Top 15 Winter Film Festivals in the U.S.

December 16, 2014

Coldsmoke Winter Film Tour

Nov. 13- Dec. 27 MT, WY, UT, WA, BC

cold smoke awards

Image courtesy of The Clymb.

Ten years ago in Bozeman, Montana, Jeremy Mistretta, Brad Van Wert, Anjin Herndon and Jonas Grenz, came up with the idea to create a film platform that celebrated winter culture. Named after the cloud of powder snow that trails behind you when you’re shredding a ski run brimmed with fresh powder, Coldsmoke, attracts outdoor and film enthusiasts alike. With films from Jeremy Jones and Brain Farm, this film tour will get anyone stoked about winter. The Coldsmoke Winter Film Tour launched in Bozeman, and has three stops left in Bellingham, WA; Whistler BC, and Alta, UT. But don’t worry, if you missed the exciting line-up of winter culture shorts and features you can preview them online, and the Coldsmoke Awards Ceremony will be held in Bozeman, January, 10, where they will hand out the Grand Prize, Best Powder and Explorers Prizes.

Palm Springs International Film Festival 

Jan. 2-12 Palm Springs, CA

palm springs international film festival

Photo courtesy of

If fun in the sun is more your style, then check out the film festival that flaunts the logo “Goodbye Winter, Hello World.”  One of the biggest film festivals in the U.S., Palm Springs Film Festival, welcomes 135,000 guests every year. The festival celebrates a line-up of Hollywood heavyweights every year, during its Black Tie Awards Gala. Amongst the celebrated talents in the festival’s 26 year history, include Ben Affleck, Cate Blanchett, George Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Clint Eastwood, Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Natalie Portman, Charlize Theron and Kate Winslet.

Los Angeles Cinema Festival of Hollywood

Jan. 14-15 Los Angeles, CA

 Los Angeles Cinema Festival of Hollywood

Image courtesy of Los Angeles Cinema Festival of Hollywood.

This winter film fest, provides independent filmmakers exposure, and the opportunity to have their work judged and awarded. This festival’s goal is to recognize independent filmmakers and writers,  award them for their talent and help them increase their distribution and project funding. Categories include narrative shorts and features, animation, documentary shorts and features, student films, experimental films, music videos and scripts. If you have a last minute film you’d like to submit, submissions to the Los Angeles Cinema Festival of Hollywood are open until December 17.

Cinema on the Bayou

Jan. 21-25 Lafayette, LA

Cinema on the Bayou

Image courtesy of Cinema on the Bayou.

For the past ten years, Lafayette, Louisiana, the heart of Cajun country, described by Garden and Gun Magazine as a “stew of French Spanish, and African influences,”Cinema on the Bayou. The festival is dedicated to “advancing the understanding of Cajun and Creole cultures through film screenings, film panels and cultural exchanges among French Louisiana, the United States and the Francophone countries of the world.” Cinema on the Bayou screens films from around the world, U.S. and Louisiana in southern comfort, providing an environment marked by unique Cajun culture, delicious cuisine and music. Garden and Gun Magazine promotes Cinema on the Bayou as one “Real good time.”

Sundance Film Festival

Jan. 22-Feb. 1 Park City, UT

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 11.12.05 AM

Photo courtesy of

Started by Robert Redford in 1981, this illustrious film festival fosters a community around independent storytelling. “Storytellers broaden our minds: engage, provoke, inspire and ultimately, connect us,” claims Robert Redford. In the beginning, the festival invited ten up-and-coming filmmakers to the Sundance Resort in Park City, Utah, where writers, directors and actors collaborated. Sundance now supports over 350 artist each year, and hosts over 50 separate public programs that inspire, connect artists and audiences, and creates a community. The Sundance Film Festival screens the frontier films of the independent film world.

Slam Dance

Jan. 23-29 Park City, UT

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Image courtesy of Indie Wire.

Described as “a vital alternative” to the older, more established Sundance Film Festival, Slam Dance, screens fewer feature films and around the same about of shorts, at the same time as Sundance, and also in Park City. The short film genres include: documentary, narrative, animation, experimental, and anarchy– which is associated with avant-garde, transgressive, and underground, “F**k the system,” cinema. This coming year, the festival will premiere 26 films from around the world, twelve from North American and seven U.S. premiers.

Trail Dance Film Festival

Jan. 23-24 Duncan, OK

Trail Dance Film Festival

Image courtesy of Trail Dance Film Festival.

The Trail Dance Film Festival, in Duncan, Oklahoma,works to promote the film industry in Oklahoma, and provide an opportunity for filmmakers to screen their films to an engaged audience. Trail Dance was the dream of Cameron University communications student, Anthony Foreman. In 2005, he started the Southwest Association of Film and five years later, held the inaugural Trail Dance Film Festival, which has been promoting creative and original filmmaking, while also introducing filmmakers from around the world to the American Southwest.

