Film festivals are overflowing treasure troves showcasing the good, the bad and sometimes the ugly sides of the world's favourite type of media and every year hundreds of film festivals are staged around the world as directors, producers, actors and animators converge on the events to celebrate their craft. Every film festival in the world bar none also aims to offer up the very best experience which film can possibly give and seeing audience gasping in amazement, moved to tears or shocked to the core in front of a big screen before an unknown film even hits cinema screens is just a small taste of the magic which these global events can conjure. The Cannes Film Festival and the Berlin Film Festival are both world-famous occasions in their own right, but other film festivals around the globe are equally special and can mean the discovery and worldwide exposure of a diamond hidden in the rough made by an independent filmmaker or an Asian director's work gaining an audience in Europe, North America and beyond and vice-versa for Western filmmakers. Film festivals are just as vital for the movie industry as the Oscars, the BAFTAs, the Golden Globes or any other glitzy award ceremony and from Toronto to Tokyo we check out six of the most prestigious and storied film festivals on the planet.
Every January, Park City in northern Utah stages the largest independent film festival in the United States. The Sundance Festival is one of the most famous film festivals in the world and attracts between forty and fifty thousand attendees annually. Utah is world famous for its stunning landscapes which have appeared in thousands of movies and films and the idea behind Sundance, which began as the Utah/US Film Festival in 1978, was to attract more American filmmakers to the state. The first edition of the festival featured screenings of the some of the most successful films ever made, including Midnight Cowboy, A Streetcar Named Desire and Mean Streets and with legendary actor Robert Redford acting as chairman of the festival since its inception, the event's popularity, prestige and fame has skyrocketed.
In 1991, the festival's name was officially changed to that of Redford's character in 1969's iconic western 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' and in recent years the festival has spread its wings overseas to Europe and Asia, with Sundance Film Festivals also taking place in London since 2012 and in Hong Kong since 2016. Award categories include World Cinema, US Documentary and Short Film and 2017's Sundance Film Festival also saw the inaugural 'New Climate' programme devoted to films focusing on the environment and climate change. One of the films selected for the New Climate programme, 'Chasing Coral', a documentary following a team of divers and scientists on an ocean adventure to solve the mystery of why the world's coral reefs are rapidly shrinking, also won a Sundance Audience Award in the US Documentary category.
Attracting nearly 500,000 people each year, Toronto International Film Festival is one of the most well-attended film festivals in the world. Held every September at the a cultural centre known as the TIFF Bell Lightbox, the festival dates back to 1976 when it began as the 'Toronto Festival of Festivals', a screening event for films considered to be the cream of the world's other film festivals. Today, the event has become one of the most popular of its kind on the planet and journalists and movie critics have even described Toronto's annual film extravaganza as second only to the Cannes Film Festival in terms of profile, influence, prestige and star-power, attracting A-list directors, actors and producers from around the world every year.
TIFF Lightbox, the venue which hosts Toronto's famous film festival every September, is also open year-round as a centre for film and cinema offering screenings, lectures and film workshops as well as publicly-attended forums and Q&A sessions with famous actors and filmmakers. In addition, the TIFF Lightbox also features interactive exhibitions focusing on the work and careers of some of cinema's best-known directors, such as Stanley Kubrick, Tim Burton and Canada's own David Cronenberg. The Toronto Film Festival is also famous for the Grolsch People's Choice Award, which is voted for by the movie-going public attending the event and notable winners of the increasingly recognised award include 2012's 'Silver Linings Playbook', 2013's 'Twelve Years a Slave' and 2014's 'The Imitation Game'.
