “disrupting the colonial gaze and connecting the rising influence of technology in all our lives.”
Other prestigious awards include the BlackMagic Design Australian Innovation Award for an outstanding Australian creative with a film in the MIFF program. This year’s went to Jub Clerk for directing Sweet As, which, in the words of the jurors, “crossed worlds and intersected certain realities” — just like a great film festival. 
Santarcangelo di Romagna, Italy |  2023
The Nòt Film Fest, one of of 20 Essential International Film Festivals. Set in a small village in the hills by the Adriatic coast, near Federico Fellini’s hometown of Rimini, the Nòt Film Fest was started by a group of Italian filmmakers in Los Angeles in 2017. Its curious name is a nod to outsider filmmakers and cinematic adventures: while “not” in English connotes rejection, in the local Romagnolo dialect, “nòt” means night.
The festival celebrates filmmakers outside the mainstream, shining light on independent filmmaking all over the world. Up-and-coming writers, directors and producers gleefully join seasoned veterans and film lovers for a weeklong celebration in search of the boldest new visionaries.
Past judges and guests have included Gabriela Rodriguez, producer of Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma; Slamdance founder Peter Baxter, and Theo Green, the Oscar-winning sound designer of Dune.
Reykjavic, Iceland | September 28-October 8
A very convenient flight from the East Coast of the U.S., Iceland’s bursting-with-color capital is a great place to fire your imagination. Founded in September 2004 by film professionals and film lovers led by festival director Hrönn Marinósdóttir, RIFF pushes for innovation, and delivers.
It has been known to present films in a swimming pool, or in a filmmaker’s home, to provide unforgettable experiences. It also emphasizes the new by presenting its main prize, the Golden Puffin, only to first or second-time directors.
It typically screens about a 100 films from 40 countries over each 11-day celebration, and guests have included Jim Jarmusch, Mike Leigh, Atom Egoyan, Dario Argento, Werner Herzog, Claire Denis and many more. 
Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain | September 22-30
Since its founding in 1953, this festival in a Basque resort region celebrated for its glorious beaches has hosted such historic moments as the European premiere of Star Wars, and Alfred Hitchcock presenting the international premiere of Vertigo.
But it is more focused on promoting new talent than resting on its success. San Sebastian is elegantly divided into three parts: films, films-to-be, and thought and discussion. The films-to-be section is especially interested in works in progress from Latin America and Europe. Its latest edition, in September, awarded the Golden Shell for Best Film to Laura Mora’s Los reyes del mundo (The Kings of the World), a film set in Colombia that is truly international: The production was rooted not only in Colombia but also Luxembourg, France, Mexico and Norway. 
Tallinn, Estonia | November 3-19 
The best-named film festival in the world, which is also known as PÖFF, celebrated its 26th edition in November by welcoming nearly 80,000 visitors — close to pre-pandemic numbers — including 2,000 foreign guests. “Far more than we have ever had,” notes festival director Tiina Lokk.
They were drawn to 551 films, including 132 world and international premieres, from 75 countries — and by the festival’s embrace of shared commitment, struggle, and success. “A PÖFF Wolf is a pack animal who knows that he’ll get farther working together with the others,” the festival explains on its website.
“Without you, our cinema audience and supporters, this film festival, largely cobbled together on pure enthusiasm in 1997, would not be what it is today.” And, the festival notes, traveling with friends allows a PÖFF Wolf to move outside its comfort zone, in search of new cinematic adventures.
Tokyo, Japan | 2023
The latest edition of this top-tier festival screened 169 films, an increase from 126 in 2021, and drew nearly 60,000 in admissions, nearly doubling the previous year. More than 50,000 people attended festival-related events.
Highlights included the presentation of the lifetime achievement award to 95-year-old director Nogami Teruyo, in recognition of her extraordinary contributions to Japanese film, which began when she worked as a script supervisor for Akira Kurosawa on Rashoman in 1950.
The festival is generous in hosting filmmakers in competition, who can win up to $35,000 in total prizes. It also offers one of the most towering and gorgeous trophies in the film world, created using Tokyo’s Edo Kiriko glass-cutting method. 
Warsaw, Poland | October 
Held annually since 1985, this festival in Poland’s stunning capital has hosted directors including Michael Haneke, Cristian Mungiu and Ashgar Farhadi as they rose to prominence.
One of the most elite film festivals in Europe, it’s a great draw for filmmakers because of its generosity with travel costs, attention to details, and heavy turnout by top distributors — to say nothing of its Academy eligibility.
But it’s very much an audience-focused film festival as well: “Selecting the films, we always remember about our audience – native Varsovians, those working or studying in Warsaw, and those in town for a short while, for instance only for the Festival,” writes Stefan Laudyn, director of the festival.
Main image: Ruben Östlund discusses his film Triangle of Sadness with Evolution Mallorca International Film Festival founder Sandra Lipski.

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