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Most Important Film Festivals for a Documentary Film Makers

Film festivals play a big role in the movie industry and especially so in the documentary film business. It’s a chance for a new and up and coming director to get the recognition from the industry but also to mingle and make deal and fund your future projects.

The film festivals on our list are chosen based on how they are seen by the industry and based on how much they could help out a film maker that wants to find their way in the field.

IDFA in Amsterdam

It can be said that IDFA is the world leading documentary film festival. That’s partly because it screens more films than any other events dedicated to documentary film making but also because of the standing it has in the industry, for its quality.

It takes place in November and it features documentaries from all over the world and all kinds of genres. There are also Q and As, debates and a chance to put more emphasis on the documentary film makers which is just what you need when you’re new in the business.

Visions du Réel in Nyon, Switzerland

The name stands for Visions of Reality and it’s an old festival with an interesting and exciting tradition. It was started in 1969 with what was a unique goal at the time. The documentary films made in the Eastern Block couldn’t be seen in the west, and often couldn’t be seen in the communist countries either due to censorship. The festival was a way to showcase them to the world.

The festival has managed to remain relevant even after the fall of communism and it has kept its international appeal and outlook. It has a programmer of international films, essays and historical inquiries.

CPH:DOX in Copenhagen, Denmark

This is the youngest festival on our list. It has only been around since 2003 but it has already become one of the most influential events in the documentary filmmaking world. It’s held annually in Denmark and it’s more focused on those who want to experiment with the form and genre of documentary film making.

The festival lasts for 10 days and it includes screenings. exhibitions, Q&As and concerts. There are also great accommodations for the filmmakers while you’re there and the fact that everyone involved stays in the same hotel means you can mingle and make deals.

Sheffield Doc/Fest in Sheffield, UK

This is the biggest documentary film festival in UK and the third biggest in the world. It’s a place to be if you want your documentary to be noticed and when it is, it actually puts in you orbit when it comes to the documentary filmmaking industry.

It also features a “Market place” where you can pitch your documentary film idea to producers and financiers directly. Many have go their big break this way and it’s something you should try if you have a good pitch idea but don’t have the funds for it.

Hot Docs in Toronto, Canada

Hot Docs is the biggest festival in North America. It lasts for 11 days and it features as many as 200,000 expertly-selected films each spring. It’s a huge influential event in the industry and it defines what’s a must see movie next year for the general movie going public.

This festival also has pitch meetings for aspiring film makers in the event called Hot Docs Forum. Beside that you expect: conferences, workshops, panel discussions and the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, which is one of the few movie theaters that shows only documentary films.

Cinéma Du Réel in Paris, France

Cinéma Du Réel has a unique approach to setting up a film festival. It’s very much turned towards the future of the genre and the technology needed to reach that future. At the same time, the festival honors the past of the industry and the genre.

This festival has a bit of an artistic slate and the movies shown during it tend to experiment with the form and are not be that much tied to current events. The festival is a brainchild of famous filmmakers Jean Rouch and Jean-Michel Arnold in 1978.


Film festivals play a big role in in the industry. They are places to mingle and pitch your ideas and thus get the funding for your films. Once the films are already made and out in the world the festivals are there to put you on the map in this world.

Since the industry is global and there are ways to distribute your films almost anywhere in the world, you should use the festivals to position your film on the global market and to get the audience outside the US. These events will do it.

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