The Best Short Film Festivals for New Filmmakers

by Tycho Smith January 24, 2020 8 min read

The Best Short Film Festivals for New Filmmakers

Every filmmaker dreams of the day that their film will appear on the big screen in front of a real, live audience that will inevitably vote for it as the best picture in a major film festival. But, before you can get there, you have to put in a lot of work. Maybe you’ve already created a few projects on your own or you’re just beginning to work on your very first short film. Either way, you should have some film festivals in mind if you’re considering entering. It’s usually a good idea to research some film festivals before creating your project because it will help to know which ones you plan to apply to and what types of films they usually show. Of course, you want to use your own creativity to capture the judges’ attention, but it helps to know what types of films have won in the past. To get started, grab your best video equipment and start writing down your script and check out these top film festivals for new filmmakers.

Best U.S. Short Film Festivals for New Filmmakers

Atlanta Film Festival

people seated at outdoor theater

When applying to a short film festival for the first time, it’s great to have high ambitions, but you also need to be realistic. It’s unlikely that your first-ever film is going to make it into major festivals like Sundance, but other reputable events like the Atlanta Film Festival might present a better opportunity. In the last few years, Atlanta has become a hotspot for filming TV and movies, attracting a slew of new talent to the area. Nearly 30,000 people flock to the event each year to discover budding new directors, actors and filmmakers. Not only will you have the chance to show your film in one of the few Oscar-qualifying film fests, but you’ll also be able to network and connect with hundreds of important film industry people.

Palm Springs International ShortFest

Another Academy Award qualifying fest, the Palm Springs International ShortFest welcomes entries from across the globe. This festival is particularly interested in discovering new talent, so amateur filmmakers are encouraged to submit their best work, but all entries must be shorter than 40 minutes. Since the festival’s inception in 1996, more than 100 films from the festival have received Oscars, proving that the festival is an excellent starting point for budding creatives.

Aspen Shortsfest

Aside from the Aspen Shortsfest’s international recognition and status as one of the 24 Academy Award qualifying festivals, it’s held in one of the most beautiful areas of the U.S. Aspen is a small town nestled in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, providing a gorgeous backdrop and entertaining location for a film festival. The Aspen Shortsfest welcomes a range of entries each year from animated short films to comedies and student films.

tribeca film festival sign on building

Tribeca Film Festival

If you’re looking to enter your film into a festival for the first time, the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City is a great option. This festival accepts entries from both new and established filmmakers, meaning it is possible to get your project on the screen for the first time. Because the event takes place in the Big Apple, it also presents an excellent opportunity for filmmakers to meet and greet with others in their industry. For anyone interested in creating documentary-style short films, the Tribeca Film Festival is the perfect outlet as it offers a Best Documentary Short category in addition to other categories like Best Narrative Short.

Telluride Film Festival

Each year, the Telluride Film Festival is hosted in Telluride, Colorado, a charming Southwestern mountain town. This event differs from some of the other most popular short film festivals because it limits entries to a maximum running time of 60 minutes instead of 40 minutes. If you have a project that doesn’t quite fit the time limits of other festivals, this is a great option for you, but the Telluride festival does tend to accept fewer entries with just 24 films making it in each year.

Best Global Short Film Festivals for New Filmmakers

Raindance

The Raindance Festival is hosted in London each year and is known as the largest independent film festival in the UK, making it a bit competitive but also offering a lot of opportunities for new filmmakers. One of the greatest advantages to making it into the festival is the chance to qualify for either an Academy Award or a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award. According to the film festival’s website, there is a particular emphasis on first-time directors and filmmakers, giving amateurs an extra edge when submitting their best work.

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Berlin Film Festival

If you’re looking to get your work in front of a huge audience, the Berlin Film Festival is exactly what you’re looking for as the event is known to sell upwards of 300,000 tickets every year. Some say that it is one of the film festivals with the highest attendance in the entire world. The festival, sometimes referred to as the Berlinale, has several different categories with varying time limits. The Perspektive Deutsches Kino category must be under 40 minutes, the Berlinale shorts are limited to 30 minutes and the Generation entries are just 20 minutes or less.

