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Seven Under-the-Radar Film Festivals To Catch in 2017

The film festival market is ripe with glamorous travel destinations offering a behind-the-scenes look at the movie industry. In January the spotlight shifts to Park City, Utah, where countless XOJET flights are descending for their annual pilgrimage to the Sundance Film Festival.

It’s the first major date on the annual movie calendar—and certainly one of its most anticipated—but as savvy cinephiles know, it’s far from the only destination worth a layover during an action-packed year in cinema.

Below are some of our other favorite film festivals of the upcoming year, flying more under-the-radar than Sundance but offering the same blend of Oscar contenders, up-and-coming directors, and indie-films-turned-mainstream-hits.

Amy Smart Carter Oosterhouse Ct Mark Davis Getty Images At The Sun Valley Film Festival In Sun Valley, Idaho

Photo: Sun Valley Film Festival

Idaho’s Sun Valley Film Festival (accessible by Friedman Memorial Airport, 25 min away) is held at the perfect season-changing time of mid-March in a sleepy town that has long been a weekend retreat for Hollywood A-listers. It has panels and film labs for aspiring auteurs as well as its signature event series, Coffee Talks, where insiders like Oliver Stone and producer Chris Moore come to swap war stories.

The Bentonville Film Festival (accessible by Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, 25 minutes away) not only brings you to a growing tourist destination known for attractions like the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the 21C museum-hotel complex (where its in-house restaurant boasts a James Beard semifinalist chef), but the Arkansas town’s eponymous event also makes a point in championing women and diversity in film. (This makes sense when you learn that it was co-founded in 2015 by actress and activist Geena Davis, who also founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media).

Man Speaking at the American Documentary Film Festival in Palm Springs, CA

Photo: American Documentary Film Festival

The Palm Springs International Film Festival (accessible by Palm Springs International Airport, 5 minutes away)—which is held in January and includes a $3,000-per-person pass that grants access to both the opening and closing night galas—continues to be a necessary stop for talent vying for award-season recognition. But the vacation destination is also home to the festival’s sister event, the Palm Springs International Shortfest, which focuses on short films and runs in July, as well as the American Documentary Film Festival, which runs in the spring. And Banff, Nantucket, Seattle, and the Hamptons also have similarly hot film festivals.

For the true cinephile, there are also events like Roger Ebert’s Film Festival (accessible by Willard Airport, 15 minutes away). A legacy of the late film critic Roger Ebert, it runs each spring in Champaign, Ill. (Ebert was born in the adjacent town of Urbana, Ill. and went to the University of Illinois in Champaign). It concentrates on films thought to be overlooked by audiences and always includes a viewing of a silent film accompanied by a live orchestra.

The Traverse City Film Festival (accessible by Cherry Capital Airport, 15 minutes away), which was co-founded by famous Michigander filmmaker Michael Moore with the purpose of helping to “save one of America’s few indigenous art forms — the cinema,” shows both new and classic films. It takes advantage of its summer time slot to show movies under the stars, on boats, and, if you must, inside a theater. There’s also a film school workshop, panels, and many, many after-parties.

Crowd At Traverse City Film Festival in Traverse City, Michigan

Photo: Traverse City Film Festival

Despite the magnitude of film festivals available to the public, there will be at least one less next year. The Minneapolis, Minn.-based Internet Cat Video Festival, where you could see the latest feline footage before it hit your Facebook feed, has ended its run. A cat-astrophe.


By Whitney Friedlander

Whitney Friedlander is a seasoned entertainment and lifestyle journalist based in Los Angeles. She has covered the Oscars, Emmy Awards and other award shows and has written feature stories on trends in TV, fashion and pop culture for outlets such as Los Angeles Times, Variety, New York magazine’s Vulture, and Toronto Star.