14 captivating film festivals in Europe you won’t want to miss
PUBLISHED: 13:14 13 April 2017 | UPDATED: 13:14 13 April 2017
It seems barely a month goes by without a European city celebrating cinema in a big way. We consider the essential film festivals for 2017
CANNES FILM FESTIVAL
Aka: The Big One
Easily the best-known film festival on the planet, this gargantuan, red-carpeted affair on the Cote d’Azur has long been an indispensable event for studios and film-makers around the world. Mainly due to its thriving market, where new movies are picked up for international distribution; its prestigious competition, where winning the coveted Palme d’Or can help make a film’s fortunes (see last year’s I, Daniel Blake, for example); and its lavish gala screenings, whereby big blockbusters can make a world premiere splash. This year marks Cannes’ 70th birthday, and its jury will be presided over by veteran Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar.
EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
21 June - 2 July
Aka: The Cool One
Edinburgh may have been running continually since 1947, but it’s in no way showing its age, and is still considered to be one of the coolest, most charming and relaxed European film festivals on the calendar. The setting – in the welcoming shadow of Edinburgh Castle – certainly doesn’t hurt, while its programming tends to favour smart American independents, with previous premieres including Frances Ha and Little Miss Sunshine. To give a good sense of its savvy personality, just look at some of the festival’s patrons: Tilda Swinton, Robert Carlyle, Karen Gillan and genius cinematographer Seamus McGarvey.
IL CINEMA RITROVATO
24 June - 1 July
Aka: The Retro One
Based in Bologna, Italy, this festival is organised by restoration lab L’Immagine Ritrovata, which delights in rejuvenating classic films and then exhibiting them during the last week in June. The highlight event is the outdoor screening programme at the Piazza Maggiore in the town’s centre, when the locals gather with festival attendees to discover a forgotten classic or two. Last year, for example, you could have headed there to catch Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, Marlon Brando Western One-Eyed Jacks, or Milos Forman’s 1989 Baroque Romance, Valmont.
KARLOVY VARY INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
30 June - 8 July
Aka: The Eastern One
This Czech Republic-based fest has been going since 1946 and is describes itself as being the “most prestigious” film festival “in Central and Eastern Europe”. Nestled amid lush mountains, there’s no denying it’s an impressive locale in which to watch the 200-odd films it pulls in from around the world, and it’s a good place to make cinematic discoveries, too: it insists that the films it shows in its main competition should not have been seen at any previous film festival.
LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Aka: The Fresh-Air One
The huge, loudly beating heart of the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland is its open-air screening area at the vast Piazza Grande. With room for around 8,000 audience members and a 26 by 14 metre screen, it’s one of the world’s largest outdoor cinemas — and arguably the best open-air movie-watching experience you can get. And the audience doesn’t just watch the likes of Jason Bourne or The Girl With All The Gifts (two of last year’s offerings); it also forms the world’s biggest jury, getting to vote for its favourite Piazza movie, with the winner receiving the Prix du Public UBS, or Audience Award.
Aka: The Scary One
If you head to London’s Leicester Square during August bank holiday weekend, chances are you’ll hear screaming. But in a good way. Organised by a small gang of truly devoted horror fans, and based this year at the Cineworld Leicester Square, it’s the ideal place to discover what’s new, what’s weird, what’s disturbing and what’s just downright jump-out-of-your-seat fun in the horror genre. There’s also no festival with better film titles. Some colourful samples from FrightFest 2016: Ibiza Undead, Attack Of The Lederhosen Zombies, The Unkindness Of Ravens...
VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
30 August - 9 September
Aka: The Prestigious One
Though it wasn’t able to happen every year of its long, august history, the cinematic strand of cultural institution the Biennale di Venezia can lay claim to being the oldest film festival in the world, having been founded in 1932. And it is still one of the biggest – one of the ‘Big Three’, in fact, alongside Cannes (see above) and Berlin (which happens in January). Located on the island of the Lido, it’s hardly a chore to schlep around, and it’s always a good place to get a sense of what the big Oscar movies are going to be. It’s opening night movie last year, for example, was La La Land.
