Submit your film now to the next Our Vision Caribbean and Latino Film Festival which takes place on January 13, 2024 to share your work, reach your audience, and turn your dreams into reality.
When I wrote my first list of the “Top 12 Black Film Festivals” in 2008 for eZineArticles, I had no idea that nearly 15 years later, it would emerge as the most-referenced and borrowed-from definitive list of Black film festivals. By popular demand, I have updated the original list with a fresh take on the “12 Best Black Film Festivals for Independent Filmmakers” in 2023.
A good film festival strategy includes applying to as many film festivals as you can with a goal of 40 festivals submissions, if you can swing it. Those 40 submissions should be evenly divided between large festivals, medium size festivals, niche festivals, and micro-film festivals.
For your niche film festival strategy targeting film festivals that specifically support emerging independent filmmakers of color, you should apply to all 12+1 of these film festivals which I have ranked in order of friendliness, impact, and likelihood of becoming an official selection.
My Black film festival selection criteria is based upon the combination of the size of the film festival slate, number of films that are curated versus programmed through open submissions, and how often the film festival programs films that do not have any high-profile Hollywood celebrities attached to the films. But if your independent film was financed with a larger budget and has stars, you definitely want to work your way through the list from the bottom up.
When your film is an official selection, you are granted an all-access pass to all the screenings, events, and activities for the film festival, including numerous insider official selection filmmaker only events and networking opportunities. After you start screening your film on the festival circuit and your film generates buzz and racks up domestic and international awards, you’ll discover that film festivals will reach out to you to screen your film, and many will pay to fly you out to the festival.
Here’s my top picks for the most important Black film festivals for emerging independent filmmakers to fill your slate of a dozen or so niche film festival submissions.
The Our Vision Caribbean and Latino Film Festival (OVCLFF) is the only combined Caribbean and Latino film festival that is Academy Award Oscar-qualifying for short films. The film festival occurs live in person and online through Filmocracy and the winners of the short film categories will screen for 1-week in theaters on both coasts in Los Angeles and New York in order to fulfill the requirements for Academy Award consideration.
Through Filmocracy’s partnership with Hoopla, winners of the best feature, best documentary, or best short categories will be considered for non-exclusive streaming distribution through Hoopla. Hoopla’s titles will become available to 5 million Hoopla users. For a single view that lasts for more than 30 seconds, feature film producers will be paid $0.50 per view. Short films will be made available in bundles in groups of 5. Each short will receive $0.10 per view that last over 30 seconds.
OVCLFF is very filmmaker-friendly and filmmaker-centric for emerging independent Caribbean and Latino films and filmmakers of color. OVCLFF is distinctly committed to illuminating stories and artist from the Caribbean and Latino diaspora. OVCLFF is brought to you by Founder and COO Charles Alleyne and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Christopher C. Odom, MFA, PhD.
Founded by Filmmaker and Executive Director Jacquil Constant, MFA [the most important person in Haitian film], the Haiti International Film Festival (HIFF) is an excellent pick for filmmakers of color. The Haiti International Film Festival has showcased its films in the Pavillon Afrique at the Cannes Film Festival Film Market (Pavillon Afrique Marché du Film Festival de Cannes). This is probably one of the most powerful pathways to elevate your front-facing public professional persona and put your work directly in front of a global audience.
Founded by Danny Glover (“The Color Purple,” “Lethal Weapon”), Ja’Net DuBois (“Good Times”), and Executive Director Ayuko Babu, the Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) is held concurrently with a Pan African Arts Festival. PAFF has been supporting emerging independent filmmakers of color for over 3 decades. The combined attendance reaches an audience of over 35,000 people. The first feature film I screened at PAFF got 55,000 views on the film’s website during its PAFF festival run. Being situated in LA with such a large in-person audience, the festival is filled with Hollywood acquisitions executives, sales agents, and distribution company representatives scouting new content and talent. PAFF also hosts many activities for the filmmakers, providing an in-person immersive overall experience for the official selection filmmakers.
A cozy 2.5-hour Amtrack Train ride from downtown Los Angeles that I highly recommend (do the Business Class seats…it’s crazy comfortable and affordable) the San Diego Black Film Festival packs a strong punch. The festival is well-attended and does a great job of getting its films press. They also give out a lot of awards. It’s a very filmmaker-friendly festival. The first time I screened a narrative feature film was at the San Diego Black Film Festival. We were so nervous, we had to get a drink first, and our bartender, Carly Smithson, ended up making the top 10 on American Idol that year.
