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  • Writer's pictureSophie Black

Top Film Festival Recommendations (Part 2 - Genre Festivals)

Updated: Feb 26


[Featured image: Etheria Film Festival, who champion female voices. Photo by Caroline Rose Newman.]


After a comparatively quiet start to the year, my workload is steadily growing as fast as the plants are springing up in my cottage garden, and I've had some very exciting weeks recently. So I owe you all a proper update soon, but for now, I thought I'd finally take the time to share the long-promised second part of my list of recommended film festivals.


For this list, I'm sharing a few recommendations for festivals that focus solely on genre - specifically Sci-Fi, Fantasy, or Horror. These are festivals where your film will find its home among a similar line-up of shorts, reaching an audience who is definitely eager to devour your specific brand of content, and you'll be able to network with like-minded filmmakers.


That's not to say that, if you have a genre-based short film, you shouldn't submit to more 'general' festivals as well. For example, Beeston Film Festival and London Short Film Festival, which I recommended in my previous blog post, host fantastic horror nights, and Leeds International Film Festival - which is OSCAR qualifying - has a dedicated 'Fantastic Shorts' category, so you should definitely consider submitting to those three. But when you submit to a festival with a genre focus, they have more room for films like yours, rather than having to narrow down their selections to a single screening block, so you might have more chance of being accepted as a result.


If you want more advice about submitting to genre-based festivals, including a few dos-and-don'ts, I recommend you check out this post on my old blog, where I analysed the festival runs of my films Songbird, Lepidopterist, and Growing Shadows.


As with part one of this two-part blog post, below is a list of festivals I have some knowledge about and can personally recommend, mostly because my work has been shown there, or I've attended as a member of the audience. I'm sure there are lots of other great genre-based festivals out there, so if I've missed one off the list that you think is worth shouting about, please let everyone know via the comments box at the bottom of the page.


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[Above: Live music accompanying a screening at Another Hole in the Head Film Festival. Photographer unknown.]

Another Hole in the Head Film Festival

San Francisco, USA

This festival was recommended to me by Katie Bignall from Festival Formula, way back when she created the festival strategy for my film Songbird. We sadly weren't accepted, but I still wanted to recommend this festival to you all, not only because of its cool and quirky branding, but because it was rated among the world's 50 Best Genre Festivals by MovieMaker Magazine in 2021, and it's also one of the top 100 best reviewed festivals on Film Freeway.


Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival

Buffalo, New York, USA

Another recommendation from Katie Bignall, Buffalo Dreams was one of the first festivals to screen Songbird, and I was very impressed by their communication. The festival takes place in a wonderfully retro cinema called the Dipson Amherst Theatre, and they have a range of awards available.


Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival

San Diego, USA

Everyone's heard of San Diego Comic-Con, but not everyone knows that they host a film festival - and what better place to screen geeky or genre-based work? If you're lucky enough to screen there, it also gives you a fantastic excuse to attend the biggest Comic-Con in the world. This festival was recommended to me by my frequent collaborator, the screenwriter Tommy Draper, whose short film Pro Kopf won Best Thriller/Suspense when it screened there in 2013.



[Above: Just one of Court Métrange's many beautiful festival posters.]

Court Métrange

Rennes, France

This is a festival I've been trying to screen at ever since the early days of my career, when I submitted one of my first short films, Ashes. It wasn't accepted, but that doesn't stop me from recommending this cool festival to you all. I don't hear people shouting about it very often, and you can't submit to it via Film Freeway (you have to use an older-style platform called Fest Home), but all that just adds to the enigma. The festival poster is always worth seeing, too - some of them have been works of art!



Etheria Film Festival

Los Angeles, USA

As a festival, Etheria is doubly niche: not only are they a genre-focused festival, but they also only accept films directed by women. They've made it onto numerous top festival lists by FilmFreeway, MovieMaker, and Dread Central, and in 2024 some of the films they selected were even screened on SHUDDER TV! From my perspective, I'm recommending them because they were completely lovely to chat to when I submitted Songbird, which was a finalist for their festival.


[Above: Fantasia is one of the biggest genre festivals around. Photo by Vincent Frechette.]

Fantasia Film Festival

Montreal, Canada

I've submitted every genre film I've ever directed or produced to this festival, and none of them have ever got in, but that won't stop me from recommending Fantasia to you. It's one of those festivals that every genre filmmaker needs to know, and they have a wide definition of what 'genre' can mean. Big names such as Guillermo del Toro and Edgar Wright have been in attendance in previous years, and filmmakers who are lucky enough to win an award at the festival will receive a trophy in the shape of a Pegasus. Who doesn't want that?!



