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.
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:
- Albany FilmFest
- Tiburon International Film Festival
- Oakland International Film Festival
- Napa Valley Film Festival
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.
- Mostly British Film Festival
- Jewish Film Festival’s WinterFest
- The East Bay Jewish Film Festival
- Berlin & Beyond
- Hong Kong Cinema
- San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
- Legacy Film Festival on Aging
- San Francisco Latino Film Festival
- Iranian Film Festival
- Japan Film Festival of San Francisco
- Arab Film Festival
- Superfest Disability Film Festival
- Filipino International Cine Festival
- San Francisco Greek Film Festival
- Sorceress Sabbath Witchcraft Film Festival
- 3rd i South Asian Film Festival
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.
- Noir City
- GLAS Animation Festival
- San Francisco Silent Film Festival
- SF DOCFEST
- Modern Cinema: Haunted!
- Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival
- Indie Shorts
- Doc Stories
- Another Hole in the Head Film Fest
- Day of Silents
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.
- Modern Cinema: Jia Zhangke
- Dynamation Celebration (celebrating Ray Harryhausen)
- Ugo Tognazzi: A Film Series
- Charlie Chaplin Days
- John Carpenter Film Festival
- Harry Langdon Film Festival
- Miyazaki Mania
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).