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The Laurels Guide7 min read

20 June 2011 8 min read


The Laurels Guide7 min read

Reading Time: 8 minutes

There are thousands of film festivals around the world, and an even greater number of films that have been involved in them. And for each of these films, a laurel symbol is used to signify their involvement in the festival, such as winning awards, special mentions, or even just being selected to be screened.

Thus these laurels are a good place to start if you are looking for top notch films. But how exactly do you go about doing that? Especially since there are so many different film festivals in the world. This is a list of the top 5 film festivals in the world, to help you distinguish between those laurels.

The laurels are like collective badges, the more you have, the better your film is. Thus filmmakers often enter the same film in multiple film festivals, resulting in multiple laurels on one film. But as with all ‘collectibles’, there will always be the more rare and valuable ones.

In the same way, there are laurels from certain more prestigious film festivals and these ‘badges’ are considered to be of a higher value. This is not because of superficial reasons such as them being rare or aesthetically special, but because to receive a laurel from such film festivals is near impossible.

The festivals on this list were chosen based on how prestigious they are, how diverse the entries are (hence themed film festivals will not be included, such as Harmony Film Festival, Queer Film Festival, etc), how much they have contributed to the film industry, and how qualified are the judges.


1. Festival de Cannes

Founded in 1946 by Jean Zay, the Minister for Education and Fine Arts, the Cannes International Film Festival is undoubtedly the most prestigious film festival in the world, helping the international film industry grow to what it is today. This festival has not only boosted the economy but challenged filmmakers’ creativity and promoted real growth.

The festival has gone through war, political disputes, and budget problems for several years, but still remained true to its purpose “to encourage the development of the art of filmmaking in all its forms, while fostering and maintaining a spirit of collaboration among all filmmaking countries” (extract from the Festival policy, 1948.)

The judges for the festival are also highly qualified filmmakers themeslves, such as Robert De Niro (the jury president for 2011) and Tim Burton (the jury president for 2010), both multiple award winning filmmakers and producers.

Awards from Cannes to look out for:

– Palme d’Or (Golden Palm)
– Grand Prix (Grand prize of the festival)
– Prix du Jury (Jury prize)
– Palme d’Or du court métrage (Best short film)
РPrix du sc̩nario (Best screenplay)
– Prix Un Certain Regard (Young talent, innovative and audacious works)
РCin̩fondation (Student films)
– Camera d’Or (Best first feature film)

Click here to find out more about the Festival de Cannes


2. Venice Film Festival

The Venice Film Festival (Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica) is the oldest film festival in the world, and has contributed just as much to the world of film just as much as Cannes did, maybe even more. Founded by Count Giuseppe Volpi in 1932 as the “Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica”, the festival has since taken place every year in late August or early September on the island of the Lido, Venice, Italy.

The 1932 Festival was held on the terrace of the Hotel Excelsior on the Venice Lido, and while at that stage it was not a competitive event, it included foremost films which became classics in the history of cinema: It happened one night by Frank Capra, Grand Hotel by Edmund Goulding, The Champ by King Vidor, Frankenstein by James Whale, Zemlja by Aleksandr Dovzenko, Gli uomini che mascalzoni by Mario Camerini and A nous la liberté by René Clair.

Judges for the festival also include multiple award winning filmmaker Quentin Tarantino and Zhang Ziyi, which proves how diverse this film festival is as well.

Awards from Venice Film Festival to look out for:

– Golden Lion (Festival’s highest award for best film)
– Silver Lion (Irregular award given as ‘runner-up’ prize in some years)
– Special Jury Prize (Awarded to one or two films)
– Golden Osellas (Awarded to directors, cinematographers, screenwriters, composers, and for outstanding technical contributions.)


Click here to find out more about the Venice Film Festival

3. Sundance Film Festival

Sundance began in Salt Lake City in August 1978 as the Utah/US Film Festival in an effort to attract more filmmakers to Utah. It was founded by Sterling Van Wagenen (then head of Wildwood, Robert Redford’s company), John Earle and Cirina Hampton Catania (both serving on the Utah Film Commission at the time).

Many famous independent filmmakers received their big break at Sundance, including Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, and Steve James. It is also responsible for bringing wider attention to films such as Saw, Garden State, Super Troopers, and The Blair Witch Project.


The festival has helped independent filmmakers in the U.S to move away from the Hollywood system and be creative and original in their own way. Although the festival has changed from a low-profile venue for independent filmmakers to a Hollywood extravaganza set up by companies that are not affiliated with Sundance, the festival has still tried to curb these activities in recent years, beginning in 2007 with their ongoing “Focus On Film” campaign.

Awards from Sundance to look out for:

– Grand Jury Prize
– World Cinema Jury Prize
– Audience Awards
– Directing Awards
– Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award
– Excellence in Cinematography Awards
– Special Jury Prize
– Sundance Institute/NHK Award (Awarded to support emerging filmmakers)

Click here to find out more about Sundance


4. Berlin International Film Festival

The festival has been celebrated annually in Berlin, Germany, every February since 1978. With 274,000 tickets sold and 487,000 admissions it is considered the largest publicly-attended film festival worldwide.

The Berlin International Film Festival sees itself as a showcase for what is happening in cinema, but also as an actor and propagator on the international film circuit. Whether through film series, workshops, panels and thematic collaborations with other cultural players – the Berlinale offers countless forms of co-operation and creative interaction.

Especially since the European Film Market (EFM), an annual major industry meeting for the international film circuit, was integrated into the Berlinale which has promoted great growth in the film business.

Films of every genre, length and format can be submitted for consideration to the festival, while the Golden Bear has been awarded to filmmakers from around the world, such as Ang Lee, a Taiwanese American filmmaker and this proves how diverse the film festival is.

Awards from Berlin International Film Festival to look out for:

– Golden Bear (Highest prize awarded for the best film)
– Silver Bear (Many different awards are under the Silver Bear)
“¢ Jury Grand Prix (Runner-up to the Golden Bear, the second most prestigious award)
“¢ Best Director
“¢ Best Screenplay
“¢ Best Film Music
“¢ Extraordinary Achievement By A Single Artist
“¢ Grand Prize of the Jury (Short Film Award)

Click here to find out more about the Berlin International Film Festival

5. Toronto International Film Festival

Founded in 1976, the TIFF is now one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. In 1998, Variety magazine acknowledged that “the Festival is second only to Cannes in terms of high-profile pics, stars and market activity.”

The Toronto Film Festival takes place every year at the start of September in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It began as a collection of the best films from festivals around the world. In its inaugural year, Hollywood studios withdrew their submissions from the festival due to concerns that Toronto audiences would be too parochial for their products. At the 1976 festival, attendance was 35,000. The festival concentrated on continuing to bring the best films from around the world. Through consistent investment and promotion by its organizers and sponsors, TIFF has also grown to become a vital component of Hollywood’s marketing machine.

Although the festival has grown and is now mostly used as a marketing tool, it still has never failed to bring the best films from around the world to over 250,000 audience members, and throughout its growth in both size and influence, the Festival has remained committed to its principal objectives: to lead the world in cultural and creative discovery through the moving image and to place Canadian achievements in an international context.

Awards from Toronto to look out for:

– Cadillac People’s Choice Award (Highest prize awarded)
– Cadillac People’s Choice Documentary Award
– Cadillac People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award
– Prize of the International Critics (FIPRESCI Prize) – Discovery
– Prize of the International Critics (FIPRESCI Prize) – Special Presentations

Click here to find out more about the Toronto International Film Festival

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