Lesserknown Festivals

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Festivals with lower profiles, from the interestingly specialized to the obscure, abound. One film critic has estimated that New York City alone has no fewer than thirty. Iowa has the Hardacre Film Festival, North Carolina the Hi Mom Film Festival. Other festivals signal their specialties via their unusual names. Examples include the Rendezvous with Madness Film and Video Festival in Canada, organized around works about mental illness and addiction; the Madcat Women's International Film Festival in California, featuring independent and experimental work by women; and the Tacoma Tortured Artists International Film Festival in Washington, devoted to independent filmmakers.

One of the most respected specialized festivals is Pordenone-Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, established in 1982 by the Cinemazero Film Club and La Cineteca del Friuli, a film archive. Focusing entirely on silent cinema, this event in the north of Italy draws an international audience of archivists, scholars, critics, and adventurous movie fans to a wide range of programming that has included everything from Krazy Kat cartoons and Cecil B. DeMille melodramas to century-old kinetoscopes and comedies with forgotten American entertainers. Also highly regarded is the Locarno International Film Festival, launched by its Swiss founders in 1946 and celebrated for its attention to films by first- and second-time directors, and for its screenings of underrated movies chosen by currently well-known filmmakers. The hugely ambitious Rotterdam International Film Festival in the Netherlands has earned high marks for its commitment to avant-garde cinema as well as children's films, new features by innovative directors, and an Exploding Cinema sidebar devoted to multimedia projects. This festival also presents film-related lectures and gives monetary grants to promising directors from developing nations through the Hubert Bals Fund, which it administers. The San Francisco International Film Festival, established in 1957, helped blaze various trails for the growing American festival scene with its eclectic blend of major new productions, classics restored to mint condition, and retrospectives devoted to filmmakers better known by art-film enthusiasts than by the general public.

Among the more unusual American festivals is the Telluride Film Festival, founded in 1974 in a small Colorado town—once a mining community, now a popular skiing site—and considered by many to be one of the world's most intelligently programmed cinema events. It refuses to divulge its schedule until ticket-holders arrive at the festival gate, making attendance less a matter of access to particular premieres than of overall faith in the programmers. Telluride ensures the presence of celebrities—a diverse lot ranging from the actress Shirley MacLaine to the novelist Salman Rushdie—by holding tributes, complete with screenings of relevant films and the awarding of medals, to three film-world notables each year. Screenings are held in several venues including a community center and an intimate opera house where Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) and Jenny Lind (1820-1887) performed during the mining-boom era; the original marquee of the opera house, displaying the word "SHOW' in large letters, is still standing and serves as the festival's trademark. The legendary Warner Bros. animator Chuck Jones (1912-2002), a frequent attendee until his death in 2002, once paid his respects to Telluride's nine-thousand-foot elevation by saluting the festival as "the most fun you'll ever have without breathing.''

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