Also known as Mostra Internacional de São Paulo, or simply 'Mostra', São Paulo International Film Festival is arguably Latin America's premier annual cinematic event. The festival is usually held from the end of October through until the beginning of November every year as theatres, cultural centres and museums across São Paulo screen up to 400 films every year and is also widely regarded as one of the most influential factors in Brazil's filmmakers gaining recognition on the global stage. The list of notable regular attendees at the annual event reads like a who's-who of Brazilian cinema, including Fernando Meirelles, director of 2002's internationally acclaimed crime epic 'City of God', as well as foreign stars such as Quentin Tarantino and Alan Parker. Image Credit: SPIFF (Wikimedia Commons)
São Paulo's International Film Festival also has a more tumultuous history than most other events of its kind around the world as its first eight editions until 1984 were held in the city during Brazil's military dictatorship. In the late seventies and early eighties, the event became the focus of two Brazilian dictators, Ernesto Geisel and later João Figueiredo, who imposed heavy censorship on films they considered to be subversive and anti-regime as well as on many foreign films. Today, São Paulo International Film Festival is also a particular favourite among Brazil's filmmakers, many of whom believe that without the festival many Brazilians would be unfamiliar with their work due to the country's movie market being increasingly dominated by American films. Image Credit: ChinaDaily
Standing alongside Cannes and Berlin film festivals as one of the 'Big Three', Venice International Film Festival is one of the most prestigious annual cinematic events anywhere in the world. The film festival is the oldest in the world, dating all the way back to 1932 when Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was the first film ever to be screened at the event which was held on the terrace of Lido island's Hotel Excelsior. After World War II, the film festival resumed in earnest in 1946 and in the following year, arguably its most famous edition took place within the Gothic palace walls of Venice's Palazzo Ducale. Today, Venice's globally renowned annual film festival is still held on Lido at the Palazzo del Cinema. Image Credit: Nicolas Genin (Flickr)
The prizes awarded at the Venice Film Festival are some of the cinema industry's most prestigious and recognisable. Winning cinematographers, screenwriters and film crews receive the Golden Osella, while winning film directors receive the Leone d'Argento, or 'Silver Lion'. The best film screened at the festival, however, receives the highly sought after Leone d'Oro, or 'Golden Lion', a statue modelled on the lion appearing on the Venetian flag. The festival is also well known for featuring some of most emotive and hard-hitting films ever made and in 2011, the awards for best young actor and actress went to Shōta Sometani and Fumi Nikaidō for their roles in 'Himuzu', a dystopian drama set in the aftermath of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, which decimated eastern Japan earlier that year.
Hong Kong's International Film Festival has been held every spring in China's island city since 1977. The event is the oldest film festival in the whole of Asia and regularly screens up to 300 films from nearly 60 different nations every year. A total of eleven venues across Hong Kong see film screenings during the festival, with one of the principle venues being Hong Kong's Cultural Centre, in Tsim Sha Tsui on the southern tip of Kowloon. Hong Kong's Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, just across Victoria Harbour from the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui, is another of the fourteen screening venues used for the Hong Kong International Film Festival.
The event is considered one of the premier stages on which Hong Kong, Chinese and Asian filmmakers can introduce their work to the rest of the world and vice-versa. One of the best known examples of this intercultural exchange at Hong Kong's film festival came in 2016, when Cheang Pou-soi's fantasy epic, 'The Monkey King 2', based on sixteenth century Chinese literary classic 'Journey to the West', in which a young monk sets off on a quest to find ancient Buddhist scriptures. Critically acclaimed in Asia and the West, an American journalist for the The Hollywood Reporter called it a 'rip-roaring fantasy adventure with strong visuals and gravity-defying action.'
Tokyo International Film Festival, or Tōkyōkokusaieigasai, is held every October at the Roppongi Hills' X-THEATER, in the Japanese capital's Minato ward. Dating back to 1985, the event is now one of the most important dates on the Tokyo cultural calendar. In addition to the standard awards for best picture, best director and best performer, one of the most coveted prizes at Tokyo's film festival is the Samurai Award, reserved for filmmakers who have continued to direct groundbreaking pieces of cinema over a sustained period of time. Notable recipients of the Samurai Award since its creation in 2013 include Japanese directors Yoji Yamada and Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Hong Kong director John Woo and the legendary Martin Scorcese.
In 2016, a staggering 1409 films were submitted for review and the event is renowned as being one of the world's most cosmopolitan film festivals, with pictures from as far away as Germany, Mexico, Spain and Kazakhstan receiving the Tokyo Sakura Grand Prix, the festival's most prestigious award. One of the more memorable moments of any edition of the Tokyo International Film Festival took place in 2016 with the presentation of the Arigatō, or 'Thank You', Award which honours outstanding contributions to Japanese cinema. As expcted, 2016's ''Kaijū' monster movie 'Shin Godzilla', was immensely popular and having played the starring role in 29 monster movies released by the iconic Toho film company since 1954, Godzilla himself took to the stage in animatronic form to collect his award alongside movie producer Akihiro Yamaguchi.