DEAUVILLE AMERICAN FILM FESTIVAL
Aka: The Americophile One
Every year since 1995, northern French seaside resort Deauville has celebrated American cinema in a big way – although its taste tends towards the smarter, more inventive output of independent cinema than the brash, loud world of the blockbuster. Last year, for example, the winner of its Grand Prix was Ira Sachs’ Little Men, while previous awardees include Whiplash, The Visitor and Being John Malkovich. It makes sense when you consider the festival’s mission statement: to “show films that only a few privileged people had discovered in New York or Los Angeles, to French audiences, without exclusion, barriers or bias.”
OLDENBURG INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Aka: The Edgy One
Located in a gorgeous medieval German town, this 18-year-old festival prides itself on being non-competitive, giving it what it describes as an “open minded approach” to its programming. Which essentially means it’s a five-day celebration of independent cinema. Over the years, it’s screened movies like Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight, Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, and David Cronenberg’s Spider. Also, strangely, one of its screening venues is a prison, where you can watch movies alongside the inmates.
SAN SEBASTIÁN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Aka: The Punchy One
Founded in 1953, it took only two years for San Sebastián’s organisers to decide they should broaden its remit from being a Spanish-language-only film festival. Ever since, it’s been making similarly smart decisions, hosting the international premiere of Alfred Hitchcock’s dizzying masterpiece Vertigo in 1958, and the European premiere of Star Wars in 1977. Indeed, it now sees its main role as being “to serve as a showcase for each year’s most disquieting and innovative films”. And on an organisational budget which is reportedly far smaller than that of the other big Euro film fests, too. Helped by being based in an area matched only by Paris for having the highest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants, it certainly hits above its weight.
REYKJAVIK INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
28 September - 8 October
Aka: The Youthful One
Founded relatively recently — in 2004 — it’s not just that the Reykjavik festival is itself a new contender. In order to mark itself out from the Cannes and Berlins of the world, its organisers decided that its big prize (the Golden Puffin) could only ever go to directors bringing their first or second movies. Which has made this chilly Icelandic event a target for hot new talent the world over. “Our aim,” festival director Hrönn Marinósdóttir told The Guardian in 2011, “is to present the new generation of directors.”
BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL
Aka: The ‘Greatest Hits’ One
Launched in 1953 as England’s answer to Edinburgh, Cannes et al, the London Film Festival was intended to be a “festival of festivals” – showcasing the best that had been seen at other film fests for the benefit of Londoners who wouldn’t usually get a chance to see such a diverse range of movies. To a large degree, this remains the case: if it hit big on the Croissette or the Lido, you’ll likely find it in one of the Leicester Square cinemas come October. But the LFF also inventively splits its programming according to themes. Last year, for example, you had the Love, Laugh, Thrill, Cult and Debate strands.
TRIESTE INTERNATIONAL SCIENCE+FICTION FILM FESTIVAL
Early November (dates tbc)
Aka: The Cosmic One
If you enjoy exploring strange new worlds, then you might want to consider heading to north-east Italy this November. Because this is where you’ll find a festival which describes itself as committed to bringing “a feeling of the fantastic” to this picturesque port, while also highlighting “the experimental languages and new technologies” of visual entertainment. And it’s not just all Star Trek and Star Wars; you really do find the smartest sci-fi here, with previous winners of its big award (the Asteroide), including Gareth Edward’s Monsters and Nacho Vigalondo’s Timecrimes. A great place to geek out.
GIJON INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Aka: The One For Kids
Originally established in 1963 as the ‘International Children’s Cinema And TV Contest’, this northern Spanish festival isn’t so explicitly child-focused these days, but it still places the emphasis on younger viewers with a section entitled Les Enfants Terribles and a “Young Jury” which is made up of 17 to 26 year olds. Not that it leaves out the oldies; the likes of Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader and American indie heroes Todd Solondz and Todd Haynes have attended in previous years.