The 10 Best Film Festivals You've Never Heard Of

Yes, everyone knows Cannes and Sundance. The behemoths of the film-fest world aren't exactly accessible for most of us, though, and they don't always showcase the freshest material. Here's where to go to see film's bright up-and-comers, for a lot cheaper than the French Riviera.
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By Michelle Schuman for the CheapTickets Travel Blog

Yes, everyone knows Cannes and Sundance. The behemoths of the film-fest world aren't exactly accessible for most of us, though, and they don't always showcase the freshest material. Here's where to go to see film's bright up-and-comers, for a lot cheaper than the French Riviera...

Marfa, Texas

Citizen Jane Film Festival -- Columbia, MO

When it is: November 3-6, 2016

Why to go: In 2010, Lena Dunham opened the Citizen Jane Film Festival with her feature-length dramedy, Tiny Furniture, which she wrote, directed and starred in. And the female filmmaker-driven Citizen Jane Film Festival has only grown since then, offering four days of the often-overlooked female perspective in films. Expect narrative and documentary shorts and features, as well as animated, experimental and dance shorts.

Cucalorus Film Festival - Wilmington, NC

When it is: November 2016 (Dates TBD)

Why to go: Cucalorus is so dedicated to celebrating the art form of film that it eschews any hint of competition. Instead, you can expect to engage in the creative exchange of ideas, predominantly through daring films, music videos, documentaries, shorts and panels--many of which have gone on to earn Oscar nominations. And the festival's screenings are held not just in theaters, but in music venues, bars and breweries as well. Between films, check out art installations and performances, and hopefully another Bobcat Goldthwait production--the cult actor once presented his found-footage horror film here.

Fantastic Fest - Austin, TX

When it is: September 22-29, 2016

Why to go: Austin's Alamo Drafthouse is practically a nerd's paradise--before or after your movie, you can play vintage Donkey Kong arcade games and buy vinyl reissues, t-shirts and TMNT toys. So it's a natural choice for a film festival focused on horror, fantasy, sci-fi and action films. The fest also draws some seriously big names. It's held the world premiere for films like Apocolypto, There Will Be Blood and Zombieland. And, as such, Darren Aronofsky, Tim Burton, Bill Murray and Jemaine Clement have all been spotted here, presumably downing a burger and some seriously good cocktails while watching themselves act on the theater's silver screens.

True/False Film Festival - Columbia, MO

When it is: March 3-6, 2016

Why to go:

There are documentary film festivals, and then there's Columbia's True/False Film Festival. Each documentary and nonfiction film challenges audiences to think critically, and supports the festival's mission to push the boundaries of creative nonfiction. Between screenings, enjoy presentations, debates and the March March, a Carnival-like parade. So grab your favorite old Halloween costume and hit the streets--afterwards, you can enjoy the city's many parks and the Museum of Art and Archaeology.

Chicago Underground Film Festival -- Chicago, IL

When it is: June 1-5, 2016

Why to go: If you want a clean break from the mainstream, the Chicago Underground Film Festival is for you. Proud to be 'defiantly independent', it collects and screens films from every corner of the world, pushing the boundaries of the artistic, aesthetic and all-around fun aspects of indie filmmaking. Meaning there's a huge variety in the kinds of films you'll catch here: Alternative music films, political agitprop, formal experimentation and, of course, the always-popular avant-garde. Oh, and every evening the fest spills out into Chicago's beautiful streets. So even if you skip the festival's nightly parties, events and concerts, you'll still never run out of things to do.

Outfest Los Angeles -- Los Angeles, CA

When it is: July 7-17, 2016

Why to go: Gender, sexuality, LGBT culture--these are the often-overlooked stories heard at Outfest. And get ready to experience the full spectrum of voices here, not just those deemed tame enough for prime time. The filmmakers celebrated here promote acceptance and equality for all people around the world through honest and compelling shorts, features and documentaries. You can also get a taste of the city's vibrant LGBT scene with official after parties and drag shows.

Napa Valley Film Festival -- Napa, CA

When it is: November 9-13, 2016

Why to go: Love wine? Head west, young (wo)man, to the Napa Valley Film Festival. In true wine-country style, more wineries participate than films. Sure, the art itself is a big draw, but so is the fact that you can enjoy wine tastings, cooking demos and posh parties between the 125 screenings. All of this is scattered through four beautiful, walkable villages: Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga. Keep your eyes peeled for a celeb or two--last year's celebrity guests included John Travolta, and they regularly screen films with big Hollywood names.

Pan African Film Festival - Los Angeles, CA

When it is: February 4-15, 2016

Why to go: Get your glamor on while tearing down harmful cultural stereotypes at the Pan African Film Festival--it includes a fashion show for African fashions created by sister festival, the PAFF Artfest. Besides that, you can attend red-carpet screenings, a spoken word segment, and a New Media Fest, which highlights new web series and TV pilots. Celebrate the unique stories of filmmakers of African decent all the while by watching more than 150 films that'll make you laugh, cry, and question everything about society.

Cinequest Film Festival -- San Jose, CA

When it is: March 1-13, 2016

Why to go: Silicone Valley's San Jose is rapidly becoming famous for another kind of industry entirely--film. But the Cinequest Film Festival's location is entirely strategic, blending the area's innovation with cutting-edge film arts. The digital film festival has helped propel innovations like film distribution via the internet, movies shot entirely on iPhones, and digital exhibition into the limelight. Last year, this festival even beat out the likes of SXSW and Tribeca as USA Today's Best Film Festival.

Marfa Film Festival - Marfa, TX

When it is: July 13-17, 2016

Why to go: Once a year, the remote corner of Texas known as Marfa explodes into the limelight as scores of film buffs flock to the dessert to see shorts, feature films, music videos and experimental works. All films are screened one at a time, instead of concurrently, so you can catch every single one. You can also watch classics outside, on a massive screen beneath a blanket of stars. The whole festival kicks off with an early-bird pool party, and just gets better from there. Past events have included experimental indie arcade games and performances by Chrysta Bell.

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