Five U.S. film festivals that are worth the trip in 2020

Telluride Film Festival 2020

Travelling for arts festivals is one of the most enriching experiences an intrepid adventurer can have. Not only are you able to explore a destination as you normally would, and take in the many sights, sounds and experiences on offer, you also have access to a curated program brimming with creativity. Whether that means you’ve hopped across to Scotland for the famed Edinburgh Fringe Festival, or trekked up the Japan’s most famous mountain for Fuji Rock. Although film festivals are perhaps the most transformational of them all.

We all know just how potentially life-changing absorbing someone else’s perspective through powerful performances can be, with walking out of the cinema feeling inspired a frequent feeling since childhood. Imagine if you could experience that several times in one day, in cinemas full of fellow film enthusiasts, makers, critics and performers making for an atmosphere like no other. Film festivals are powerful, and the U.S has some of the most important in the world.

The following five film institutions, mainly aimed at supporting, encouraging and showcasing independently made films and committed to a diverse range of perspectives, are events well worth travelling for. Keep the following 2020 dates in mind, and time your visit wisely – even if you only have enough time to catch a few films, talks or parties.

Photo by Chris Singh

Chicago International Film Festival

2020 dates: 14th to 25th October.
Official Website:
Location: Chicago, Illinois

As the longest running competitive film festival in North America, the Chicago International Film Festival is a stately and highly curated extension of the city’s remarkable year-round arts program.

Perhaps one of the best things about this particular festival is that CIFF only really has one primary venue in which films are showcased throughout its 12 day run. That would be the enormous AMC River East 21, a rather typical and central cinema complex with the added oomph of a games arcade in the same building. The benefit of this is the ease of jumping between cinemas if you’ve scheduled in a day of consistent screenings across the program, which in 2019 took in 120 feature films and 57 shorts from 65 countries.

CIFF’s mid-October run is also well placed in that the program draws on highly buzzed films from festivals that happened earlier that year. That means you’ll see a lot of highlights from the likes of Cannes, New York and Toronto International Film Festivals all in one spot, giving a second-wind to the most impactful pieces, and making the tough scheduling decisions that much easier.

The 2020 program won’t be announced until closer to the festival. For more information on CIFF head to the official website linked above. To plan your trip to Chicago go to

Telluride Film Festival

Telluride Film Festival 2020
Supplied by Visit Telluride

2020 Dates: 4th to 7th September.
Official Website:
Location: Telluride, Colorado.

As the smallest film festival on this list, you’d be forgiven for not knowing about the boutique Telluride Film Festival, despite its long history and the impact it has each year on the film industry.

It’s the one attendees would rather keep secret from the rest of the world, given its pristine location surrounded by the immense San Juan Mountains, in the historic mining town of Telluride, Colorado.

The Telluride Film Festival is not even a week long, and yet its reputation as one of Hollywood’s favourite annual events is undeniable. Of course, that’s got a lot to do with the town itself, which is constantly referenced as a favourite for the wealthy and adventurous alike. Whether that’s for winter skiing (it’s one of the best ski resorts in the U.S), or summer hiking.

The 2020 program won’t be announced until closer to the festival. For more information on TFF head to the official website linked above. To plan your trip to Telluride go to

SXSW Film Festival

Supplied by Visit Austin / Credit to Geoff Duncan.

2020 Dates: 13th to 21st March.
Official Website:
Location: Austin, Texas.

Each year such global buzz surrounds South by Southwest that it feels like underselling to write that this is one of the best film festival experiences in the USA. It is, but it’s also so much more than that. SXSW is known as mecca for its multifaceted spread of music, film, tech, and pop culture, each year turning downtown Austin – already eternally hip and outrageously fun – into an action-packed 10 days where the lines between industry and consumer constantly blur, clash and bend.

SXSW Film Festival is only one aspect of this super festival, but it’s also the most consistent and endearing. In between partying at secret last-minute concerts or surveying future tech trends, you can rock up to numerous venues throughout the city – primarily the irreplaceable Paramount Theatre – and catch the narrative features, documentaries, headliners, midnighters, global films and shorts that make up that year’s program.

Such is the reputation of SXSW that red carpets with big names are of a regular occurrence, with everyone from hip hop’s big players like Nas and T.I, to film legends like Jeff Goldblum and Bill Murray, having made appearances at the festival.

The 2020 program is yet to be announced but more information about SXSW Film Festival can be found at the official website linked above. To plan your trip to Austin go to

Sundance Film Festival

Park City - Sundance 2020
Image supplied by Visit Park City.

2020 Dates: 24th Jan to 2nd Feb.
Official Website:
Location: Park City, Utah.

One of the most important film festivals in the world, the storied Sundance Film Festival, was founded by the legendary Robert Redford back in 1981, endearing across generations as a beacon for independent and fearless storytelling. It has held great influence over the film industry ever since, with Hollywood A-listers, indie filmmakers and actors from around the world each year running around Park City, Salt Lake City and Sundance Mountain Resort to try soak it all up.

It’s a playground for film lovers, but also an immersive arts experience that really gets to the core of why we tell stories, and what they mean to us.

Being so early in the year, Sundance is also a great indicator for where film trends are heading, and has gone on to direct Oscar buzz through narrative features like Manchester by the Sea, Call Me By Your Name, and Whiplash.

Films selected are all independently produced – a requirement of the festival – and are often sold to buyers who attend the festival for that purpose, which means an incredibly diverse selection programmed to a very high standard. The biggest winner is, of course, the audience, who get to dive straight in to the 10-day celebration of film, spanning screenings, panels, talks, and parties.

The Sundance Film Festival program is live, for all information, tickets and scheduling head to the official website linked above. To plan your trip to Park City go to

New York Film Festival

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2020 Dates: 25th Sep to 11th Oct
Official Website:
Location: New York City, New York

As the second longest running film festival in the U.S, the incredibly popular and highly influential New York Film Festival is a whopping 17 days and is wholly concentrated in the Lincoln Centre. Much like CIFF, this means that visitors aren’t running around and can pack an entire day without worrying about tight schedules.

Although, NYFF is much more than just convenience, having a broad and non-competitive approach that in 2019 welcomed 153 movies in a program that began with Martin Scorsese (The Irishman) and ended with Edward Norton (Motherless Brooklyn). Plus, the fact that you get to spend some time in one of the world’s most exciting cities is always a good thing.

The 2020 program won’t be announced until closer to the festival. For more information on NYFF head to the official website linked above. To plan your trip to New York City head to

Feature image supplied by Visit Telluride.

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is an Editor-At-Large at the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.