Avoid Hollywood at These 9 Underrated Film Festivals Across America


There's nothing quite like the excitement buzzing around a film festival. From the movies to the celebrity panels, guests are among the few who get to check out feature-length flicks before anyone else. Now, we all know about the big guns, like Cannes and the Toronto Film Festival, but there are fantastic choices all across America that you might be missing out on. These 9 events represent the tip of the artistic iceberg, each offering something new and exciting that you shouldn't discount. Plus, big name celebs show up at these too and some are even on the advisory board. (Hint: his name rhymes with Heathen Fawke.) Photo Courtesy of Marfalite Studios
Marfa Film Festival, Texas Founded in 2007, the very first Marfa Film Festival was in 2008 and has drawn in such alumni as Dennis Hopper, Heath Ledger, Lou Reed, and Larry McMurty. With a mixture of features, shorts, music videos, and experimental works, this fest doesn't choose winners, instead celebrating innovation and excellence through fostering a social space where veterans and newcomers can mingle. Plus, it holds open air screenings where nothing but prairie land stretches out to the west. Some people even seen unexplained lights on the outskirts of town.

Its 2013 festival ran June 26-30 and screened films like Ain't Them Body Saints and Blackfish, but they'll be back in 2014. Photo Credit: Ana Grillo | SFI LGBT Film Fest.
San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, San Francisco The Frameline37 San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival runs June 20-30 at four different venues around the city, including the Castro Theatre and the Roxie Theater. As the biggest and oldest LGBT film festival around, this is definitely the place to go for groundbreaking documentaries, features, short films and old classics. Striving to change the world through queer cinema, this festival may not be the most underrated in the world, but it certainly isn't as big as it should be. Photo Credit: Julia Kozyreva | Slamdance
Slamdance, Utah Slamdance: Anarchy in Utah was born when a group of subversive filmmakers weren't accepted into Sundance. Instead of accepting the rejection, they decided to create their own event in 1995 to rally around innovative filmmakers who don't adhere to cinematic assumptions. Occurring every January in Park City (at the same exact time Sundance does), Slamdance offers people a "more authentic representation of independent filmmaking." The event has become known to premiere films by first-time writers and directors working with limited budgets, many of which becoming big household names. The fest takes credit for discovering Christopher Nolan (Memento and the recent Batman trilogy), Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite), Lena Dunham (Girls), Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace), and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild).

They are currently accepting submissions for 2014. Photo Courtesy of Zero Film Festival
Zero Film Festival, New York-Based As the first and only festival that is exclusive to self-financed filmmakers, the Zero Film Festival is a not-for-profit organization that rejects Hollywood marketing campaigns. A lot of indie film festivals nowadays screen financed films, which aren't the kind of indie features ZFF wants to give attention to, instead creating a community in which authentically independent filmmakers can get some attention. They also move around, holding events in New York, Los Angeles, London and Toronto. Photo Courtesy of TromaDance Film Festival
TromaDance Film Festival, New Jersey The organizers of this event believe films are for the public and make them as accessible as possible. What does that mean? Unlike other festivals, TromaDance doesn't charge filmmakers to submit their movies, nor do they charge fans to see them. They don't give any preferential treatment to anyone so if a celeb decides to stop by, you can bet that person will be mingling with you and your buddies. The flicks you'll catch here will be far from the Hollywood hits killing at the box office, but that doesn't mean you won't be seeing something amazing. The selections chosen reflect filmmaking at its core, full of passion, dedication and (hopefully) tons of talent. Photo Courtesy of Pacific Arts
San Diego Asian Film Festival, San Diego Put on by the Pacific Arts Movement, the San Diego Asian Film Festival is the largest showcase of Asian cinema in the West Coast, covering all genres of Asian cinema — from unique styles of the Philippines and Thailand to neat perspectives from Bollywood and Iran. Put on every fall, the event features screenings, workshops and speaker series, as well as trendy after-parties and social mixers all over the city. Having expanding their reach to venues all over San Diego (including North Park, Mission Valley, and La Jolla), SDAFF is prepping for this year's event, which runs November 7-16. Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Film Festival
Traverse City Film Festival, Michigan Founded by Michael Moore, the Traverse City Film Festival is a six-day charitable non-profit organization that has grown into one of the biggest film fests in the Midwest. TCFF specializes in foreign films, American independents, documentaries, and movies previously overlooked that deserve the spotlight. Classic movies are also screened for free on a large outdoor screen that overlooks Grand Traverse Bay in the Open Space Park. Panels with directors, writers and actors are on offer daily and a film school even runs during the festival, offering two classes a day for anyone interested. Photo Courtesy of Woodstock Film Festival
Woodstock Film Festival, New York Founded in 2000, the Woodstock Film Festival has gained a reputation for showing an innovative variety of films, putting on concerts and celebrity-led panels, and for hosting great parties. Famous names like Matt Damon, Steve Buscemi, Daniel Day-Lewis, Uma Thurman, Liev Schreiber, and Lucy Liu are just some of the few who have participated in the October festival (Ethan Hawke and Liev Schreiber are even on the advisory board). Sure, this festival may not be an unknown to those living within two hours of Woodstock, but those elsewhere may not yet know about all it has to offer.

The 2013 festival takes place October 2-6, so you still have time to grab some tickets. Photo Courtesy of Women's International Film/Arts Fest.
Women's International Film & Arts Festival, Miami Beginning in 2005, the Women's International Film & Arts Festival is a cultural event that celebrates the artistic expression of women in a variety of artistic areas, from film to performing arts. As one of only two festivals of its kind in the Southeastern United States, WIFF is held annually during Women's History month (that's March, in case you didn't know) and invites an open dialogue about issues concerning women through arts. Considering women make up a small percentage of the film industry (with only around seven percent as directors), this is an important event that attracts people from all over the world.