North America may be home to many of the world’s oldest and best LGBT film festivals, but Europe, too, has a lineup of excellent queer celluloid celebrations that happen throughout the year and across the continent. Often showcasing films of a more international slant than their US and Canadian counterparts, many of these festivals are also coveted spots for world premieres. What’s more, they tend to be important local gay events in and of themselves, drawing large LGBT audiences from their host cities and surrounding regions. In short, they make great reasons to finally hit those European hotspots you’ve been meaning to get to —where else can you mingle with smart and arty locals and at the same time catch some of the planet’s newest and best gay flicks?
The following are our picks for Europe’s 10 very best destination film fests. Most screen non-native movies with English subtitles, but be sure to check the listings before buying your tickets, lest you find yourself struggling to follow along with only Japanese audio and Italian subs.
1. Queer Lisboa
As the oldest film festival of any kind in the Portuguese capital (presenting its 18th edition in 2014), Queer Lisboa is also the country’s sole LGBT-only film fest. Organizers strive to present international titles that have had limited access to the usual festival circuit. Prizes are awarded in a number of categories, including Best Feature (which went to Georgia’s A Fold in My Blanket in 2013), Best Documentary (won by Mexico’s Quebranto in 2013) and Best Short (Sweden’s Benjamin’s Flowers in 2013).
Early to mid-October
The oldest continually occurring film fest of any kind in Denmark and one of the world’s longest-running and most respected annual LGBT film events, MIX will present its impressive 29th incarnation in 2014. Copenhagen’s Cinemateket usually serves as the primary venue, where a series of lively LGBT-themed debates are presented as MIX Academy.
3. Iris Prize Festival
Early to mid-October
As the planet’s premier showcase for LGBT short films, the Welsh capital’s Iris Prize Festival screens the 30 works in competition for the prize itself and also presents a slate of related parties and events along with a selection of new feature-length films. The winner of the Iris Prize receives a package worth a whopping £25,000, enough to finance their next film. It’s thus helped foster the careers of rising filmmakers like Brazilian Daniel Ribeiro, who expanded his winning short I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone from 2011 into the full-length The Way He Looks, which took home the Teddy Award for Best Feature at this year’s Berlinale.
4. Lesbisch Schwule Filmtage
Germany’s oldest and biggest queer-only film fest, Hamburg’s Lesbisch Schwule Filmtage (or Lesbian and Gay Film Days) launched way back in 1990 and now attracts more than 15,000 attendees every year to its packed schedule of international films, workshops and parties. The fest grants several awards: the Ursula, for best short (with sub-categories of gay, lesbian and gender bender); the Globola, for best feature; and the Dokula, for best full-length documentary.
5. Gender Bender Bologna
Late October to early November
Expanding the boundaries of traditional LGBT film and culture events, Bologna’s heady Gender Bender festival strives to highlight new works focusing on gender identity, sexual orientation and body representation, including not only the best new international films, but innovative theatre, dance, music and visual-arts pieces as well.
6. Florence Queer Festival
Early to mid-November
Fittingly for such a historically arty city, Florence’s Queer Festival is a highbrow affair that began as a theatre festival in 2003 and gradually expanded to include films, photography and literature. It’s now the largest celebration of queer culture in Tuscany, and since 2008 it’s been part of the city’s 50 Giorni di Cinema Internazionale a Firenze (50 Days of International Cinema in Florence).
Prague, Brno & beyond, Czech Republic
Early to mid-November
Until Prague Pride finally debuted in 2011, Mezipatra was the largest and most important annual LGBT happening in the Czech Republic, and it’s still a major event for both gay Czechs and their counterparts from surrounding Central and Eastern European countries. Prague sees the most Mezipatra action, but Brno (where the festival is based) is also a key part of the mix, and screenings and related events also take place in Ostrava, Olomouc and elsewhere. In all, some 100 films screen to nearly 100,000 viewers in 10 cities, making this one of the most nationwide LGBT film festivals in the world.
8. Teddy Award at the Berlin International Film Festival
Early to mid-February
So gay is the Berlin International Film Fest (known to attendees as the Berlinale) that it devotes a series of special awards, the Teddys, to the best of the more than 20 queer movies that screen here every year, culled from the newest and most exciting in LGBT filmmaking from around the world. Directors and stars are present in force and speak after many of the screenings. The fact that the larger festival is going on simultaneously means that you also stand a decent chance of bumping into the likes of James Franco, Jude Law or Tilda Swinton.
9. BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival
Launched in the mid-1980s by the British Film Institute, London’s main LGBT film fest took on a new name in 2014: BFI Flare. Organizers say the rebranding is an attempt to move away from rigid terms like lesbian, gay and even queer, which are believed to be seen as outmoded by younger people. More than 50 films screened at this year’s festival, including opener Lilting, starring Ben Whishaw, and closer 52 Tuesdays, an Australian film about trans parenthood.
10. Identities Queer Film Festival
Early to mid-June
Born in 1994 and folded into the Vienna International Film Festival (or Viennale) for several years, Identities is once again independent and now stands as the Austrian capital’s second largest film fest. At its 20th anniversary event in 2013, Identities gave Ira Sachs’s Keep the Lights On its International Jury Award, while Audience Awards went to Facing Mirrors from Iran and the gay Ugandan documentary Call Me Kuchu.
11. Fire!! Mostra Internacional de Cinema Gai i Lesbia
Early to mid-July
Spain’s longest-running LGBT film festival is now 18 years young and, despite the country’s recent economic hardships, is still going strong as one of Barcelona’s most important film events. In 2013 Fire!! began granting the Organizers’ Honorary Awards, which, in the feature category, went to Chile’s Young and Wild (the story of a young woman’s sexual maturing from director Marially Rivas) and, in the documentary category, to France’s Les Invisibles (director Sébastien Lifshitz’s film about gay aging).