The 54 Bay Area Film Festivals in 2019

By my count, the Bay Area hosted 54 film festivals this year. Of course, that depends on how you define a film festival. A 90-minute program of feline videos called The Cat Film Festival is not a festival. And yet a selection of films that call itself a series just might be one.

My definition: If there’s a curated selection of films, played day after day, or on one or more full days of cinema, it’s a film festival. I admit the decision is arbitrary.

I didn’t cover all these festivals, but I listed them all in my weekly newsletter. The ones with links below are the ones I found the time to write about.

I’ve divided these festivals into seven categories:

Red Carpet Festivals

These are the big, splashy festivals that focus primarily on new films we haven’t yet seen. Most of the movies are some sort of premiere, even if it’s only the Northern California premiere, and a great many of them will get a theatrical release.

The Bay Area has only three such festivals: Cinequest, SFFILM (formerly called the San Francisco Film Festival), and Mill Valley.

Small & Local

These are similar to the red carpet festivals, except they’re smaller and are less likely to get premiers or movie stars. In fact, they often give you a second chance to see something that played at a recent red carpet fest. Last year, five films fit this category:

  • IndieFest
  • Albany FilmFest
  • Tiburon International Film Festival
  • Oakland International Film Festival
  • Napa Valley Film Festival

Identity Festivals

This is by far the biggest category of Bay Area film festivals. With more than a third of last year’s Bay Area film festivals falling into this category – 19 out of 54 – identity festivals are clearly the most popular.

Identity festivals are about how people identify themselves – religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual preference, language, nation, and so on.

Genre Festivals

These festivals celebrate a certain kind of movies. Last year, we had three silent film festivals, three documentary festivals, two horror fests, and individual festivals for shorts, animation, and noir. (Actually, there were two other noir festivals last year, but for reasons described below, I couldn’t put them in this category.)

Altogether, 11 festivals fell into this category.

Filmmaker Festivals

Some festivals, usually small ones, celebrate a particular filmmaker – either an auteur director or a movie star. The Bay Area saw seven such festivals last year.

Message Festivals

These festivals want to teach you something, and not about movies. They want you to see a major problem and become part of the solution. Of course, the only people who go to these festivals already agree with the message.

On the other hand, these festivals might inspire you to do something you already know you should do. There were only two such festivals last year: the Green Film Festival and the United Nations Association Film Festival.

The festivals that just don’t fit

Not all festivals fit one of one of the above categories. Some of these could fit two categories. For instance, last year we had two French noir festivals that could be put into the identity or genre category. And I’m not really sure what category could hold the Drunken Film Fest.

  • For Your Consideration
  • The French Had a Name for It
  • Frozen Film Festival
  • Transcontinental Railroad 150 Anniversary Celebration
  • Women Sports Film Festival
  • Drunken Film Fest
  • The French Had a Name for It (yes, there were two versions last year).

2 thoughts on “The 54 Bay Area Film Festivals in 2019

  1. You missed a few that I attended or am aware of.

    Cinema Italian Style SF was in December 2019 (previously New Italian Cinema Events) at the Vogue
    https://iicsanfrancisco.esteri.it/iic_sanfrancisco/en/gli_eventi/calendario/2019/11/cinema-italian-style-2019.html

    The 4 Star has a Chinese American Film Festival in November every year. Despite the name, most of the films are from China. I’ve gone a twice when the subtitles were missing.

    The Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival was in November at various locations in the South Bay.
    https://www.svjff.org/

    The Silicon Valley Asian Pacific Film Festival was also in November 2019 at Santana Row in SJ
    https://www.svapfilmfest.com/

    It’s been several years since I’ve attended but I know the Poppy Jasper Film Festival (Morgan Hill) had a program in 2019
    https://pjiff.org/

    Then there is the annual California Independent Film Festival in Orinda. I have never attended. Typically the closing day is held at the Castro Theater.
    https://www.caiff.org/

    The website is down but I thought there was a 2019 edition of the SF Irish Film Festival but that may have been 2018.
    http://sfirishfilm.com/

    There was a two day Sausalito Film Festival in September. I wanted to see Summer of Love but missed it.
    http://www.sausalitofilmfestival.com/

    I am sure I am missing several festival.

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