Film festivals have been around almost as long as there have been movies, with the first major one being held in 1932 in Venice, Italy. Today, the Venice Film Festival is the longest running such festival and one of the world's most prestigious festivals overall, but there are film festivals worldwide, many of which are very well known.
The Venice Film Festival is held on Lido Island in late August or early September in one of the beautiful palazzos for which the city is famous. Award winners over the years include some of the greatest cinema stars, from Frederick March in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932) to Cate Blanchett in I'm Not There (2007). Best film winners have included Somewhere directed by Sofia Coppola in 2010 and Rashomon directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1951. As with all of the best international film festivals around the world, you should make you arrangements as far in advance as possible as hotels fill up quickly.
Among the thousands of film festivals that now occur around the world, there are a couple dozen very important and prestigious ones. Like the Venice Film Festival (pictured), many film fairs that are among the longest running continue to be among the world's most important. These include the Locarno Film Festival (Switzerland) and the Karlovy Vary (Czech Republic), both of which began in 1946, and the Edinburgh International Film Festival (Scotland), which began in 1947.
The Berlin Film Festival (Germany) was first held in 1951, and occurs during February. Somewhere around 500,000 attendees and over 4,000 journalists review more than 400 films from around the world. Adding to the importance and large attendance is the fact that the European Film Market, one of the world's three most important international film fairs and trade shows, is held in Berlin during the same period.
There are three film festivals that most people commonly view as the most prestigious. They are certainly the most famous. First is the celebrated Cannes Film Festival, held in May since 1954 in the glittering jet set city on the French Riviera. Films and filmmakers vie for the coveted Palm d'Or Prize, which has been won over the years by Frederico Fellini's La Dolce Vita, Robert Altman's MASH, Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, Jane Campion's The Piano, and Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.
Second on the list is the North American youngster, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), held in September in Ontario. First held in 1976, it spent some years being considered one of the best international film festivals during the autumn. Today, it is second only to Cannes in importance. There is no jury and no official competition. Its People's Choice Award is determined by the attendees' highest rating. Thus, the winners often, but not always, mirror the biggest box office hits and the Academy Awards. Toronto People's Choice and Oscar winners include Chariots of Fire (1981) and The King's Speech (2010).
Third on the list of best international film festivals is another North American youngster, the Sundance Film Festival. Begun in 1978 by actor Robert Redford's production company, it is held annually in January in Utah in venues in Park City, Salt Lake City, and Ogden. Since 1985, it has been managed by the Sundance Institute, which sponsors important film fairs and workshops for aspiring filmmakers and actors. Since Sundance is held in the heart of skiing country during the peak of the ski season, you will find that Utah vacation rentals and hotels are fully booked many months, if not years in advance.
More important North American film festivals include the Tribeca Film Festival, held in the trendy Manhattan neighborhood of New York City, the Seattle International Film Festival, and the Montreal World Film Festival. For the largest festival celebrating independent films, head to London England for the Raindance Film Festival. For educational and documentary film screenings, head to the Columbus International Film & Video Festival in Ohio. Austin, Texas boasts the SXSW (South by Southwest) Film Festival, which also sponsors one of the most important music festivals.