The 25 coolest film festivals in the world, presented by FilmFreeway


Every year when we compile this list of the coolest film festivals in the world, we try to find a new angle. We always ask: what makes this year new and different?

This time we have to admit, it’s pretty easy to tell what has changed.

“We’re going to lick doorknobs and hug each other, with permission,” Dan Brawley, the “Chief Instigator” of the Cucalorus Film Festival, one of our 25 coolest film festivals in the world in 2021 .

The pandemic is not over. But the state of film festivals, like so many things, is much better than a year ago. We have vaccines and the accumulated knowledge and innovation of a long and difficult time behind us.

Some festivals have been able to safely bring people together to watch films in person. We’ve all been waiting for what seems like a really long time to watch the big screens together, laugh together, and listen to loud, live music in a crowd. And now, the vaxxes among us can finally – even unmasked, in many places, waiting for local rules, regulations and the play to be read.

For festivals still in a purely virtual mode: We are grateful that the cinema always gives us a way to connect, and to love. We can’t wait to kiss you soon. With permission.

Cool 2021 panel

Before we move on to festivals, here’s the panel that put together our 2021 list of the coolest film festivals in the world. We thank them all for sharing their experiences, expertise and wisdom.

Nathalie Almada received the 2012 MacArthur Genius Award and the 2021 Sundance Award for Documentary Making for his most recent film, Users. She combines artistic expression with social inquiry to make films that are both personal reflections and critical social commentary. His directing credits include Al Otro Lado, The general, El Velador, and its narrative function Todo lo demás. She lives in Mexico City and San Francisco.

Gina Duncan, Production Manager at the Sundance Institute, integrates the festival’s artistic vision with its practical elements – and manages programming and year-round engagement across industry and artist communities. Duncan previously served as vice president of film and strategic programming at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and director of industry engagement and special programs at the Jacob Burns Film Center.

Shabier Kirchner was born and raised in Antigua and Barbuda, travels the world as a Director of Photography and was one of Variety’s 10 Directors of Photography to Watch in 2018. Kirchner works on feature films and shows television, including that of Steve McQueen. Small Ax, Taurus, Only you, Skateboarding Kitchen and Pointe de Sollers – as well as on commercials and music videos. He also shoots his own works at home. “Dadli” is Shabier’s first work as director-director of photography.

Anja Marquardt is a screenwriter and film and television director who focuses on world stories. She recently worked on the anthology series Starz The Girlfriend Experience, writing and directing all 10 episodes, and is the creator of season 3. His first feature film, She lost control, premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the CICAE Prize. A former student of the Berlin University of the Arts and the NYU Graduate Film Program, Marquardt currently resides in Venice, California.

Jane schoenbrun (they / she) is a non-binary filmmaker whose first narrative feature film, We all go to the World’s Fair, premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. The film will soon be released in theaters via Utopia and will be available to stream via HBO Max. Jane’s plans include co-creating the touring variety series The eye cutter, creation of the Radical Film Fair, production A self-induced hallucination, producing Aaron Schimberg’s film Chained for life, and by creating the “dream film” omnibus collective: the unconscious.

Jiayan “Jenny” Shi is a Chicago-based documentary maker who is passionate about stories that find a shared humanity and compassion. His first documentary Find Yingying, released by MTV Documentary Films, won Special Jury Recognition for Breakthrough Voice at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. Jenny is a graduate of Kartemquin’s Diverse Voices In Docs program, a TFI alumnus, a member of the Inaugural Women at Sundance Adobe Fellowship, and a DOC NYC “40 Under 40” filmmaker.

Tyler Taormina is a Los Angeles-based director whose first feature film Rye ham premiered at the Locarno Film Festival and was critically acclaimed, landing on the Best Films of the Year lists by The New Yorker, Rolling stone, Tilted magazine and more. His work explores broad ensemble distributions and draws inspiration from European art cinema of the 1960s and children’s television from the 1990s.

25 coolest film festivals in the world

And now, here are the festivals. Congratulations to all!

Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival

September 9-12 / Berwick-upon-Tweed, UK

At BFMAF, festival-goers are encouraged to engage deeply in thoughtful programming, which includes the filmmaker and curator “Proposals”, a program that is “part screening, part discussion or performance”. The BFMAF also hosts the Berwick New Cinema Competition, which highlights filmmakers who violate gender, financial limits and expectations. In April, Berwick announced that curator, writer and programmer Jemma Desai would be her new head of programming, a move hailed by panelist Gina Duncan: “I am a huge admirer of Jemma Desai and the work she has produced at in recent years. This work includes the ongoing study “This work is not for us,” a study on “the human cost of attempting institutional reform while navigating a policy of ‘diversity’ rooted in white supremacy. “

BlackStar Film Festival

August 4-8 / Philadelphia

25 coolest film festivals in the world

BlackStar Film Festival is one of FilmmakerThe coolest film festivals in the world 2021. Photo by Daniel Jackson

Marking its 10th year, this festival celebrates “the visual and narrative traditions of the African diaspora and global communities of color – featuring films by Blacks, Browns and indigenous peoples from around the world”. He has a new home at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, on the University of Pennsylvania campus, where Maori artistic director and CEO Karmael Holmes has been appointed curator of the film – though BlackStar remains happily independent. Last year it made the most of pandemic restrictions, showing 90 films, including 24 world premieres and representing more than 20 countries. Highlights included drive-through screenings at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia and opening and closing virtual dance parties by DJ Jazzy Jeff and DJ Rich Medina of Philly. Gina Duncan says she is “always in awe of what Maori and her talented team are able to achieve each year. Their love for what they do permeates every aspect of this festival.

Cinema Ceará

TBD / Fortaleza, Brazil

The festival’s prime location in Fortaleza, the capital of the northeastern Brazilian state of Ceará, allows festival-goers to relax on a different beach every day. Natalia Almada was at the inaugural Cine Ceará festival in 2009 and notes: “I met filmmakers there with whom I have stayed in touch ever since. She remembers a wonderful place where they “talked about the movies all day”, watched “a movie at night” and went out to dinner and dance. It’s a perfect festival for those who want to savor their time and don’t appreciate the go-go-go nature of more lively gatherings.


March 2022 / San José

25 coolest film festivals in the world

Cinequest Film and Creativity Festival. Photo by Debra McClure

“The first festival to have invited one of my short films,” says Anja Marquardt. “Extremely encouraging experience. Unexpected from start to finish. This Silicon Valley festival combines love of cinema and technological innovation while avoiding elitism. It’s professional and efficient throughout, boasting an excellent publicity team to support the filmmakers, and attracts top distributors like Netflix, Gravitas, Magnolia, IFC, Screen Media, Apple, Hulu, Roadside Attractions, Bleecker Street and Sony. What is its programming? Well, last year that sort of predicted the future: the festival hosted director Charlie Buhler’s drama Before the fire, about a sudden global pandemic, when the festival was suddenly interrupted by… you guessed it.


March 23 – April 3, 2022 / Copenhagen, Denmark

CPH: DOX not only celebrates documentary films, but adds relevance and encourages change through debates, artist talks, events and masterclasses. He boldly looks to the future with a new team of co-curators, aged 16 to 25, contributing films, lectures and events of their own design. It went live in 2020 and this year it explored new hybrid possibilities and experimented with new digital formats as Danish cinemas continued to grapple with pandemic restrictions. Next year, he plans to return to the Kunsthal Charlottenborg festival center, which will host screenings, art exhibitions, concerts and international industry events. According to Jane Schoenbrun, who participated in 2015: “I was blown away by the festival’s list of dynamic documentary art growing at the seams of form. The pitch forum was equally adventurous in its programming choices, highlighting a list of projects (documentaries, fictions and most of all) by emerging writers and non-fiction legends. And the hospitality in beautiful Copenhagen was wonderful: I will never forget the after-hours festival opening dinner held in an elegant European amusement park.

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