Flathead Lake International Cinemafest

Jan. 23-25 Polson, MT

Flathead Lake International Cinemafest

Image courtesy of the Flathead Lake International Cinemafest.

Along the shores of Montana’s stunning Flathead Lake, in Polson, the Flathead Lake International Cinemafest celebrates three years this January. Screening domestic and international films, the festival is a cultural event that also hosts FLIC Jr., a competition for students 22 years and under. The new festival was created by the Greater Polson Community Foundation, whose aim is to supply events and activities to the Greater Polson community and visitors to the southern end of Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi.

Santa Barbara International Film Festival

Jan. 27- Feb. 7 Santa Barbara, CA

Santa Barbara International Film Festival

Photo courtesy of Scott London.

Celebrating 30 years this winter, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, announced it will honor Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, with a Cinema Vanguard Award, for their roles as Stephen and Jane Hawking in James Marsh’s film The Theory of Everything.  Held in the historic, mission style, Arlington Theatre, the festival caters to a crowd of more than 85,000 and screens over 200 films. Santa Barbara International Film Festival also provides educational experiences with their Student Film Studies Program symposium, and 10-10-10 Student Filmmaking and Screenwriting Competition, while also catering to film enthusiasts year round, showcasing the best in independent cinema.

Portland International Film Festival

Feb. 5-21 Portland, OR

Portland International Film Festival

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The 38th Annual Portland International Film Festival, held at the Portland Art Museum’s North West Film Center, screens 140 international and American feature films every February to an audience of 38,000. The festival is the biggest in Oregon and awards filmmakers for having best the narrative feature, best documentary, best new director, best short and best Oregon short, at the festival. In addition to hosting the festival, the Northwest Film Center administers an exhibition, School of Film, Young Filmmakers Program and community outreach and artist services.

Big Sky Documentary Film Festival

Feb. 6-16 Missoula, MT

Big Sky Documentary Film Festival

Image courtesy of Dan Doran.

Under the new direction of Gita Saedi Kiely, the 12th annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, screens an average of 125 non-fiction films to an audience of 25,000. “Every year with every director it’s gotten bigger and better. It has continued to improve upon itself,” reflects Saedi Kiely. Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, the biggest non-fiction film festival in the Northwest, also hosts DocShop, an industry-focused feature, concentrating this year on distribution, and bringing together industry professionals, filmmakers and distributors.

Thin Line

Feb. 18-22 Denton, TX

thin line film festival

Image courtesy of Thin Line.

Thin Line is a film, music, and photo festival out of Denton, Texas. Thin Line Film’s focus is documentaries, from mockumentaries, docudramas, animated docs to docu-comedies. “Because real life is indeed more interesting (and more powerful) than fiction” Thin Line, sticks with non-fiction cinema. The 8th annual festival promises to “again deliver the best and most relevant documentaries in the world,” at the historic Campus Theatre in downtown Denton.

Sedona International Film Festival

Feb. 21- Mar. 1 Sedona, AZ

Sedona International Film Festival

Image courtesy of Sedona International Film Festival.

Every year in the northern Verde Valley of Arizona, Sedona plays host to the Sedona International Film Festival. With over 160 shorts, documentaries, animation, foreign films and student films, the 21st annual festival celebrates the best independent films from across the globe. The Sedona International Film Festival also hosts the Frank Warner Workshop, an educational workshop named after the venerated sound editor.

Boulder International Film Festival

Mar. 5-8 Boulder, CO

boulder international film festival

Photo courtesy of The Huffington Post.

Attracting over 25,000 film enthusiasts, the Boulder International Film Festival, is known for introducing up-and-coming features, documentaries and shorts. Listed by MovieMaker Magazine as one of the “25 Coolest Film Festivals,” in the world, the festival is a growing celebration of cinema that has honored Shirley MacLaine, and such Oscar-nominated actors as Alec Baldwin, James Franco, Martin Sheen, Oliver Stone, William H. Macy and Peter Fonda.

Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival

Mar. 19-22 Chilmark, MA

Martha's Vineyard Film Festival

Image courtesy of Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival.

Beginning on the last day of winter, at the Chilmark Community center, people gather for the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival. For fifteen years, the festival has been bringing together a community that celebrates for one weekend, film, food, music and art. Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival offers community outreach programs, college internships and school programs, including a documentary filmmaking workshop for children.

The Audience Awards  is film’s social network connecting audiences to films, filmmakers, film schools and film festivals. The Audience Awards hosts short film competitions where the audience chooses the best films.


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