Best for discoveries
Exclusive, elite and hierarchical, Cannes doesn’t make it easy for its attendees. Tickets for the red-carpet premieres are like gold dust – some hopeful punters stand for hours in full evening dress holding placards begging for a seat – and once secured, they still have to pass muster with the infamous red carpet fashion police. No flip flops! Quelle horreur! But the smart cineaste looks away from the scrum of the main competition and towards the sidebars. The consistently excellent Director’s Fortnight is the only section open to the public. It’s also where you’ll find the edgier, newer voices.
Best for awards season contenders
The autumn slot of this glamorous but eye-wateringly expensive event has seen it increasingly co-opted as a launchpad for the awards season big hitters. At times it seems as though Hollywood A-listers are only outnumbered by the mosquitos. Tickets are massively over-subscribed, but in theory the public can purchase seats for pretty much everything, even the gala films. The prices, however, can be prohibitive – the most expensive tickets were €45 in 2018, although cheaper options are available.
Best for foodies
20-28 Sept 2019
A genteel resort town an hour or so from Bilbao, San Sebastián is a mecca for innovative Basque cuisine, as well as the location for Spain’s most important film festival. As it’s an event aimed as much at the public as at industry visitors, tickets are easily available, although they frequently sell out. The canny festival-goer will look to the thorough and well-researched retrospective programmes: a deep dive into the work of Preston Sturges remains one of my most cherished San Sebastián memories.
Best for animation
Once a year, the animation industry congregates in this picturesque French lakeside town, near the border with Switzerland – and the animation industry likes to party. Annecy is not only the place to go to experience the very best in the medium, it’s a festival with a unique atmosphere, full of endearingly geeky traditions. Before each screening, the audience pelts the screen (and each other) with paper aeroplanes; any appearance of a rabbit in a film will be greeted with a rousing shout of “Lapin!”.
Best for cinephiles on a budget
The youthful energy of the Karlovy Vary is in marked contrast to its location, the slightly chintzy Czech spa town where 19th-century tourists flocked to bathe in the hot springs. Hardy film fans bunk in dormitories and tents, and lounge around the parks between movies. The atmosphere is more Glasto than Cannes, and the egalitarian approach means that even those on a tight budget can see plenty of films in this well-curated programme.
Best for documentaries
20-31 March 2019
Of the main European documentary festivals, Copenhagen’s CPH:DOX might just have the edge on Amsterdam’s IDFA and Sheffield’s DocFest. Its timing means it can provide a European platform for the best of the Sundance premieres, and Copenhagen makes for a lovely backdrop. It is well attended by the documentary community, so aspiring film-makers can make connections in the ticket queue.
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