From Wyoming to Batna, Algeria, hidden gem film festivals from around the world

Glitz and glamour aside, events worldwide exist purely for the love of cinema

The Cannes Film Festival, which has been running since the 1940s, will start its 77th iteration on May 14. It has been a stalwart of cinematic achievement and exploration, highlighting momentous films and introducing audiences to up-and-coming directors.

While festivals such as Cannes garner global attention annually, the celebration of film exists in locations all around the world – sometimes in the most unlikely of places. These festivals highlight important topics and are often found in picturesque locations.

From the Finnish countryside to the historical city of Kyoto, here are some hidden gem film festivals well worth the entry ticket.

Imedghassen Film Festival in Algeria

Since 2009, Batna in Algeria has geared up annually for the gathering of filmmakers and enthusiasts at the Imedghassen International Film Festival.

Organised by the El Lemssa Cultural Cooperative, the festival is held in May and hosts filmmakers, actors and industry professionals from Africa and around the world.

The event is named in honour of the ancient Numidian mausoleum of Imedghassen, located near the city. It is known as the oldest royal tomb in the Maghreb. Through this homage, the festival pays recognition to both Berber culture's rich heritage and the Aures region's historical importance.

Last year, the festival screened 21 films from 20 countries for competition, with some of the top prizes going to Egypt's Maggie Kamal for her film Microbus and Algeria's Ismael Lakehal for Mon Destin.

This year's event will run from May 11 to 15 and feature more than 170 film screenings, 21 of which will be in competition.

Travelling to the Imedghassen International Film Festival is a great opportunity to watch films from North Africa – with a particular spotlight on works from the host country – that may not be screened anywhere else.

Huhtamo International Film Festival in Finland

Located 160km from the capital city of Helsinki, the quiet town of Huhtamo plays host to the Huhtamo International Film Festival every July, offering a serene green paradise for cinema lovers.

While the weather can be extremely cold in the winter months, Finland enjoys clear, sunny days in the summer, perfect for days spent outside in the countryside. This festival takes advantage of the beautiful weather by hosting outdoor screenings under the stars, bringing people together for a unique cinematic experience.

Finland has a rich history of cinema, with directors such as Aki Kaurismaki, Jorn Donner and Renny Harlin producing film classics such as The Other Side of Hope, Three Scenes with Ingmar Bergman and Die Hard 2, respectively. While Helsinki also hosts an annual film festival, Huhtamo’s provides a more intimate setting and unique experience for cinephiles.

Following last year's event, its director posted an open letter on its Facebook page condemning funding cuts for public arts, from which the festival benefits. No concrete dates are in place for the festival to take place this year, and it's looking like the organisers are aiming to return in 2025 instead.

During the last year's festival, an eclectic programme of films were screened, including future classics Oppenheimer and Top Gun: Maverick, as well as cult favourites such as Eraserhead.

Wyoming International Film Festival in the US

Known for being the least populated US state, Wyoming isn’t the first place that comes to mind when thinking of lively film festivals. The entire state has little more than 500,000 inhabitants, yet hundreds travel every year to the city of Cheyenne to experience films together.

Beginning in 2010, the festival has grown in size and reputation over the years, becoming a must-attend event for film lovers from the surrounding states. The event is set to start on July 9 for five days of screenings, Q&As and live music.

Last year, a little-known indie film won in the Best Narrative Feature category and is one of this year’s most anticipated and well-talked-about movies – Hundreds of Beavers by Mike Cheslik is an example of what audiences can expect to see at the festival, giving it a launch pad to global recognition.

The event is also a prime opportunity to highlight the best of cinema from its native state, having set up a competition category specifically for films or filmmakers from Wyoming, or about the state.

Il Cinema Ritrovato in Italy

Bologna, Italy, is home to one of the most important and prolific film restoration labs in the world, the Cineteca di Bologna. The centre serves as both an archive to preserve old films and a place to restore them to 21st-century standards, allowing them to be screened again.

The Italian city is also home to the beloved classic film festival Il Cinema Ritrovato, which translates to found cinema. Every summer, cinephiles from around the world mark their calendars and book plane tickets and hotel rooms to enjoy newly restored films.

Bologna comes alive during the 10 summer days when the festival is on, with cinema’s greatest filmmakers and actors passing through to enjoy the festival as spectators. In the past, names like Martin Scorsese and Dario Argento have hosted screenings.

The festival is also a chance to view films screened in their original format, whether 35mm or 70mm. Audiences can experience unique screenings rarely found elsewhere.

The joy of Il Cinema Ritrovato festival comes from being surrounded by other people who share the joy and passion of cinema – not just the latest blockbusters but also the history and pillars of the art form.

Kyoto Historica International Film Festival in Japan

Japan has myriad important and entertaining film festivals. Some focus on anime or modern films, while others are major international festivals with entrants from all over the world.

In the beautiful and preserved city of Kyoto, film fans are immersed in history and culture with a festival that focuses on those themes. The Kyoto Historica International Film Festival screens movies that celebrate heritage, inviting attendees to experience work from masters such as Akira Kurosawa as well as other Japanese period classics.

The festival also highlights newer films that tell historical stories, creating a narrative through time of how cultures evolve and change on camera.

Held at the Museum of Kyoto, usually in the last week of January depending on the weather, the festival is a great chance to get fully engrossed in history in a setting that supports the feeling.

International Festival of Cinema and Common Memory in Morocco

The city of Nador in Morocco’s north-eastern region is home to the International Festival of Cinema and Common Memory.

Organised by The Centre for Common Memory of Democracy and Peace – a national advocate for human rights and universal values – the festival will return from October 5 to 11 and focus on the importance of a sustainable environment for quality living.

The festival aims to raise awareness of environmental challenges through art, notably cinema. Documentary submissions are encouraged to explore topics such as global warming, biodiversity loss and pollution, while short and feature films are invited to delve into memory, human rights and contemporary issues with innovative approaches.

With the theme The Memory of the Sky and the Ground, the festival seeks to inspire action and foster dialogue on critical environmental issues facing humanity by harnessing the power of cinema.

Film students and burgeoning filmmakers from North Africa and the rest of the world are encouraged to submit their environmental films and allow for the discussion to grow, leading to potential solutions.

Updated: May 05, 2024, 6:50 AM