Oldest Film Festivals in the World

10 Oldest Film Festivals in the World

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Film festivals date back to the early 20th century and are a way to showcase the works filmmakers, both masters and newcomers, from around the world. The films shown at these festivals often reflect current socio-political events as well as current popular culture. While there are countless film festivals of all sizes today, the ones on this list are the oldest and have been running almost continuously each year for several decades.

10. International Filmfestival Mannheim-Heidelberg

Year Founded: 1952
Held Annually:  Yes, in November
Location: Mannheim and Heidelberg, Germany
Awards: Master of Cinema; New Master of Cinema

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The International Filmfestival Mannheim-Heidelberg (IFFMH) is the second oldest film festival in Germany, behind Berlinale. The festival was first established in 1952 and since 1994, the festival has been jointly held by the cities of Mannheim and Heidelberg in Baden-Württemberg. IFFMH is known for screening arthouse films of independent newcomer directors who are internationally widely-unknown, focussing on arthouse and auteur films. Several awards are given out including Master of Cinema, Grand Newcomer Award Mannheim-Heidelberg, and Special Jury Award of Mannheim-Heidelberg.

Did You Know?

Since the International Filmfestival Mannheim-Heidelberg focuses on new filmmakers, any films screened at Cannes, Locarno, Venice and any other German festivals are excluded from the International Competition.


9. Melbourne International Film Festival

Year Founded: 1952
Held Annually:  Yes, in July or August
Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Awards: Grand Prix

Melbourne International Film Festivalphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The Melbourne International Film Festival is the oldest festival of its kind in Australia, dating back to 1952. Unlike some of the other film festivals on this list, the Melbourne International Film Festival doesn’t have set venue and takes place in various theatres around Melbourne’s city center. The festival is also Australia’s largest showcase of new Australian cinema – the festival also screens international films.

Did You Know?

Since 2013, Melbourne International Film Festival’s awards have been accredited by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Australian Film Institute, and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.


8. Berlin International Film Festival

Year Founded: June 6, 1951
Held Annually:  Yes, in February
Location: Berlin, Germany
Awards: Golden Bear; Silver Bears

Berlin International Film Festivalphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The Berlin International Film Festival, typically called Berlinale, was founded in West Germany in 1951 during the height of the Cold War. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca opened the first festival at the Titiana-Palast in Steglitz on June 6, 1951. Today, the Berlin International Film Festival has grown into one of the most prestigious and largest film festivals in the world. Up to 400 films are shown in several sections across cinematic genres, but only about 20 compete for the festival’s top awards, called the Golden Bear and several Silver Bears.

Did You Know?

With around 300,000 tickets sold and 500,000 admissions each year, the Berlin International Film Festival has the largest public attendance of any of the world’s annual film festivals.


7. Yorkton Film Festival

Year Founded: October 11, 1950
Held Annually:  Yes, in May
Location: Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Canada
Awards: Golden Sheaf Awards

Yorkton Film Festivalphoto source: Yorkton This Week

The Yorkton Film Festival traces its history back to 1947 when the Yorkton Film Council was formed. However, the first Yorkton Film Festival did not take actually take place until October 11, 1950. Yorkton is the oldest film festival in the Americas. Over the years, the festival has had many name changes, and has been known as the Yorkton Film Festival since 2009. Unlike the other festivals on this list, which welcome international entries, the Yorkton Film Festival focuses on Canadian productions, or international productions directed by Canadians, and focuses on films that are under 60 minutes in length.

Did You Know?

In 2020, the Yorkton Film Festival announced that it would include a new category for Mental Health, sponsored by the Mental Health Drop-in Centre for three years. The festival will be the first in Canada to include an award for this category.


6. Edinburgh International Film Festival

Year Founded: June 1, 1947
Held Annually:  Yes, in June
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
Awards: The Michael Powell Award

Edinburgh International Film Festivalphoto source: Flickr via this is Edinburgh

Although there are other film festivals on this list that are older, the Edinburgh International Film Festival bills itself as the oldest continually running film festival in the world because it has occurred every year without a break since 1947. All of the other earlier film festivals on this list were put on pause at some time during history due to World War II and other social/political turmoil of the host countries.

The first Edinburgh International Film Festival was called the International Festival of Documentary Films, and was opened by John Grierson, founder of the British documentary movement. The film festival shows a range of feature-length films and documentaries as well as short films, animations and music videos. The highest award given out Edinburgh International Film Festival is the Michael Powell Award.

Did You Know?

In 1972, the Edinburgh International Film Festival included the Women’s Film Festival, exclusively for female directors.


5. Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

Year Founded: 1946
Held Annually:  Yes, in July
Location: Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic
Awards: Crystal Globe

Karlovy Vary International Film Festivalphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival is the oldest film festival in Central Europe and the largest festival of this sort in the Czech Republic. Originally, the festival was held in Mariánské Lázně, but was moved to Karlovy Vary in 1947. During that first year in Karlovy Vary, the festival became competitive and the very first Crystal Globe was awarded. Over the next few years, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival grew bigger and in 1956, the International Federation of Film Producers Associations (FIAPF) officially designated Karlovy Vary a category A festival.

Did You Know?

Due to the long-lasting power of the Soviet Union and its predecessors, from 1959 to 1993, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival was only held every other year so that the Moscow Film Festival could be held on Karlovy Vary’s off years. This was because there could only be one “A” festival for all socialist countries.


4. Cannes Film Festival

Year Founded: September 20, 1946
Held Annually:  Yes, usually in May
Location: Cannes, France
Awards: Palme d’Or; Grand Prix

Cannes Film Festivalphoto source: Wikimedia Commons


The Cannes Film Festival is the second oldest of the “Big Five” film festivals – Venice Film Festival, Berlin International Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, and Sundance Film Festival. After the Venice Film Festival had become a propaganda machine for Hitler and Mussolini, the French tried to make their own film festival for the first time in 1939.

Since this was the beginning of World War II only a few countries were able to submit films and Germany and Italy turned down France’s invitation, which was only extended as a courtesy. Although this first go at a Cannes Film Festival was successful, the French were not able to try again until after the War ended. The first true Cannes Film Festival took place on September 20, 1946.

Did You Know?

In recent years, Cannes Film Festival has been surrounded by a number of gender and sexual controversies, including “Heelgate” in 2015, in which numerous female attendees of a red carpet premiere were stopped from entering for wearing flat soled shoes instead of high heels.


3. Locarno Film Festival

Year Founded: August 23, 1946
Held Annually:  Yes, typically in August
Location: Locarno, Switzerland
Awards: Golden Leopard; Leopard of Honour; Prix du Public

Locarno Film Festivalphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The Locarno Film Festival was one of three big film festival launched around the same time in 1946 following World War II. The first festival was quickly put together in less than three months with a line-up of fifteen movies, mainly American and Italian. Since it first began, the Locarno Film Festival has become known for being a prestigious platform for art house films. Locarno screens films in various competitive and non-competitive sections, including feature-length narrative and documentary, short, avant-garde, and retrospective programs.

Did You Know?

The first film ever shown at the Locarno Film Festival was Giacomo Gentilomo’s O sole mio.


2. Moscow International Film Festival

Year Founded: 1935
Held Annually:  Yes, in July
Location: Moscow, Russia
Awards: Golden George (Previously: Golden St. George; Golden Prize; and Grand Prix)

Moscow International Film Festivalphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The Moscow International Film Festival dates back to 1935, but was not held regularly until 1959. For several decades it was held every other year. Then in 1999, the Moscow International Film Festival finally became an annual event. Over the years, the films shown at the Moscow International Film Festival have reflected Russia’s socio-political changes. The Moscow International Film Festival isn’t as big as some of the other old festivals on this list, but in recent years, it has attracted more high profile guests and filmmakers.

Did You Know?

Over the years the Moscow International Film Festival’s Stanislavsky Award—“I Believe. Konstantin Stanislavsky” for acting achievements has been awarded to several prominent actors including Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Harvey Keitel, Gérard Depardieu, and Helen Mirren.


1. Venice Film Festival

Year Founded: August 6, 1932
Held Annually:  Yes, in late August or early September
Location: Venice, Italy
Awards: Golden Lion; Silver Lion; Grand Jury Prize; Volpi Cup; Special Jury Prize; Golden Osella

Venice Film Festivalphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The Venice Film Festival was founded on August 6, 1932, making it the oldest film festival in the world. It was started as part of the 18th Venice Biennale, which is one of the world’s oldest exhibitions of art, founded by the Venice City Council on  April 19, 1893. Since the Venice Film Festival is so old, it has not been held continuously since 1932 because of World War II. However, Venice Film Festival has been held almost every year in late August or early September since 1946 – the festival was put on pause again a few times in the 1970s because of Italy’s social and political unrest spanning several decades.

Did You Know?

In 2018 Roma by Alfonso Cuarón won the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion (the highest award) and became the first ever movie produced by Netflix to be awarded in a major film festival.


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