The 14 Hottest Indie Films Festivals

Passionate about independent film in the US? These are the festivals you'll want to attend.

Film lovers and movie makers of the world join together year round at various festivals to discover new, creative talent and network with other professionals in the film industry.

While it's exciting to bump into significant directors and actors from large production studios, sometimes the best, undiscovered talents appear at independent, or indie, film festivals.

These are the productions that often generate conversation after premiering at various festivals, but you can witness creative shorts, documentaries, comedies, horror films and virtual reality movies firsthand at these small- and large-scale indie film festivals.

Virtual reality head set

Cinequest Film & VR Festival 

Located near Silicon Valley—the epicenter of glocal technology and innovation—Cinquest bridges the gap between art and technology through the presentation of Virtual Reality (VR) Competition and Awards. Guests can expect to see VR films, interactive pieces and games. There are also awards for best VR animation, horror, sports, music video, documentary and more. The festival's attendance has exceeded 105,000 guests and is expected to continue growing in popularity.

Where: San Jose and Redwood City, California

When: March 5-17, 2019

Slamdance Film Festival 

If you're a filmmaker, Slamdance is for you. According to festival organizers, this is the only film festival in the world entirely run and organized by filmmakers, hence the mantra "By Filmmakers For Filmmakers." Previous festival participants included Christopher Nolan ("The Dark Night Trilogy") and  Oren Pelo ("Paranormal Activity") before they became mainstream names.   

Where: Park City, Utah

When: January 25-31, 2019

St. Louis International Film Festival

Want to catch some serious Oscar contenders before everyone else? Head to the St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF). In 2017, SLIFF screened 400 films from more than 60 countries including "Darkest Hour," "My Friend Dahmer," and Academy Award-winner "Call Me by Your Name." Get the full festival experience by attending SLIFF Master Class in topics like "20 Easy Ways to Ruin Your Great Indie Film" and "Directing an Indie Film." The festival even holds interactive events like "I Love Movie Trivia" night. 

Where: St. Louis, Missouri 

When: November 1-11, 2018

Nantucket Film Festival

While there are plenty of screenings to see, the Nantucket Film Festival is an exciting opportunity to learn all about film from the professionals themselves. The "In Their Shoes" event gives audiences an in-depth look at the work of well-known screenwriters and actors. The All-Star Comedy Roundtable—hosted by Ben Stiller—is an audience favorite that includes actors and comedians presenting a special improv show.

Where: Nantucket, Massachusetts 

When: June 19-24, 2019

Welcome to SXSW sign
Entrance to SXSW in Austin, Texas (©Brandon Carson/Flickr, Creative Commons)

SXSW Film Fest

As one of the largest festivals on the list, SXSW celebrates emerging talent in actors and filmmakers. The festival, which runs simultaneously with the SXSW Music and SXSW Interactive Festival. The film festival now showcases bigger, more commercial films but still aims to discover new independent talent.

Where: Austin, Texas

When: March 8-16, 2019

Big Sky Documentary Film Festival

The go-to documentary film festival in the Western United States is the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival (BSDFF). It draws almost 20,000 attendees each year and receives film submission from around the globe. In 2018, the festival was recognized by MovieMaker Magazine as one of the Top 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee. As a festival goer, BSDFF is also worth the trip. Patrons of the festival get to experience new, informative storytelling in the beautiful Northen Rockie mountains of Missoula.  

Where: Missoula, Montana

When: Feb. 15-24, 2019

DC Shorts Film Festival

Head to Washington D.C. to experience of the best short films in the industry. The DC Shorts Film Festival and Screenplay Competition has accolades including a "Coolest Short Film Festival" title from MovieMaker Magazine and a spot on USA Today's 10 Best Film Festivals list. The short films range from comedy and drama to sci-fi and animation.

Where: Washington D.C. 

When: September 6-17, 2018

Filmmaker outdoors
(©Yanapi Senaud/Unsplash)

NYC Independent Film Festival

Focused solely on indie films, the NYC Independent Film Festival offers panels, classes, seminars and discussion groups for both fans and filmmakers. The festival even presents audiences and movie makers with opportunities to network based on their shared passion for indie films.   

When: May 5-12, 2019 

Camden International Film Festival

The Camden International Film Festival (CIFF) takes place on the beautiful coasts of Maine each fall. Documentarians from around the world gather to push the boundaries of storytelling through short stories, virtual reality and immersive storytelling and feature-length films. CIFF is a pretty big deal in the documentary world, as it is an Academy Award-qualifying festival. The festival also includes CIFF After Dark, where filmmakers and installation artists get together each evening and dance until dawn. 

Where: Camden, Maine

When: September 13-18, 2018

HollyShorts Film Festival

Another Academy Award-qualifying festival, HollyShorts Film Festival (HSFF) showcases short films (40 minutes or less) in eight different categories including animation, live action, documentary, music video and commercial. In the past, the festival has screened shorts starring big names such as John Stamos, Salma Hayek and Ann Dowd. HSFF is the biggest short film festival in Hollywood, so it's one you don't want to miss.   

Where: Los Angeles

When: August 9-18, 2018

Beacon Theater, a Tribeca Film Festival venue
Beacon Theater, a Tribeca Film Festival venue (Courtesy Tribeca Film Festival)

Tribeca Film Festival

At the Tribeca Film Festival, audiences can expect the unexpected. In 2011 it became the first festival to premiere a video game; in 2012 the festival launched interactive storytelling to bring filmmaking into the digital age; in 2013 Tribeca introduced the #6SecFilm contest based around the phone app called "Vine." Another exciting feature from Tribeca includes "Cinema360," where independent filmmakers create immersive, spherical films in a 360-degree format. At this festival, you never know what you'll get. 

Where: New York City's Tribeca neighborhood 

When: Spring 2019

Chicago International Film Festival

The Chicago International Film Festival prides itself on presenting and screening the masters of cinema. The 12-day festival includes various competitions, panels, tributes to notable actors and special previews of the year's most anticipated films. In the U.S. Indies portion of the festival, low-budget features are highlighted for their fresh, raw experiences. 

When: October 10-21, 2018

Toronto International Film Festival

In 1976, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) started out as a collection of films for other festivals. It has since grown to be one of the biggest festivals in the world many films screened at TIFF including "Slumdog Millionaire," "12 Years a Slave," and "La La Land"—have won Academy Awards. 

When: September 6-16, 2018

New York Film Festival

The New York Film Festival presents audiences with the best of both worlds—fresh new talent and celebrity appearances. The festival also includes newly restored classic films, special events and panel discussions. 

When: September 28-October 15, 2018