Fantastic Fest

Austin, Texas, USA

This is another festival I've included on this list because it's a place every genre-lover should be aware of, even though - once again - I sadly haven't had a film accepted by them (yet!). Fantastic Fest is the largest genre film festival in the USA, and they've previously premiered such films as Frankenweenie, Machete Kills, and Zombieland. Notable filmmakers who have attended in the past include Julia Ducournau, Lilly and Lana Wachowski, Bong Joon-Ho, George Romero, Darren Aronofsky, M. Night Shyamalan, and many more.



Fargo Fantastic Film Festival

North Dakota, USA

I have a special fondness for Fargo Fantastic Film Festival because it was the first genre-specific festival to accept my work, when it screened Stop/Eject (which I produced) in 2015. It also screened Songbird a few years later. So I've been quick to recommend this festival to others, not only because they've been good to me and my work, but because the submission fees are very reasonable, and the festival screens their films in the gorgeous Fargo Theatre in North Dakota.


[Above: Filmmakers talk after a screening at the brilliant FilmQuest. Photo by Jerry Sampson.]

FilmQuest

Utah, USA

FilmQuest isn't just one of the best genre festivals out there - it's one of the best festivals, period. It's a festival that has to be experienced to be believed, as they host fantastic talks alongside the screenings (Doug Jones was a guest last year), as well as costume competitions, and they even arrange for their filmmakers to receive portrait photography in cool settings (and while still in costume!). Mine and Tommy Draper's screenplay for the short version of The Barn was a finalist in their screenplay competition in 2020, and I know other filmmakers who have attended and enjoyed this festival. One caveat: you need to attend the festival in order to be given your winner's trophy, but as their trophies are shaped like giant bronze Cthulus, it's definitely worth it!!


GeekFest Film Fest

Various Venues, USA

   I have numerous reasons to recommend GeekFest. The festival takes place within Comic-Cons (plural, as they are a travelling festival), so not only do you get your film shown in front of a geeky target audience, but you actually get multiple screenings for your submission fee. GeekFest accepted Growing Shadows in 2020 - it's the perfect festival for fan films - and although the pandemic cut short the amount of screenings they could offer, the festival looked for online alternatives and hosted video Q&As to make sure we reached as many people as possible.



Imagine Film Festival

Amsterdam, Netherlands

When a festival has been running for 40 years, you know that they must be doing something right, and Imagine is said to be 'THE festival for fantastic film in the Netherlands'. Again, this is a festival which hasn't screened my work, but it's been on my radar for a long time due to its solid reputation. Interestingly, as well as the 'standard' genre categories like fantasy, science fiction and horror, they also accept anime, martial arts, and cult films!



[Above: Mayhem Film Festival is the pride and joy of Nottingham. Photographer unknown.]

Mayhem Film Festival

Nottingham, UK

How fantastic it is to include a local festival on this list! That's reason alone to recommend it, but I also have to say how much fun this festival is to attend. It's an absolute staple in the local film calendar, and I know a few filmmakers who attend every year, sometimes for days on end. The event is hosted by the funky-but-comfy Broadway Cinema, and I have a great memory of watching a Zombie Christmas Musical (you read that right) at this festival a few years back.



Monster Fest

Melbourne, Australia

There seems to be something about genre festivals and cool trophies, as Monster Fest is yet another festival on this list which offers memorable awards. Not only do the best films win a trophy in the shape of a yeti-like monster, but in 2018 they also gave a poo-shaped trophy to the person who came last in their John Carpenter quiz!! MonsterFest is Australia's biggest genre festival, and they also host panels and masterclasses throughout the event.




[Above: The filmmaker panel after the 'Lepidopterist' screening at Paracinema. Photo supplied by Andrew Rutter.]

Paracinema

Derby, UK

Another local festival, Paracinema is the genre arm of Derby Film Festival, and as such it takes place inside Derby QUAD, which is one of my favourite cinemas. As well as hosting local and international short films (my films Songbird and Lepidopterist have both screened there), they also show cult feature films, and in the past have held talks with the likes of John Hurt and Brian Blessed. Their programming is so eclectic that last year they even had a pop-up puppet cinema, performing Jaws! The festival's branding is also cool AF.



SCI-FI-LONDON Film Festival

London, UK

Widely seen as being the biggest Sci-Fi-specific festival in the world, SCI-FI-LONDON has a high standard for quality work, so don't expect to see bad CGI here! The festival has received high praise from the BBC, Film London, and Sight&Sound magazine, and has previously hosted filmmakers such as Ken Russell, John Landis, Joe Dante, Guillermo Del Toro, and Michel Gondry. The festival also founded the well-known SCI-FI-LONDON 48hr Film Challenge, which is how my team and I got to make Lepidopterist.


