Critic’s picks for best film festivals of ’23-’24 season


As part of our Guide to the Arts, available in PRIME Magazine on Oct. 1, South Florida Sun Sentinel entertainment writer Phillip Valys gives his “Critic’s Picks” for best film festivals coming up in South Florida.

OUTshine LGBTQ+ Film Festival Fort Lauderdale

Oct. 19-29; NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, Savor Cinema and The Classic Gateway Theatre; 877-766-8156;

Details for the 15th anniversary of this gender-bending suite of indie films and documentaries haven’t been released in full as of this writing, but OUTshine often repeats many of the same screenings as the Miami edition (which showed 43 feature-length movies and shorts back in April). Confirmed, so far, are screenings of “Big Easy Queens,” director Erynn Dalton’s campy horror-musical with voodoo, zombies and drag queens; and “Febrero,” director Hansel Porras Garcia’s portrait of a widowed Cuban exile in Miami. OUTshine’s Miami centerpiece film was the turbulent coming-of-age drama “L’immensità,” starring Penelope Cruz as the mother of three children in conservative 1970s Rome — one of whom is questioning their gender identity. As in the past, the full program may include panel discussions, post-screening Q&A sessions, exclusive afterparties and virtual-only screenings. The opening-night film is scheduled to kick off Oct. 19 at NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale. The rest of the roster will screen at its usual Fort Lauderdale venues, the Classic Gateway Theatre and Savor Cinema.

"Big Easy Queens," Fort Lauderdale director Erynn Dalton's LGBT horror film featuring original musical numbers, voodoo, zombies and drag Queens, will be screened during the Outshine LGBTQ+ Film Festival Fort Lauderdale Oct. 19-29, 2023.

Outshine LGBTQ+ Film Festival Fort Lauderdale / Courtesy

“Big Easy Queens,” Fort Lauderdale director Erynn Dalton’s LGBT horror film featuring original musical numbers, Vodou, zombies and drag queens, will be screened during the OUTshine LGBTQ+ Film Festival Fort Lauderdale in October. (OUTshine LGBTQ+ Film Festival Fort Lauderdale/Courtesy)

GEMS Film Festival

Nov. 2-5; Miami Dade College’s Tower Theater Miami. 305-237-3456 or

It’s best to consider GEMS as a fall appetizer for the much-older, mightier Miami Film Festival (April 5-14, 2024), a weeklong bash crammed with buzzy Oscar heavyweights and sleepers already drawing early attention on the foreign and indie-film circuits. In the past, GEMS screened early premieres of Pedro Almodovar’s “Pain and Glory,” Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans,” Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” and Will Smith’s Williams sisters biopic “King Richard” — months before the mainstream declared them awards-season hopefuls. This year’s schedule is TBA, but as always, it should be paired with appearances from filmmakers, seminars and post-screening parties.

Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival

Nov. 3-16; Savor Cinema, Cinema Paradiso-Hollywood and other Broward County venues. 954-525-3456 or

The 38th edition of this county-spanning cinema feast will certainly try to outclass its usual celebrity-studded lineup, which in recent years set a high benchmark with appearances from the late Burt Reynolds, Talia Shire, Tamryn Manning (“Orange is the New Black”), Beverly D’Angelo and ‘90s rapper-home remodeler Vanilla Ice. The festival expects to screen nearly 200 feature-length films, shorts and documentaries, many world and U.S. premieres, at a dozen venues around Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood. Last year’s event, for example, kicked off with the black comedy “American Dreamer,” a Tribeca darling starring Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones”) as a Harvard professor who schemes to buy the estate of a lonely widow, played by Shirley MacLaine.

Miami Jewish Film Festival

Jan. 11-25, 2024; at locations from North Miami to Miami Beach. 305-573-7304 or

One of South Florida’s big cinematic success stories is not a single film but rather director Igor Shteyrenberg’s resurgent film festival, where attendance has grown from 4,000 in 2013, when he took over, to 35,000 visitors 10 years later. The secret sauce is a relentless push for younger film buffs (one membership gives free screenings to anyone age 21 to 35), as well as more celebrities and — new for 2024 — a hybrid program offering films in theaters and online streaming. (Recent big names have included Natalie Portman, Itzhak Perlman, Logan Lerman, Nancy Spielberg and Judd Hirsch.) Last January’s edition unspooled 100-plus feature-length films and shorts, including “This is National Wake,” a documentary about a South African multiracial, anti-apartheid punk band.

Horror-film festival Popcorn Frights Film Festival screens genre-bending slashers and creature features at theaters in Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach. (Popcorn Frights Film Festival/Courtesy)

Popcorn Frights Film Festival/Courtesy

Horror-film festival Popcorn Frights Film Festival screens genre-bending slashers and creature features at theaters in Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach. (Popcorn Frights Film Festival/Courtesy)

Popcorn Frights Film Festival

Aug. 8-18, 2024; Savor Cinema and The Classic Gateway Theatre in Fort Lauderdale and O Cinema South Beach in Miami Beach. 305-573-7304 or

The scare peddlers behind this Floridian fright fest, Igor Shteyrenberg and Marc Ferman, have grown this bash the old-fashioned way: through word-of-mouth buzz. Just about every film genre fits under its umbrella, from alien satires and zombie comedies (zomb-edies?) to spine-tingling creature features and found-footage horror. The recently concluded 2023 edition brought 116 feature-length films and shorts (26 of them world premieres), along with tributes to late director William Friedkin (“The Exorcist”). Organizers plan to announce the 2024 lineup next spring, although horror fans needn’t wait that long: Popcorn Frights programs horror screenings year-round, so audiences are never far from a bloodbath.

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