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Top independent film festivals: Can you name them?

Top independent film festivals: Can you name them?

If you’re a budding filmmaker, you’ll no doubt dream of someday having your films screened at one of the world’s top film festivals. 

​​Garnering massive media attention, events like Cannes and Sundance have become household names, but did you know that there are over 5,000 film festivals held throughout the globe? Here, we take a look at the ‘Big Five’. 

Festival de Cannes 

One of the world’s most widely publicised events, the Cannes Festival is an annual film festival held in Cannes, France, which was founded in 1946. The invitation-only festival previews new films of all genres, including documentaries, from around the world with the aim of contributing towards the development of cinema, boosting the film industry worldwide and celebrating cinema at an international level.

The most prestigious award given at Cannes is the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) for the best film. Past winners include some of the greatest movies of all time: La Dolce Vita (1960); Taxi Driver (1976); Apocalypse Now (1979); Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989); Wild at Heart (1990); The Piano (1993); Pulp Fiction (1994); and The Pianist (2002). 

Toronto International Film Festival 

Since its launch in 1976, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has become one of the biggest publicly attended film festivals in the world, attracting over 480,000 people each year. Operating out of the TIFF Bell Lightbox, located in Downtown Toronto, TIFF's mission is to transform the way people see the world through film. All year-round, it offers screenings, lectures, discussions, festivals, workshops, industry support, and the chance to meet filmmakers from Canada and around the world.

The festival's People's Choice Award – which is based on audience voting – has emerged as an indicator of success during awards season, especially at the Academy Awards. Past recipients of this award include Oscar-winning films, such as Life Is Beautiful (1998), American Beauty (1999), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), The King's Speech (2010), 12 Years a Slave (2013), La La Land (2016), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), Green Book (2018), Jojo Rabbit (2019), and Nomadland (2020). 

Explore new filmmaking approaches in the context of an international learning community with AUB Online's MA Film Practice:

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Venice Film Festival 

Founded in 1932, the Venice Film Festival is the oldest film festival in the world, part of the Venice Biennale, which itself is one of the world's oldest exhibitions of art, created by the Venice City Council in 1893. Screenings take place in the historic Palazzo del Cinema on the Lungomare Marconi. The festival aims to raise awareness and promote international cinema in all its forms as art, entertainment and as an industry, in a spirit of freedom and dialogue.

Its Glory to the Filmmaker Award, organised in collaboration with Jaeger-LeCoultre since 2006, is dedicated to personalities who have made a significant contribution to contemporary cinema. Past recipients include Kitano Takeshi (2006); Al Pacino (2011); Spike Lee (2012); Ettore Scola (2013); Brian De Palma (2015); Costa-Gavras (2019); and Ridley Scott (2021). 

Berlin Film Festival 

Considered the most political of all the major film festivals, the Berlin International Film Festival shows about 400 films per year, mostly international or European premieres, attracting tens of thousands of visitors from around the globe each year. The festival was created for the Berlin public in 1951, at the beginning of the Cold War, as a showcase of the free world. Shaped by the turbulent post-war period and the unique situation of a divided city, the Berlinale has developed into a place of intercultural exchange and a platform for the critical cinematic exploration of social issues.

Introduced by a red carpet ceremony at the Berlinale Palast, the Competition is the centrepiece of the Berlinale, screening films which hope to win the prestigious Golden Bears Award for best film. Past winners include Cinderella (1950); The Ascent (1977); Rain Man (1988); In the Name of the Father (1993); Sense and Sensibility (1995); Magnolia (1999); and On Body and Soul (2017). 

Sundance Film Festival 

The largest independent film festival in the United States, the Sundance Film Festival was founded in 1985, when the Sundance Institute assumed creative and administrative control of the US Film Festival. Held annually in Park City, Salt Lake City, Utah, it attracts more than 45,000 people with the goal of being the ultimate gathering of original storytellers and audiences seeking new voices and fresh perspectives.

Hundreds of films launched at the festival have gone on to gain critical acclaim including: Reservoir Dogs (1992); Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994); The Usual Suspects (1995); Memento (2000); Napoleon Dynamite (2003); Saw (2004); In Bruges (2008); and Four Lions (2010). 

Our MA Film Practice takes you one step closer towards your first film festival 

If you want to embark on an exciting career in filmmaking, Arts University Bournemouth’s online MA Film Practice will empower you to become a highly-skilled and successful filmmaker. With start dates in January, May and September, this two-year course is led by cinematographer and filmmaker Dr Alex Nevill. Together, you’ll develop your practice while building your understanding of filmmaking concepts and techniques, as well as the wider creative industries. 

Alex has photographed several independent feature films as well as short projects for Creative England, Channel 4, Film London and the British Film Institute. His work has been screened at major film festivals, such as BFI London, Edinburgh, Palm Springs and IDFA. You can find out more about Alex on his website. 

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