Europe’s best film festivals you must visit

Members of the public can’t get into Cannes, while Venice is strictly a glitterati preserve – so which other European film festivals merit a visit?

Best for youngsters: Giffoni Film Festival

17-26 July 2015

Who says adults have the best taste? At the Giffoni, Europe’s largest children’s film festival, kids from countries around the world act as discerning jurors, while also learning about the cinematic process and, no doubt, eating far too much toffee popcorn. Over 100,000 punters and professionals attend – including high-calibre stars like Richard Gere and Alan Rickman, aka Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series, both of whom lent A-list pizzazz last year. Turning 45 in 2015 with a ‘Carpe Diem’ theme, the festival is held in Giffoni Valle Piana, a small, stone-built town in rural southern Italy near to Naples. Francois Truffaut was certainly a fan; after visiting in 1982, he declared, “of all the film festivals, Giffoni is the most necessary.” 

 

Best for alternatives: Locarno film festival

5-15 August 2015
 

If you’re a David Lynch die-hard or Wim Wenders wannabe, this unique Swiss festival is for you: over the course of 11 days every August, Locarno becomes a veritable pilgrimage spot for fans of the cinematic avant-garde. Every eclectic film vying for the prestigious Golden Leopard is guaranteed to be daring and different, delighting the thousands of eclectic film fans and auteurs who loiter beside Lake Maggiore each year. Festival life revolves around 8,000-strong outdoor showings on the gorgeous Piazza Grande, all eyes glued on one of the world’s largest open-air screens as towering Alps look on majestically above. The public are vital here, too, deciding which director takes home the Prix du Public UBS award. No pressure. 

 

Best for sun-seekers: San sebastian international film festival

18-26 September 2015

Despite being comparatively pequeño, this balmy, 63-year-old bash has long been a hotspot for A-list talent. Brad Pitt, Naomi Watts, Al Pacino and Meryl Streep have all visited in recent years, while Alfred Hitchcock premiered Vertigo here, and Star Wars saw its first-ever European screening. Linked in particular with Pedro Almodóvar and Francis Ford Coppola, its output tends to mostly be Spanish, Latin American or local and Basque, but English dubs are available, a Japanese independent season is planned for 2015 and quality is generally guaranteed, what with San Sebastian being one of only 14 ‘A’-category competitive festivals accredited by the FIAPF body. As are sumptuous views: celluloid-lovers turning up for movies at the modernist Kursaal Palace can also watch tanned surfers riding turquoise waves in the Atlantic in between flicks. Once credits have rolled for the night, make sure to investigate the city’s renowned restaurant scene and dissect the day’s offerings some pintxos (Basque tapas).

 

Best for star spotters: Berlinale

11-21 February 2016

Launched during the Cold War and dishing out Silver Bears, this Berlin spectacular is the world’s largest publically-attended film festival, with around 300,000 attending. Showing an extensive roster of esoteric indie thought-provokers, big-name Hollywood fare, forgotten classics and - a particular USP - high-profile documentaries, it spreads and sprawls out across the German city from its main hub on Potsdamer Platz to a range of quirky venues. Excitement abounds, with announcements about upcoming events plastered across the U-Bahn and queues for last-minute tickets a common spectacle. Playing in 2015 were Terrence Malick’s King of Cups, Mr Holmes, with Ian McKellen in the role of Sherlock and, attended by Natalie Portman herself, the premiering As We Were Dreaming.