Chicago has a long and illustrious cinematic history: Charlie Chaplin at the Essanay Studios in 1915, ’80s classics like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Blues Brothers, modern day hits like The Dark Knight. So it makes sense that our city is home to notable and groundbreaking film festivals throughout the year. Here’s just a sampling of Chicago’s top film festivals.
Chicago International Film Festival
Oct. 14 – 25, 2020
Now in its 56th year, this is North America’s longest-running competitive film festival. The renowned fest showcases more than 150 films from over 50 countries, filmmaker Q&As, red carpet galas, tributes, panels, and, of course, an awards ceremony.
Annual film festivals and events
Stranger Than Fiction Documentary Premieres
Jan. 2 – Feb. 3, 2020
This annual showcase celebrates the art of the documentary, presenting the Chicago debuts of new documentary releases. Many different nations are represented in films, offering perspectives from Israel to Japan and Mexico to Qatar. Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.
Festival of Films from Iran
Feb. 2 – March 3, 2020
This Iranian film festival showcases Chicago premieres of new films from Iran and the Iranian diaspora, as directors continue to overcome challenges and circumvent taboos to bring their work to the world. Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.
Chicago Irish Film Festival
Feb. 27 – March 1, 2020
The Chicago Irish Film Festival is a four-day event that presents a selection of shorts, narrative features, and documentaries by Irish filmmakers and filmmakers of Irish heritage. Various venues
In/Motion International Dance Film Festival
Feb. 22, 2020
The In/Motion International Dance Film Festival connects Chicago’s vibrant dance and film communities with national and international artists through short and feature dance film screenings, Q&As, workshops, live performances, dance classes, panel discussions, and networking events. Various venues
One Earth Film Festival
March 6 – 15, 2020
One Earth Film Festival utilizes compelling environmental films and engaging programming to bring about an understanding of climate change, sustainability, and the power of people. Various venues
Chicago Feminist Film Festival
March (hiatus for 2020)
The Chicago Feminist Film Festival showcases independent film — predominantly shorts — spanning documentary, fiction and experimental genres, and aims to address issues of gender, sexuality, race, and other forms of inequality. Film Row Cinema, 8th Floor, 1104 S. Wabash Ave.
Chicago European Union Film Festival
North America’s largest showcase of European Union cinema presents over 60 premieres from 28 EU nations, and features filmmaker appearances, discussions, and special events. Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.
JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival
The JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival is a no-holds barred approach to diversity and the strong Jewish contributions to world culture. The fest showcases films that resonate across age groups for families, young adults, and seniors. Various venues
Onion City Experimental + Video Festival
March 12 – 15, 2020
Onion City is one of the few international festivals exclusively devoted to experimental film and video. The mission of Onion City is to provide local audiences with an opportunity to view a wide range of contemporary experimental works that represent differing styles, forms, and nationalities. 720 N. Ridge Ave.
Chicago Comedy Film Festival
March 20 – 22, 2020
The Chicago Comedy Film Festival is committed to bringing independent comedy to the screen, with a goal of supporting comedy filmmaking as a vital and influential art form. Columbia College Chicago, 1104 S. Wabash St.
Sound of Silent Film Festival
March 28, 2020
Featuring newly composed scores performed live to modern silent films from around the world, this one-night-only event is a don’t miss. Davis Theater, 4614 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago Latino Film Festival
April 16 – 30, 2020
The Chicago Latino Film Festival is considered the largest, most comprehensive Latino film festival in the United States, presenting over 100 films of cultural and social significance from Latin America, Spain, Portugal, and the United States. AMC River East 21 Theaters, 322 E. Illinois St.
The Annual Asian American Showcase
The annual Asian American Showcase is a unique festival that features the diverse voices of Asian American filmmakers through narrative features, documentaries, and shorts. Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.
The Chicago International Film Festival’s annual CineYouth Festival showcases short films made by filmmakers 22 years old and younger from around the world. CineYouth strives to encourage the talent of young artists and to provide them with the opportunity to tell their stories, network with their peers, and be recognized for their creativity. Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave.
Chicago Palestine Film Festival
This annual festival represents the spirit and mood of contemporary Palestinian life. Now in its 19th year, this is the longest-running Palestinian film festival of its kind in the world. Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.
Chicago Critics Film Festival
The Chicago Critics Film Festival lets moviegoers see some of the year’s most talked-about films — before they make their commercial debut. The schedule comprises recent festival favorites and as-yet-undistributed works from a wide variety of filmmakers, ranging from award winners to talented newcomers. Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave.
