A film festival is an organized, extended presentation of films in one or more cinemas or screening venues, usually in a single city or region. Increasingly, film festivals show some films outdoors. Films may be of recent date and, depending upon the festival's focus, can include international and domestic releases. Some festivals focus on a specific film-maker or genre (e.g., film noir) or subject matter (e.g., horror film festivals).

The “film festival” is a global phenomenon. According to Julian Stringer, there are over five hundred film festivals around the world in any given year. Some of these festivals are mammoth, star-studded gala events that are widely covered by the international press, like the Cannes film festival, while others like Edinburgh’s Dead by Dawn or The Toronto Jewish Film Festival, barely register on the global market.

The specific reception environment created by film festivals is largely defined by the event nature of the festival. While cinema attendance is often bemoaned as declining, festival attendances across the board are reported as going up. The possibility to see something first, or something one cannot see elsewhere, something unexpected – maybe even the added possibility to see a film star – brings people to the festival.