Movies were already facing a distribution crisis before the pandemic. With only a handful of deep-pocketed buyers dominating the festival markets, and many buyers wary of anything save for safe commercial bets, it has become increasingly difficult for daring international cinema to break through the North American market. At the same time, the pandemic has forced a lot of distributors to rethink their role in film culture, as they’ve worked within the constraints of home viewership to reach eager audiences beyond those with easy access to the arthouse.
While film festivals were largely virtual affairs, programmers did their part to showcase some of the best new movies that deserved wider audiences. Nevertheless, many of the highlights from this year’s circuit still need homes. The opportunities of 2021 remain a big mystery, but buyers will certainly need something to show the world, and anyone still looking to fill their slate should start by considering these 10 highlights.