The inaugural Film Fest Gent was held in 1974 as the Film Happening of Ghent (Filmgebeuren van Gent). It was organized by Dirk De Meyer of Universitaire Filmclub and Ben Ter Elst of Studio Skoop with the help of Jacques Dubrulle. The new festival focused on movies which were not screened in the regular cinemas because of their unusual and often controversial style and content.
The festival's first edition featured 18 films that shocked the audience by covering provocative topics and breaking taboos. By 1978, the festival's program had expanded to 50 films. The next year, the local, regional and national governments participated more in the event, and the festival gained an international status.
In 1985, the organizers introduced a new vision of the festival and relaunched the event with the new theme. The film festival in Ghent became the world's first film festival with the focus on music and its impact on film. The festival's specific emphasis on film soundtracks and scores allowed it to cross the traditional borders of festival programming and expand it by organizing concerts and other music-related events. Every year, internationally renowned film composers such as Hans Zimmer and Ennio Morricone are given the chance to perform their scores at the festival.
In the 1990s, the Flanders International Film Festival – Ghent became Belgium's largest film festival. Since 2001, the festival has organized and hosted the World Soundtrack Awards, the world's most prestigious soundtrack awards. Each year, the World Soundtrack Academy awards prizes in three main categories: Film Composer of the Year, Best Original Film Score of the Year, and Best Original Song Written Directly for a Film. There also are other categories and special awards.
The program of Film Fest Gent is divided into several sections such as official selection (films in the ruinung for the festival Grand Prix), Festival Previews, World Cinema, Memory of Film, Almost Cinema, ExploreZone, PLUS-Parcours, etc. From 2010 onwards, the festival hosts an exhibition dedicated to an icon of the world film industry. The inaugural exhibition celebrated the accomplishments of French filmmaker, screenwriter and actor Jacques Tati.