A film festival is an event designed to exhibit, celebrate, and promote a selection of motion pictures chosen according to the particular aims and ambitions of the event's organizers and sponsors. Although the exact origin of the term "film festival" is difficult to determine, its near-universal use probably stems more from its alliterative lilt than from its precision as a descriptive tool. Most film festivals do have characteristics that can be described as festive, such as gala opening ceremonies and guest appearances by directors and celebrities. Still, the events are generally taken quite seriously by the movie buffs, film-industry insiders, and journalists who attend them. Many find festivals to be occasions for prolonged and intensive activity including long hours of screenings, press conferences, question-and-answer sessions, and networking with like-minded professionals and fans.

Beyond these aspects it is hard to generalize about film festivals, which vary widely in their purposes and goals. Some are regional, focusing on productions with limited budgets and ambitions and appealing primarily to local audiences. Others are national or international, drawing attendees from near and far by showcasing a diverse array of movies from many countries. Some have expansive programs with hundreds of titles, whereas others limit their slates to a modest number of rigorously selected entries. Some are eclectic and all-embracing in scope; others have specific interests with regard to genre or format, specializing in such areas as animation, documentary, short films, gay and lesbian films, and films for children. Some give prizes to films, filmmakers, and performers; others deliberately avoid this practice. Few rules for film-festival organizing exist beyond knowing what might currently attract cinema enthusiasts.

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