Following a year of film festival cancellations, postponements and hybrid events defined by ingenuity and Covid precautions, the 2021 festival calendar promises to bring its own set of surprises and awards. Here’s a look at what’s running, what’s coming—and what to get excited for in the year ahead.

The Transilvania International Film Festival is celebrating its 20th anniversary from July 23 to August 1 in Romania’s medieval city of Cluj. A variety of open-air venues naturally lend themselves to outdoor screenings—which isn’t to say the logistics of planning a 10-day gala event in the middle of global pandemic have proved easy. “We [dealt] with this last year, when it was really tough and nobody knew how to organize this kind of event,” said founder Tudor Giurgiu. “And nobody thought we could do it. But last year was a big success.” Over a dozen venues showed nearly 200 films for the in-person event, which kicked off with Spanish director Cesc Gay’s The People Upstairs. The main competition boasts 12 titles vying for the Transilvania Trophy, including What Do We See When We Look at the Sky, a romance set in an ancient Georgian town, plus Romania’s own Poppy Field and Unidentified.

Elsewhere in Europe, the Sundance Film Festival: London (July 29-August 1) came back to Picturehouse Central—a seven-screen cinema with restaurants and bars—as an in-person party. “We’re thrilled to return to London and expand across the UK with an exciting program of films that tell fresh, independent stories,” said director Tabitha Jackson. Those offerings included eight films by women directors, like CODA, which stands for Child of Deaf Adults. Writer-director Sian Heder tells the tear-jerking story of Ruby, the only hearing member of a deaf family who must choose between following her passion and saving the family business. Zola, a comedy based on a viral 2015 Twitter thread, closed out the four-day festival.

The Melbourne International Film Festival (August 5-22) went virtual last year due to coronavirus outbreaks, but organizers are hopeful this year’s show can run as a hybrid event, despite low Australian vaccination rates. A record 40 world premiere screenings were announced for the 69th annual event, which will play in cinemas until August 15, followed by a week of at-home viewings. Get excited for Adam Driver’s acclaimed performance in Annette — a zany musical costarring Marion Cotillard — and the sight of a scruffy-looking Nicolas Cage in Pig, about a reclusive truffle hunter who goes searching for his stolen hog.

In Scotland, the 74th Edinburgh International Film Festival (August 18-25) kicks off with the European premiere of Pig and includes a hybrid lineup of indoor events at Filmhouse Cinema plus open-air screenings in scenic St. Andrew Square. UK audiences can enjoy movies via the online Filmhouse at Home platform. American comedic icon Billy Crystal will close the festivities with his latest cinematic offering, Here Today, which he co-wrote and directed.

Come autumn, all eyes turn to Italy for the 78th Venice International Film Festival (September 1-11) that (like last year) will operate by following strict Covid protocols, including 50 percent theater capacity plus proof of vaccination status. Expect A-list stars like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who co-wrote The Last Duel; Kristen Stewart, who morphed into the Princess Diana for Spencer; and Benedict Cumberbatch and Kristen Dunst, who star in legendary filmmaker Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog. Films from 59 countries will be represented, making this a truly glitzy gala that’s often served as the jumping-off point for awards season.

Finally, the Toronto International Film Festival (September 9-18) will run as a mixed online and in-person event following last year’s virtual ceremony. Canada plans to open its borders to fully vaccinated American visitors starting August 9, which organizers hope will boost attendance. This year’s lineup includes Dear Evan Hanson, a musical drama starring Ben Platt, Julianne Moore and Amy Adams that’s launching the 46th annual festival. Buzz-worthy features like The Worst Person in the World and The Eyes of Tammy Faye should keep filmgoers entertained until Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s period drama One Second concludes the fun by making its North American debut.

And if that’s not enough to get excited about, the Sundance Film Festival is already planning its 2022 (January 20-30) return to Park City, Utah, while the Cannes Film Festival will celebrate its 75th edition next May. Happy viewing!

Caitlin Armstrong
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