Full house at Fletcher Hall for the Opening Night Film,

Film festivals are to directors what higher education is to high school graduates: either a launchpad for success, or a hangover with a helluva price tag. Best fest lists are all over the interwebs, but lists of festivals that cover your costs are harder to find, and for good reason. Which fests treat filmmakers right, on and off the carpet? Read on for the definitive unscientific list.

Bahamas International Film Festival Red CarpetMost fests, if they cover filmmakers’ travel and accommodation costs at all, pick and choose who to treat based on celebrity, genre, the yearly budget, and other fickle concerns. Which are the fests that keep it real and front the travel costs for all directors?  Check out the list below, compiled from two years' worth of late night conversations with directors (as I navigated my first feature's festival run). I'll try to update this post as comments come in to get the most comprehensive list possible.  Scroll to the bottom for the quick list.

Disclaimer: the definitive scientific list doesn't exist because it's impossible to predict which festival programmers will change practices from year to year, and most festivals don't publish their policies on hospitality. Thus, comme ci is not comme ça in all cases (ie. what worked for me might not work for you -- but my experience is based on a niche documentary -- so you could do much better).

Double disclaimer: Take this list for what it is: a collection of experiences from various directors. With community input it will grow, but the list will never be all-encompassing. That's where the comments section comes in!

Straight Baller Fests (AKA Festivals which cover flights and accommodation)

Thessaloniki International Film Festival

Thessaloniki International Film Festival: Just in case you get lonely in your seaside hotel room on the Greek coast of the Mediterranean, the Festival Director sends you personal notes slipped under your hotel room door, including invitations to lunch, dinner, orzo, tours of Thessaloniki and just about everything else you can imagine. The audiences are huge, the press conferences are full and the main theatre looks like this. Hard to beat.


CPH:DOX: Picks up the award for best complimentary hotel room, and possibly best hospitality overall. Check out the comments from filmmakers and industry professionals at All These Wonderful Things.

Lincoln_Center_New York African Film Festival

New York African Film Festival: This festival is run by possibly the coolest woman on planet earth. From personal phone calls to personalized travel booking to invitations to dinner in her home, Mahen won't let you feel alone in the big city, nor will your film go without serious press (personal PR agent? word).  Did I mention the personal attention? Seriously, Africa. Apply.

LA Film Festival

LA Film Festival: From the pre-festival filmmakers-only retreat to the notoriously huge cash prizes, hotels and accommodation for filmmakers (but not all industry), the LA Film Fest doesn't mess around.

Stone Town Zanzibar International Film Festival2

Zanzibar International Film Festival: This one is the bomb diggity hot dog. Last I checked hotel and local travel (ie from the airport) covered for everyone, flights covered for some. Look at the photo.  If that doesn't convince you, look at some photos of the neighborhood. If that doesn't convince you, allow me to relate a tale from my experience. After screening my documentary The Creators, a woman approached me and said she very much appreciated the film, and that she had a five start resort on her private island just off the coast of Zanzibar which she hoped I could film for her, while staying in said five-star resort (Chumbe Island, holla!). These things happen in Zanzibar. Go there.

Camden International Film Festival

Camden International Film Festival: This intimate Maine festival holds screenings in opera houses, parties in mansions, and lobster dinners with industry, with travel and accommodation on the house.

Kolkata International Film Festival

Kolkata International Film Festival: First of all, this one takes place in Kolkata, India. It is literally impossible to take a bad photo while in Kolkata. Take out your camera on any street in Kolkata and you will have a short film within an hour. Maybe not one that will get accepted to this festival, but the possibilities are endless. Word on the street is that KIFF covers flights and accommodation for directors. I plan to fact check this personally at the next available opportunity.

Full house at Fletcher Hall for the Opening Night Film,

Full Frame: If a BBQ and beer awards ceremony appeals to you, Full Frame is where it's at. Hotel accommodation and flights provided for directors. It's not an industry event, but the main theatre seats a three-decker audience of 1000 -- not too shabby.