American Film Festival

Ironically, this festival, which focuses on American-made films as the name suggests, is actually held each year in Wroclaw, Poland. For any American filmmakers, this festival is an excellent chance to travel to a new destination and showcase your work to a variety of industry experts. The purpose of the event is to create a coalition between the countries of Central Europe and America to discover and distribute new, great independent films. This is the only event of its kind in the region, so it’s always a unique and rewarding experience for those who make it into the festival.

Toronto International Film Fest

An international film fest to rival Berlin’s, the Toronto International Film Festival is known to host around 480,000 people every year. This event is extremely popular for both Canadians and foreign visitors as it has welcomed some of truly incredible indie films since it was founded in 1976. Although we tend to think of Sundance and Cannes as two of the most prestigious film events, the Toronto fest may be a close third with a large number of celebrities in attendance. As a first-time filmmaker, you are encouraged to submit your work, though you may find that you have much more competition at this event because of its reputation.

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Tips for Making a Short Film

Consider Crowdfunding

Money is an important aspect of creating a short film. Of course, many people have made top-notch indie films on extreme budgets, but you’re still going to need some kind of money to get started. If you don’t already own gear, you’ll need to invest in affordable video equipment to get you started, but don’t skimp on the accessories you’ll need like a gimbal, microphones and a few good lights. In recent years, some independent film festivals have given out awards to truly compelling movies shot almost entirely on iPhones. Just make sure you have all the necessary gear and gadgets to make your project look professional, regardless of what you plan to film on.

Once you’ve set a budget for yourself, you should consider crowdfunding by reaching out to people you know or even starting a GoFundMe to help bring your vision to life. It can be a bit awkward to ask people for money, but you’d be surprised how many people are willing to buy into something they believe in–and just a little bit of money from a lot of people can really add up.

Find Compelling Actors

When making a film just for fun, the quality of the acting isn’t all that important because you’re not planning to share it with anyone but you and your friends. However, for a serious film festival, your actors are just as important as your script and your camera work, if not more so. Unless you have some talented actor friends, don’t ask them to be in your production. Instead, host auditions and encourage people who are already involved in acting to try out. Be critical. You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but you need to find actors who can truly capture your script and get an emotional reaction out of your audience.

Keep It Short

Every short film festival has a time limit, most of which fall around 40 minutes, but that doesn’t mean that you need to run to exactly that time. In fact, if your story can be told in less than 40 minutes, it may even make your project stand out from the rest. It’s really all about quality. Keeping your production on the shorter side will keep people focused and prevent you from getting sidetracked with too many side plots. Be sure to be as concise and engaging as possible.

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Essential Gear for Making a Short Film

Video Equipment

As you can imagine, video gear is probably the most vital equipment you need to create a film. There are a variety of recording devices that you can choose from, including your very own iPhone. If you’re interested in becoming a serious filmmaker and plan to create more short films or maybe even a feature-length film someday, then we recommend investing in a high-quality camera with video functions. You can also get filters to give your settings a unique look specific to your style or the emotion you’re trying to convey.

Audio Equipment

When it comes to filmmaking, your audio is equally as important as your film. Audiences can forgive poor video quality, but poor audio can turn them off very quickly. It's very noticeable when the audio is poor. The video equipment will record what your audience is going to see, but your audio equipment needs to have clear sound to tell your audience clearly what’s going on. Cheap audio equipment or the wrong types of microphones can pick up unwanted background sounds that are distracting and unprofessional. You also want to avoid any audio that may sound too muffled or distant. You should have clear, crisp dialogue that your audience doesn’t need to strain to understand. The more the audience has to work to hear your film, the less attention they are going to give to it.

Accessories

There is a nearly endless list of video-making accessories available to you, but if you’re just starting out, you don’t need to invest a lot of money into unnecessary equipment. You will need certain video accessories like a tripod or a stabilizer to ensure that your shots are steady even during scenes with movement. You’ll also probably want to invest in a high-quality microphone or two to get that crisp audio we mentioned. As you become more serious about your filmmaking and you learn new techniques, you can purchase additional accessories to bring your films to the next level.

videographer with gimball video dslr

Let Movo Help with Your Short Films

Movo has everything you need to make your first short film a project to be remembered. Check out our extensive collection of video equipment and audio accessories. Once you’ve invested in our affordable yet high-quality gear, you can get started on your breakthrough project. Stay motivated and enter your finished product into some of these great film festivals with a love for discovering new, talented filmmakers just like you.


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