[Above: Sitges is the Cannes of the genre world. Photographer unknown.]

Sitges

Catalonia, Spain

So no, I haven't had a film shown at Sitges - because of course I haven't. It's probably the biggest genre festival in the world, and if you haven't heard of it before, I really recommend you get acquainted. This festival screened the early work of legendary filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, David Cronenberg, Dario Argento, George A. Romero, David Lynch, and my hero Peter Jackson, and today it still gets all the big genre premieres from filmmakers such as Edgar Wright, Phil Tippet, Yorgos Lanthimos, Prano Bailey-Bond, Ti West, Luca Gaudagnino, David Lowery, and various A24 offerings. If you love genre, this is the festival of dreams.


Something Wicked Film Festival / Something Wicked FanFest

Georgia, USA

From the biggest genre festival in the world, to one that's comparatively small, but has a big heart. Something Wicked Film Festival (perfect name!), screened both Songbird and Growing Shadows; the festival programmers then informed us that they also run a fan film festival, Something Wicked FanFest, and so we got to screen Growing Shadows again! The festival team also organised Zoom interviews with the selected filmmakers, to host on their website, and I always appreciate publicity like that.


[Above: A screening at Toronto After Dark. Photo by Sam Javanrouh.]

Toronto After Dark

Ontario, Canada

So everyone's heard of Toronto Film Festival, and I'm sure that festival will already be on your wishlist. But what about its darker, horror-loving cousin? I will admit that, yet again, this is a festival none of my films have been accepted into - but I try every time! Toronto After Dark comes highly recommended not just by me, but by Fangoria Magazine, MovieMaker Magazine, and the werewolf master himself, John Landis.



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HONOURABLE MENTIONS


If you've made a fan film, like I did with Growing Shadows, I recommend you check out MystiCon and The Azure Lorica Fan Film Awards, both of which accepted my film and are very supportive of this niche genre.


Dreamers of Dreams is the genre-focused branch of New Renaissance Film Festival, which I recommended in my previous blog post - I don't know Dreamers of Dreams myself, but if it's anything like its sister festival, I'm sure it's worth the submission fee. And Colorado's International SciFi & Fantasy Film Festival have supported my work in the past - they accepted both Songbird and Lepidoperist - and they're very generous with the amount of awards they hand out, which is always a plus, but I don't think they actually host physical screenings.


If you're looking for something really niche, The Philip K Dick Science Fiction and Supernatural Festival look for 'moody, strange, cerebral' films which have a similar feeling to the work of the visionary author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep - and that brief is very much up to interpretation (this is another festival which accepted mine and Tommy's screenplay for the short version of The Barn into their screenwriting competition).


Other filmmakers I know would recommend Abertoir Horror Festival in Wales, Boston SciFi Film Fest, Haapsalu Horror and Fantasy Film Festival in Estonia, Festival Du Film Merveilleux & Imaginaire in France, Lund Fantastic Film Festival in Sweden, Other Worlds Film Festival in Austin Texas, Fantasy FilmFest in Germany, Juggernaut Sci-Fi & Fantasy Film Festival in Chicago, Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Film Festival in Seattle, Vortex Sci-Fi Fantasy and Horror Film Festival (a branch of the renowned Flickers Rhode Island Film Festival) in Rhode Island, Luna Plina (Full Moon) Horror & Fantasy Film Festival in Romania, and Nevermore Film Festival in Durham USA - so these might all be worth submitting to as well, but I don't know enough about them to recommend them personally.


I was going to recommend a festival called Fantasy/Sci-Fi Film & Screenplay Festival (based in Canada) to you all, as they not only accepted Songbird but also supplied a handy audience feedback video after the screening - however, they've now re-branded as WILDSound Film Festival, so I'm not sure if they're classed as being a genre-specific festival anymore. They do still have a strong focus on feedback, so might be worth looking into anyway.


Finally, in these crazy post-pandemic times, Here Be Dragons Film Festival, The Droids & Dragons Sci-Fi and Fantasy Film Festival in Canada, and the Lucid Dream Festival in Italy, all seem to have closed their doors for good (but I hope I'll be proven wrong about that).


And one last thing to note: did you know that there is a sort of OSCARS for genre films? That's right - if you make a genre film that's of a high enough quality, and is seen by the right people, you might even be lucky enough to win a Saturn Award from The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Film in the USA. Recent winners include Everything Everywhere All At Once, Talk To Me, and The Invisible Man. Just something else to bear in mind when planning your festival run!

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