Margaret Mead Film Festival: If you were planning to seduce your long-lost NYC-based soul mate using only your success and largess as enticement, this weekend would be the time to do it as you kick back in your lavish Manhattan hotel room.  The opening night, closing night, and every-night parties, each in different wings of the American Natural History Museum, won't hurt the vibe. In the meantime, Margaret Mead's HBO-sponsored outreach program to high schools in Harlem (among others) and its traveling tour engage the community and give your film the audience it deserves.


HotDocs: Flights + four nights in a hotel is word on the street, just the hotel for shorts. Just make sure you stay long enough to do the pitching forum (pictured above) -- by most accounts one of the best doc pitching forums in North America.


Berlinale: Huge fest, and not surprisingly, everybody and their mom is covered (works especially well for celebrity bodies and moms).

Sheffield Doc Fest

Sheffield Doc/Fest: Flights + hotels (three nights) for foreign filmmakers.


True/False: Common consensus is that this hotel is the worst on the documentary festival circuit, but directors love True/False anyway for the strong community, great press and sold out screenings. "One of the very few American festivals that pays for everything" (All These Wonderful Things).


Heartland Film Festival: In the comments section below, Gudgefilm says, "The Heartland Film Festival paid travel, picked us up in a limo from the airport, provided drivers, and paid for hotel rooms. Was a few years ago but I hear they’re still doing it."

Lil' Baller Fests (AKA Festivals which cover extras)

Whether it's a private island retreat or food & drinks on the house, these festivals make their starving artists slightly less so for the duration of the fest:

Bahamas International Film Festival

Bahamas International Film Festival: If you ever wanted to shoot a big gloppy ball of paint at a film critic, this would be the place to do it. Paint ball wars and kissing dolphins are just a few of the excursions BIFF has dreamed up in the past couple years. To the best of my knowledge, BIFF covers flights for features and documentaries which negotiate and carry some weight. But the real reason to love this festival is the private island retreat arranged for filmmakers the day before the festival each year.

Filmfest Hamburg

Filmfest Hamburg: Films get attention galore at Filmfest Hamburg, based on ten permanent and many annually changing themes (check the website for this year's foci).


Film on the Rocks Yao Noi: I have no hospitality info on this one, but it's gotta be included. Look at that location. If you get an invite, the flights are on me (I'm coming along baby).

trinidad + tobago film festival

Trinidad + Tobago International Film Festival: First met these folks in Zanzibar, where they were scouting films and picked up an early version of The Creators (my baby) for their 2012 festival. Turns out they are scouting all over the place searching for indigenous films, and the festival has made waves throughout the Caribbean thanks to the fest's inimitable friendliness and hospitality.

Haifa International Film Festival

Haifa International Film Festival: Free outdoor events each night of the festival and star treatment for all directors balance out the market and pitching competitions to make Haifa an all-around winner for directors.

Tribeca International Film Festival

Tribeca: Mixed accommodation reports of late due to the budget crunch, but there is "no shortage of food & drink to get you through" (All These Wonderful Things).


IDFA: While filmmakers moan about feeling lost at this gigantic festival, if they choose to take care of you, they do it in style.  And who doesn't want to get coddled in style in Amsterdam?

Sedona International Film Festival

Sedona International Film Festival: Covers hotels and all meals, according to Ivan, from the comments section below.  Thanks Ivan!


Internationales Filmfest Oldenburg: Pays for most Americans' (and probably most foreigners) travel according to Dan Mirvish, director and author of this incredible film festival poem.  Thanks Dan!

Gijon International Film Festival

Gijón International Film Festival: Thanks for the heads up (from the comments), Dan!

More Ballers

These fests all got swag, and great reviews from the directors I spoke with -- I just don't know the deets regarding their director-friendly hospitality practices.


Straight Baller Fests (AKA Festivals which cover flights and accommodation)

Lil' Baller Fests (AKA Festivals which cover extras)

More Ballers (AKA Mysterious swag)

From the comments

Keep in mind this is all experience-based and anecdotal evidence, and it's anything but exhaustive. What festivals did I leave out?  I'll add them to the list as comments come in.

Images courtesy of: