Important Film Festivals for Documentary Filmmakers

Important Film Festivals for Documentary Filmmakers

Film festivals play a key role in the movie industry, especially so in the world of documentary film. It’s the chance for new, upstart directors to gain recognition from the industry, mingling and making deals to fund future projects.

The events on today’s list are chosen based on their reputation within the industry, and their ability to aid filmmakers looking to find their place in the field.

IDFA, Amsterdam

IDFA is arguably the world’s leading documentary film festival: partly because it screens more films than any other event dedicated to the genre. It takes place annually in November, featuring documentaries from all over the world in every imaginable genre. The event also features Q&As, debates, and the chance for new filmmakers to find their moment in the spotlight.

Visions du Réel in Nyon, Switzerland

The name stands for Visions of Reality: an old festival filled with interesting and exciting tradition. Originally established in 1969, the festival was intended to highlight films produced in the Eastern Block that could not be viewed in the west, and were often blocked from communist countries as well due to censorship. The event has managed to remain relevant even following the fall of communism, and has maintained its international appeal.

CPH:DOX, Copenhagen, Denmark

This is the youngest festival of today’s list: established in 2003. It has already become one of the most influential festivals in the documentary filmmaking world, held annually in Denmark and focused on those who wish to experiment with the traditional forms of documentary filmmaking. The event spans ten days, including screenings, exhibitions, A&As and concerts.

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.