12 Small-Town Documentary Film Festivals for 2012

A roundup of the nation's best small-town film festivals (with populations less than 100,000) for escaping the crowds, paparazzi and hype.

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Two more festivals of note take place in towns with populations of just over 100,000, so we couldn’t resist including them in our list…

Cucalorus Film Festival

Wilmington, North Carolina (Pop. 106,476)
November 10-13, 2012

This goofy sounding festival is a product of a goofier sounding filmmaking collective in Wilmington: Twinkle Doon. Since 1994, Cucalorus has been an intimate venue for watching high-profile docs, from Tarnation to Taxi to the Dark Side to the Oscar-winning shorts Freeheld and God of Love. Expect no awards ceremony, because, as the organizers explain on their website, “competition sucks.”

When to submit: Any time
More info: cucalorus.org

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Emily Thomas
Emily Thomas
Emily Thomas is a Fall 2011 intern with POV Digital. She's interned at Esquire magazine and Vice magazine. Currently Emily is finishing her senior year at NYU, where she is double majoring in journalism and social & cultural analysis. She is also a freelance journalist and aspiring documentary filmmaker. Her top five documentaries are: 1. Buena Vista Social Club (Wim Wenders) 2. Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh) 3. Crumb (Terry Zwigoff) 4. Dont Look Back (D A Pennebaker) 5. Paris is Burning (Jennie Livingston)
  • http://www.ashlandfilm.org/ Anne Ashbey Pierotti

    Thanks to Emily and POV for highlighting these small-town festivals. Readers might also like to know about the Ashland Independent Film Festival in Ashland, OR (Pop. 20,000), an historic town that the Washington Post called “a dream you’ll never want to leave.” Our annual submission deadline is mid-December and the 11th annual will be held April 12 – 16, 2012. More information available at http://www.ashlandfilm.org.

  • http://www.diversityinplace.org/ Vera Zambonelli

    In Honolulu, we have the annual international Diversity in Place Film Festival (April, 2012, Honolulu, HI) – This year call is still open, deadline Feb 1, and we are seeking short films (under 30 minutes) in any style or genre (narrative, documentary, experimental, animated) on the theme of Urban Explorations: “stories about the existing, yet unseen places in or around the urban areas you’ve lived, visited, encountered.” An intersection between film festival and conference, DIPFF explores the potential applications of film as a format through which we can understand our relations with place and promote awareness and a critical outlook on how we experience place. For more info, www.diversityinplace.org. 

  • Nancy Ghertner

    A delight to travel though these towns and film festival attitudes !
    As a Documentary film maker in a small regional city – Rochester, NY -
    this was a great find, thanks.

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  • http://www.chesapeakefilmfestival.com/ Rhonda35

    What a great post!  

    Maryland’s Eastern Shore has the wonderful Chesapeake Film Festival every September.  The festival is held in the historic town of Easton, a lovely community that is very supportive of the arts.

    It is the mission of the Chesapeake Film Festival to
    entertain, enrich and inspire by bringing the finest in narrative, documentary, international and short film to the Chesapeake Bay community. The films we intend to showcase
    are broadly focused to illuminate both the diversity and the universality of
    the human condition.


    We believe that films can affect positive change, and that
    through this medium individuals and communities gain a greater understanding of
    themselves and the world. We envision and produce a festival that stimulates, educates and
    empowers.We are currently accepting film submissions and will continue to do so until mid-May.  For more information, go to http://www.chesapeakefilmfestival.com or call 410-822-3500.

  • Ashlandmagic

    We have a wonderful film festival here in Ashland, Oregon, every spring. I see the festival has already commented, but I wanted to add my own personal message. Come to our film festival; it’s absolutely a delight!

  • Betsy

    We have always known we were the tops here in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois thanks to Roger Ebert.  Come to Ebertfest!!!!

  • dcltexas

    The Victoria Independent Film Festival in Victoria, TX. It’s going to be the festival’s first year the weekend after SXSW.

  • Bliss Bruen

    Great story makes me want to travel to all of them. Must add our Durango Independent Film Festival – http://www.durangofilm.org/ – February 29 – March 4, 2012. Lots to see in the Four Corners country if you can arrive early or stay late. Our mountains make great skiing and magnificent scenery. http://www.flydurango.com/ for flight information directly in and out of Durango – best part may be discovering our amazing engaged community.

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  • Byrdslover

    No offense, but the Roger Ebert film fest is NOT a documentary film festival.  He usually screens only one or two documentaries during the festival.  It’s a great event, but not a documentary event.

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  • BK

    Don’t forget full frame!

  • Hardacre Film Festival

    Check out the Hardacre Film Festival—Iowa’s longest-running indie film fest. Takes place in Tipton (population: 3,200) every August. Documentary-heavy selection, and plenty more. http://hardacrefilmfestival.com/

  • Philip


  • Philip

    Can anyone recommend the best festival to pitch a political corruption book for adaptation to documentary?

  • Katarina

    The Durango Independent Film Festival is a classic filmmakers festival! As opposed to Telluride, there are no categories of filmmakers, no VIP rooms and VIP’s of the VIP’s rooms where there’s finally just a room with Winona Ryder dancing on her own. The DIFF is a friendly, fun festival where the audience can talk to filmmakers at the meet and mingles, and has become renowned for accessibility and a lack of pretentiousness that follows so many festivals. Definitely my choice, both as a visitor and filmmaker!

  • Toniwebb3

    Rogue Film Festival – http://www.roguefilmfest.com  in Grants Pass, Oregon – where Clark Gable & Carole Lombard used to vacation & fish!

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  • John Hill

    check out http://www.guarjilafilms.com Salvadorian refugee story 

  • Gabe


    Yo, watch this documentary about the longest running, one sided, high school football rivalry in the nation

  • http://www.cloud21.com/2/gifting-suite Leslie Bianchi

    The list is great! If you are an independent filmmaker, looking at getting their feet wet, Cannes Short Film Corner is also a great spot to showcase your project. You also get to attend the Cannes Film Festival and Marche Du Film. Feel free to reach me if you have any other questions related to Cannes Court Metrage http://www.cloud21.com