All film festivals are not created equal. Cannes and Venice cater to celebrities, not cinephiles: many of the screenings aren't open to the public. And while other festivals welcome everyone, there are so many it can be difficult to choose between them. Here are five worth sitting in the dark for:
Tribeca Film Festival, April 23-May 4
Robert De Niro and two friends founded the Tribeca festival after Sept. 11 to help revitalize Lower Manhattan. Since then, it has become one of the most anticipated cinematic gatherings of the year by both the A-listers who want to promote their latest films and the moviegoers who flock to watch them. Aimed at supporting new talent, the festival shows independent films side-by-side with big-name blockbusters. There's also a drive-in, a live music lounge and a family street fair, so the fun doesn't end when the lights go up.
Shanghai International Film Festival, June 14-22
To most Western audiences, Chinese cinema means Jackie Chan's goofball chop-socky or the high-wire fighting of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Get the bigger picture at the festival in Shanghai, the historical hub of China's film industry. The country's only international film festival celebrates foreign fare, but its main goal is to help launch the careers of young Chinese actors and filmmakers. Expect to see lots of melancholy love affairs and bizarre comedies. Karate? Not so much.
Locarno International Film Festival, Aug. 6-16
Founded over 60 years ago, this festival in the Swiss-Italian town of Locarno is one of the oldest. Thanks to a penchant for the work of auteurs, it has earned a reputation for spotting greatness early on past audiences were watching films by directors like Stanley Kubrick and Spike Lee long before anyone knew who they were. But the real draw is what might be the world's most beautiful screening room: the Piazza Grande. Every evening, a massive screen is set up in the Renaissance square and thousands gather to watch a premiere under the stars.
FrightFest, Aug. 21-25
Horror is the runt of the cinematic litter, always left out of mainstream festivals and often ignored come awards season. But legions of fans roam the earth in search of a good scare, and every year hordes of them descend on London's FrightFest. Gore lovers come for the blood and guts, but there's always a healthy sprinkling of parody and psychological thriller films you won't have to watch through your fingers.
DOK Leipzig, Oct. 27-Nov. 2
One of the largest documentary festivals in Europe, the International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film or DOK Leipzig began as the first independent film festival of the German Democratic Republic. This year, in line with its aim to host works "advocating peace and human dignity," the program includes a retrospective of German films about exile, asylum, migration and integration. There are also documentaries from and about Africa and new nonfiction films from Afghanistan. If cinema can change the world, this is where it starts.