The North Carolina Black Film Festival is all cozy but one of the most immersive filmmaker experiences that I’ve had at a film festival. North Carolina Black Film Festival hosts a series of events for the filmmakers including a tour of local film studio soundstage. Wilmington, NC is a wonderful vibrant city with the festival taking place blocks from the riverfront. This was definitely one of my most memorable festival experiences and another great opportunity to share my work with an independent film loving audience.
#6 African Diaspora International Film Festival (New York NY; Washington, DC; Chicago, IL; Paris, France)
For over 3 decades, the African Diaspora International Film Festival (ADIFF) has been supporting filmmakers of color through the festival’s exploration of the human experience amongst people of color throughout the world. ADIFF has festivals in New York, NY; Washington, DC; Chicago, IL; and Paris, France. This is yet another festival that is very filmmaker-centric and filmmaker-friendly. I have lots of great memories and experiences from screening at ADIFF in New York. I had the opportunity to walk to the world-famous Apollo Theater in Harlem.
The Roxbury International Film Festival has been elevating and celebrating voices of color for over 2 decades. It was one the first film festivals to give me an opportunity to screen my work. The Roxbury International Film Festival does an excellent job of getting its films and filmmakers press and is a very filmmaker-centric and filmmaker-friendly film festival.
#8 Cannes International Pan African Film Festival [Festival Internationnal Du Film Panafricain De Cannes] (Cannes, France)
The Cannes International Pan African Film Festival (FIFP) has been bringing independent films by and for people of color to an international audience of color in France for over 2 decades. I often affectionately refer to it as the other Cannes film festival; it’s the Pan-Yes-We-Cannes bring films by and for people of color festival on the French Riviera. We live in a global marketplace. Don’t just get out of your house, get beyond your borders. Your audience and reach are limitless.
Most major cities have organizations providing film festival opportunities for people of color and Berlin is no exception. Black International Cinema Berlin has been running since 1980 and helps you connect your film with people of color internationally. This festival is a great opportunity to reach people of color beyond our own borders. It’s a great edition to your film’s festival run and a cogent opportunity to take home a festival award win.
While Southern California is known for the film industry and Northern California for the tech world, San Francisco also provides opportunity for emerging independent filmmakers of color. The San Francisco Black Film Festival (SBFF) has been celebrating African American cinema and the Pan African diaspora for over 2 decades.
Like ABFF and Urbanworld, the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival (MVAAFF) is another festival where high-profile Hollywood celebrities and stars abound. There’s lots of films with association to big name Hollywood stars and celebrities. In 2022, Barack and Michelle Obama screened their Netflix documentary “Descendant” there and even gave a speech. Competition is highly competitive to become an official selection and get the opportunity to hob nob with the who’s who of the industry and Hollywood elite.
The Urbanworld Film Festival is another film festival that is packed with larger budget feature films featuring star-studded high-profile Hollywood names and stars associated with the major film and television industries. Major studios and networks frequently use the Urbanworld Film Festival as a distribution arm to premiere niche content to audiences of color. As a result, like ABFF, Urbanworld is has fierce competition to become an official selection because of the high-profile Hollywood stars and celebrities’ nature of the film festival slate.
The American Black Film Festival (ABFF) eventually found its permanent home in Miami. It’s a great vacation festival on the sunny shores and beaches of Florida. ABFF may be the most elite, high-profile, larger budgeted films, film festival for people of color. ABFF is filled with many films with well-known Hollywood stars and celebrities in the cast, directing, and/or producing. ABFF is indeed a top-notch star-studded gala that screams Miami. As a result, competition to become an official selection is extremely fierce and it is very difficult for an independent film to become an official selection without the caché of high-profile Hollywood stars and names associated with the film.
Once again, the goal is to submit to all these niche film festivals for emerging independent filmmakers of color. Screening your film in as many festivals as possible increases your front-facing public professional persona opening door not just to the film and television industries, but to a multitude of other direct and indirect career paths for filmmakers.
As you begin to screen rack up festival screenings and awards, please share your success stories with us, and give us, and this list, a shout out on social media. We want to celebrate your wins with you.