It should come as no surprise that Los Angeles is home to a slew of film festivals—from massive star-studded affairs to more eclectic ventures that showcase work pushing the medium’s boundaries. Below we’ve chosen five film festivals worth checking out in Los Angeles this year, whether as part of an existing trip or as destinations in their own right.
The Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival (February 12-24, 2020) is one obvious choice. Over two decades running, the festival offers a forum for talents both emerging and established. Screenings are paired with the flashier fare of celebrity events and parties, evincing a glamour and excess expected of Hollywood. And the amount of screenings is prodigious, too: you can expect two weeks’ worth of films, with many being shown at the L.A. Live/Staples Center/Microsoft Theater. As of this writing, the 2020 program wasn’t available, but you can bet there will be plenty of offerings to satisfy any appetite.
The Los Angeles International Underground Film Festival is a festival dedicated to directors working without big budgets or A-listers. It’s in this spirit that the festival describes itself as “celebrat[ing] true underground artists from around the world.” There are both summer and winter programs, and dates for 2020 weren’t announced as of this writing. But you can anticipate some intriguing fare if this year is anything like years past. Take the short My Wife Is a Chicken (2019), in which a woman suspects her missing spouse has transformed into something a bit more feathery.
For horror fans, Screamfest (October 6-15, 2020) is a must-see event. Informally known as the “Sundance of Horror,” it first arrived in 2001 and has offered thrills and chills since, eventually becoming the country’s longest-running horror festival. The infamous Paranormal Activity even premiered here in 2007. The festival’s website boasts that many of its offerings have eventually gained distributors, meaning there’s a chance you might see the next horror classic should you attend.
If your attention span is too short for feature films, try the LA Shorts International Film Festival, now in its 25th year. About 8,000 attendees visit each year, gobbling up the latest in short-form cinema. Some of the directors have huge budgets, some have been high-schoolers or unknowns, but they all share the skills to craft exciting flicks that run under 50 minutes. As it’s accredited by multiple institutions, many of the films end up nominated during awards season (such as 58 Academy Award nominations across the years).
Experimental Forum is, as the name suggests, more radical than the other entries on this list. It features conceptually and formally bold cinema and video art, spanning a diversity from essay films to abstractions and unusual narratives. If Furnace of the Birds (an “origin myth” for birds), or Chairs (a video performance piece in which the titular furniture is flung at a wall repeatedly) sound up your alley, this is the festival for you.
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