May – December
Chicagoland Shorts is Full Spectrum Features’ annual touring short film series that celebrates the vastness of the Chicagoland experience and provides an outlet for those cinematic voices that often go unheard within the independent film community. Various venues
Millennium Park Summer Film Series
June – Aug.
This year’s Millennium Park Summer Film Series will feature films selected by local theatre groups, in honor of the Year of Chicago Theatre. Bring a blanket, a picnic basket and enjoy a movie under the stars. Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph St.
Chicago Underground Film Festival
The Chicago Underground Film Festival, the longest-running “underground” film festival in the world, exists to showcase the defiantly independent filmmaker. Expect a selection of documentary, experimental, and avant-garde narrative film and video. The Logan Theatre, 2646 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Black Harvest Film Festival
Now in its 25th year, the Black Harvest Film Festival is a vibrant annual showcase of new work from the African diaspora, telling stories, raising questions, and touching on issues that relate to the African American, Black African, and African diasporic experience. Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.
Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival
The Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival seeks out bold and innovative filmmakers who utilize story elements in a new and exciting way, presenting character-driven independent cinema that’s fueled by the filmmaker’s passion for the art without large studio support. Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave.
ReelAbilities Disability Film Festival – Chicago
ReelAbilities Film Festival is the largest film festival in the country dedicated to sharing the lives, stories, and art of people with disabilities. Various venues
The Chicago Onscreen Local Film Showcase
The Chicago Onscreen Local Film Showcase gives local filmmakers the opportunity to share their work with a citywide audience through free outdoor public screenings in local parks. Previous showcase films have included Chicago premieres and world premieres, as well as festival-circuit favorites. Various venues
Juggernaut Film Festival
This week-long film event celebrates science fiction and fantasy short films from around the world. The festival is presented by Chicago’s Otherworld Theatre Company, whose mission is to further explore and promote the sci-fi/fantasy genre. Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave.
Chicago South Asian Film Festival
The Chicago South Asian Film Festival is one of the largest multicultural events in the heartland, and supports films from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Tibet. Various venues
Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival
Reeling’s mission is to counteract the misrepresentation and stereotyping of LGBTQ+ people in mainstream media. The fest, the second longest-running film festival of its kind in the world, showcases a range of genres.
Chicago International Social Change Film Festival
Chicago International Social Change Film Festival showcases films that document injustices and inspire audiences to create change. Various venues
Asian Pop-Up Cinema
Asian Pop-Up Cinema (亞洲躍動電影展) is a semi-annual film festival — every spring and fall — presenting a series of specially curated films in their original languages with English subtitles. AMC River East 21 and other venues
(In)Justice for All Film Festival
The (In)Justice for All Film Festival seeks to use the power of film to help end the epidemic of mass incarceration. In addition to screening films, the festival hosts events to increase understanding around the issues of mental health, drug addiction and abuse, harsh juvenile sentencing, the drug war, and more. Various venues
Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema
The mission of the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema is to share an appreciation of globally recognized Israeli cinematic achievements and diverse culture with the community at large, and serving as a catalyst for multicultural dialogue. Various venues
Chicago International Children’s Film Festival
Each year, the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival presents the best 250+ short and feature films for children and youth from 45+ countries. Experience the joy and power of film through premiere screenings, hands-on workshops, and discussions with filmmakers. Various venues
Chi-Town Multicultural Film Festival
The Chi-Town Multicultural Film Festival provides nationwide exposure for thought-provoking, envelope-pushing films. It focuses on stories, people, and passions that are too often unexplored in mainstream filmmaking. Various venues
Mostra IX: Brazilian Film Series Chicago
MOSTRA (meaning “exhibit” in Portuguese) is the largest Brazilian film festival in the Midwest. The event’s goal is fostering conversations about social issues between academia, filmmakers, and students through Brazilian films with social conscience. Various venues
Chicago Polish Film Festival
This is the world’s most extensive showcase of Polish film and the largest annual Polish cultural event outside of Poland. Various venues
Chicago International Reel Shorts Festival
Chicago International Reel Shorts Festival was created and designed to celebrate the art of the short film, featuring various themed categories. Chicago Filmmakers Theater, 5243 N. Clark St.
Ongoing film festivals and events
Midwest Independent Film Festival
First Tuesday of the month
This is the nation’s only film festival solely dedicated to Midwest filmmakers, presenting audiences with regionally produced independent cinema. This year-round film festival sits proudly at the center of the independent film scene in Chicago and the Midwest. Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark St.
Pride Film Fest
A monthly festival of LGBTQ+ independent films in one of the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities in the United States. Check out the full list of screenings. Broadway Theater, Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway