These 10 amazing film festivals are worth traveling for


AWFJ members Marina Antunes and Jennifer Merin present EDA Awards to filmmakers Rama Rau and Sophie Dupuis at the Whistler Film FestivalAWFJ members Marina Antunes and Jennifer Merin present EDA Awards to filmmakers Rama Rau and Sophie Dupuis at the Whistler Film Festival — Photo courtesy of Whistler Film Festival

“For devotees of travel and movies, film festivals are ideal destinations,” says Jennifer Merin, President, Alliance of Women Film Journalists (AWFJ).  “You get to watch films you might not be able to see at home, some of which might even suggest alluring destinations for future travel.” 

Sundance, Cannes and Venice are some of the biggest and most well-known, but there are so many other film festivals which are actually travel-worthy destinations in themselves.

AWFJ presents its own EDA Awards for Best Female-Directed films at select film festivals, like Whistler, Edinburgh and St. Louis, all of which offer reasons to visit beyond their innovative movies. “Maximum satisfaction comes from attending film festivals whose programs represent diverse perspectives,” says Merin. “It’s even better when you experience them in a top-notch location like Whistler, where you can also enjoy divine dining and superb skiing.” 

Here are 10 film festivals that offer great locations in addition to thought-provoking and dynamic movies: 

Palm Springs International Film Festival | California


Bradley Cooper at the Palm Springs International Film Festival — Photo courtesy of Palm Springs International Film Festival

The Palm Springs International Film Festival celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2019, with the city rolling out the red carpet for the glitz and glam-filled 12-day event. One of the largest film festivals in North America, it attracts over 135,000 movie-lovers each year, and features more than 200 films from 78 countries, plus the highly-anticipated Film Awards Gala. Past honorees include Glenn Close, Melissa McCarthy, Bradley Cooper and Rami Malek. 

While you’re there: Enjoy the breathtaking view from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the world’s largest rotating tramcar.

True/False Film Fest | Columbia, Mo.


The Buskers Last Stand at True/False Film Fest in Columbia, MissouriThe Buskers Last Stand at True/False Film Fest in Columbia, Missouri — Photo courtesy of True/False Film Fest

True/False is a champion of cutting-edge nonfiction filmmaking, and it continues to grow as the genre – and the idea of truth versus fiction – becomes more relevant than ever. For four days every year, filmmakers, artists and musicians transform Columbia, Missouri into a creative oasis. How fitting that True/False, a paradise for documentary lovers, takes place in the same town where one of the oldest journalism schools in the country can be found. 

While you’re there: Get to know the locals, and experience the cool vibe of this college town. 

Sun Valley Film Festival | Idaho


This intimate festival in Idaho celebrates the art of filmmaking with its mission of empowering independent filmmakers to share stories that inspire change. This spring, SVFF will present more than 60 cutting-edge films and TV premieres; Coffee Talks with industry leaders; panels, labs and workshops led by award-winning filmmakers; and plenty of parties and awards. Past guests include Gwyneth Paltrow, Clint Eastwood and Oliver Stone.

While you’re there: Stargaze at the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve, the first in the country to be certified by the International Dark Sky Reserves. 

RiverRun International Film Festival | Winston-Salem, N.C.


RiverRun International Film FestivalRiverRun International Film Festival — Photo courtesy of Visit Winston-Salem

RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina is one of the fastest-growing regional film festivals in the country, and a premier film festival in the Southeast. This Academy Award-qualifying festival showcases a variety of movies from all genres and holds events including high-profile regional premieres, celebrity tributes, family matinees and classic retrospectives, panel discussions and parties.

While you’re there: Experience Southern hospitality as you eat and drink your way through the walkable downtown. 

Edinburgh International Film Festival


Edinburgh International Film FestivalEdinburgh International Film Festival — Photo courtesy of Edinburgh International Film Festival

The longest continually-running film festival, EIFF has been a visionary in the industry for more than six decades. A champion of British talent, the festival has presented world premieres of movies by filmmakers like Bill Forsyth, Danny Boyle and Stephen Frears, and helped establish the UK reputation of Ingmar Bergman. EIFF pioneered the idea of the “retrospective,” and was the first in the world to appoint a female film festival director.

While you’re there: Explore the rich history of Scotland’s capital at Edinburgh Castle

Middleburg Film Festival | Virginia


Damien Chazelle and Emma Stone discuss <em>La La Land</em> with radio host John Horn at Middleburg Film Festival”><span class=Damien Chazelle and Emma Stone discuss La La Land with radio host John Horn at Middleburg Film Festival — Photo courtesy of Middleburg Film Festival

This four-day event in Virginia’s horse country has been called one of “award season’s most important film festivals.” It presents a carefully-curated selection of narrative and documentary films in intimate theater venues, followed by Q&A’s with world-renowned filmmakers, actors and special guests. Past guests include Viggo Mortensen, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Joel Edgerton and Jason Reitman.

While you’re there: Stay at the luxurious Salamander Resort & Spa, host to the film festival which was founded by its CEO, Sheila Johnson.

St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival | Newfoundland and Labrador


One of the longest-running women’s film festivals in the world, SJIWFF was established to support and promote the creative work of women in screen-based industries from around the world. Respected nationally and internationally, it will celebrate its 30th annual festival in 2019 with five days of powerful documentaries, short films and features. 

While you’re there: Take advantage of the pristine coastline and close to 300 hiking and walking trails, including historic footpaths between abandoned fishing communities. 

AFI FEST | Los Angeles


Nicole Kidman at AFI FestNicole Kidman at AFI Fest — Photo courtesy of AFI Fest

A program of the American Film Institute, AFI FEST is recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as a qualifying festival for both Short Film categories for the Academy Awards. It’s Los Angeles‘ longest-running international film festival and the only film festival of its stature that’s free to the public.

AFI FEST is a showcase for the best festival films of the year as well as an opportunity for both master filmmakers and emerging artists to come together with audiences in the movie capital of the world. In 2018, AFI FEST opened with the world premiere of On the Basis of Sex and closed with the world premiere of Mary Queen of Scots.

While you’re there: Take photos of the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Whitaker St Louis International Film Festival


SLIFF screens hundreds of features and shorts representing countries from around the world. This growing festival attracted more than 30,000 attendees in 2018. And it presented a variety of awards, including a lifetime achievement award to John Goodman in conjunction with a screening of The Big Lebowski in tribute to the movie’s 20th anniversary.  

While you’re there: Get to know St. Louis through the festival’s various venues, including The Tivoli, Plaza Frontenac, Washington University, Stage at KDHX, Missouri History Museum and the St. Louis Public Library.

Whistler Film Festival


The Whistler Film Festival is considered the coolest in CanadaThe Whistler Film Festival is considered the coolest in Canada — Photo courtesy of Tourism Whistler/Mike Crane

Canada’s “coolest” film festival features the best in independent cinema from Canada and around the world, and will award over $150,000 in prizes in 2019. The five-day festival also features tributes to distinguished talent, celebrations and unique industry initiatives. WFF has established a track record for launching new films and filmmakers, and has earned a reputation as a prestigious “filmmakers festival.”

While you’re there: Play in the snow, ski, and enjoy après-ski cocktails and the lively culinary scene.

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