Just as Variety‘s annual Film Fest Guide has grown into a standalone publication, the number of worldwide film festivals and markets also has grown exponentially in the last few years. This millennium edition represents the largest and most up-to-date directory of festivals available in print or online, with more than 600 gatherings for festivalgoers of every stripe.

In a time when seemingly every movement and neighborhood has its own fest, events have become increasingly specialized. Whether it’s Dance on Film, the Brainwash Movie Festival or GenderQueer: the NorthWest Transgender Intersex Film Festival, there is truly an event for every type of cinematic pursuit. In Los Angeles, for example, which already hosts dozens of fests, this year marks the debut of the Silver Lake Film Festival, representing a small but creatively vibrant neighborhood.

While online exposure is increasingly useful to budding filmmakers, we have listed “online festivals” in a separate category. For the moment, a Web site is no substitute for a true festival experience where filmgoers and filmmakers meet face to face, whether it’s doing business over bloody marys on Cannes’ Carlton Terrace or picnicking on the grass in Telluride.

As more and more communities and special-interest groups seek the attention a fest can bring, the business of fests gets even more challenging. The competition for premieres and honorees is as fierce as it’s ever been, with even the venerable and glamorous Cannes coming under fire for not showing enough high-profile films . But for the filmmaker whose work reaches audiences for the first time at Resfest or in Edmonton, to mention a couple of festivals spotlighted in this year’s guide, the competition and the politics are all worth it. The obstacles and rules of the fest road, however, are tougher than ever to navigate. Here are 600 opportunities to learn more, to ask questions and sort out the festival that fits your film and/or your tastes.

– Patricia Saperstein, Managing Editor – Special Reports