We don't know if Hungarian filmmaker Flora Anna Buda dreams of winning an Oscar, but she has a chance. Or rather, two. Her latest animated film, “27”, won the top prize at two Oscar-qualifying film festivals: the Palme d’Or for Best Short Film at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, and a few months later, she took the Best Short Cristal Award at the 2023 Annecy International Animated Film Festival. The 11-minute-long animated film explores the angst of a 27-year-old woman still living with her parents and how this arrangement frustrates her sex life.
That does not sound like something you would see in theaters before the latest Pixar feature! Short-form animation allows a degree of creative freedom to go beyond commercial constraints. Sure, some adult-themed features manage to break through - like Dash Shaw’s “My Entire High School Sinking Into The Ocean” (2016) and “Cryptozoo” (2021) - but the market leans heavily towards kiddie fare. That is why you must capitalize on any chance to gain visibility for your project. Once you go through the wringer of development laboratories and production, it is time to map out your festival strategy. Hollywood’s golden man lies at the end of the road, if you want to go for it.
We already explored the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences' rules for admission of Live Action Short candidates. The Best Animated Short has its own rules, and perhaps the most important has to do with qualifying film festivals. Your film must play and win a particular prize at a an Oscar-qualifying festival in order to be considered. Every year, the Academy publishes a list, not included within the rules, which prompts you to look for it on their website or reach out for information. We scanned the latest list available to offer you a primer on the ones you should consider.
The complete list includes 166 Festivals. Some big names have animation competitions, but live action films monopolize most of the attention. Even if competition is fierce, you have to ponder the possibility of applying to them. This group includes the usual suspects, like Cannes and Sundance. But perhaps more interesting is a subgroup of 15 events dedicated exclusively to animation. All of them happen outside the US, so if you are luck enough to be invited, or going with your own dime, you can make a vacaction out of it. Most of them take place in the summer, so don't feel guilty about it. Check them out!
1. ANIFILM (International Festival of Animated Films, Czech Republic): Anifilm started in 2011. It usually takes place in the early days of May. They have an international competition as well as a national cinema section. Winners of both short film competitions can qualify for Oscar consideration. Filmmakers must be out of film school. Student projects have their category, which is not Oscar-qualifying. Bear in mind running time must be 59 minutes or less. Anything over 60 minutes is considered a feature. The 2023 Best Short Film winner was Portuguese Joao Gonzales’ “Ice Merchants,” also nominated for an Oscar.
2. ANIMA (The Brussels Animation Film Festival, Belgium): Anima recognizes the 1982's event “Encounter of Cinema Animation” as its first outing, but it was not until 2000 that it became an international competitive event. One year later, it took on the name of ANIMA. Inscriptions are open for the 43rd Edition. It will take place between February 23 and March 4, 2024. The deadline for application is October 2, 2023. Oddly, there is no reference in the rules about running time. Good news: registration is free! The 2023 Best International Short Winner was “Letter to a Pig,” directed by Tai Cantor.
3. ANIMAFEST ZAGREB (World Festival of Animated Film, Croatia): established in 1972, Zagreb Animafest claims to be the second oldest film festival dedicated to animation. It takes place in early June. The 2023 Short Film Grand Prix winner was Varya Yakovleva’s “Oneluv.” Calls for 2024 entries have yet to be published.
4. ANIMATION DINGLE (Ireland): Every year, the Festival takes over the southwest coastal town of Dingle, bringing talent from all over the world for a 2-day celebration of the art of animation. Submissions for the 2024 competition are now open until December 8, 2023. Shorts running time is less than 30 minutes and their production must finish after January 1, 2023. Their site specifies that only the Best Irish Professional Short Film Award is eligible for Oscar consideration. The 2023 winner was “Colour!,” by Britt Bailey.
5. ANIMATOR (International Animated Film Festival (Poland): the biggest animation festival in Poland was established in 2008 and earned Oscar-qualifying status in 2017. It takes place in late June. A few days ago, Elodie Derange won the Golden Pegasus Grand Prix for Best International Short Film with “Armat.” The filmmaker explores her Armenian roots by interviewing her relatives in an animated documentary. Check out Animator’s site for information on the 2024 edition.
6. ANIMAYO (Spain): the largest animation festival in Spain has been around since 2006, with Gran Canary Island as its home. The mid-Atlantic paradise is a prime tourist destination for Spaniards and people from all over the world. In 2022, it earned the distinction of having not one but two prizes to bring Oscar-qualifying status: the Grand Jury Prize and Best Animated Short in Spanish. Check out Carmen Córdoba’s “Amarradas” (Tied Up). Submissions are free and open for the 2024 edition until February 21, 2024.
7. ANIM’EST (International Animation Festival, Romania): The only Festival in Romania dedicated to animation started in 2006. It is a high-profile launchpad for animated films from all over the world. The 2022 opening night premiere was the Annecy-winner feature “Little Nicholas.” The winner of the top prize Anim’est Trophy gets Oscar-qualifying status. Shorts can be as long as 50 minutes, and no registration fee is due. Bear in mind your film must premiere there to qualify. Submissions are closed for the 2023 competition, scheduled from October 6 to 15. The 2022 winner was Oscar-nominated “Ice Merchants.”
8. Annecy International Animation Film Festival (France): The biggest animation festival in the world began thanks to the Savoie Film Society in 1956. Their leadership decided to establish the event at nearby Annecy. The lakeside town had an airport and was close to Geneva. By 1960 it was a competitive event. It changed from biannual to annual in 1997. Since then, it cemented its influence in world cinema. This year, Mexico was the Country of Honor. Guillermo del Toro’s “Pinocchio” played on opening night, and 250 Mexican animators shared their artistic vision. The 2023 edition just closed down. Submissions are usually open between November and April. This year, 3000 works entered, and only 200 made the shortlist. No entry fees are required!
9. Bucheon International Animation Festival (South Korea): The 25th Bucheon International Animation Festival, also known as BIAF, takes place between October 20 to 24 in Bucheon, a city 25 kilometers away from Seoul, South Korea. The submission deadline for shorts is June 30, so if you read this article just when we posted it, you still have two days to send your masterpiece! I know chances are slim, and you cannot rush a genius. Bear in mind for next year that short films can have a running time of up to 40 minutes. Anything over that goes into the feature film category. Submission is free. Only the Grand Prize winner is qualified for the Oscars. The 2022 winner was Elizabeth Hobbs’ “The Debutante.”
10. Chilemonos International Animation Festival (Chile): The word “Monos” (monkeys) designates animals of the primate species, but it is also a term of endearment for cartoon characters in some Spanish-speaking countries. If you were to translate this festival name, it would be something like "Chile-toons". Established in 2012, Chilemonos aims to promote local and International animation. In time, it has become a valuable platform for Latin American artists. In 2019, it became Oscar-qualifying. Chilemonos takes place in late May. The submission period usually takes place between the months of October and February. In the 2013 edition, Argentinian director Patricio Plaza won the Best Latin American Short Prize with “Carne de Dios” (Flesh of God). The Best International Short Prize went to the Chinese production “Tomato Kitchen”, by Junyi Xiao. Both get the Oscar-qualifying treatment.
11. CINAMINA International Animated Film Festival (Portugal): Cinanima was born in 1976. Time ran out to submit your film for the 2023 edition, but you can scout the event. It will take place on November 13-19. It is a nice excuse to visit the seaside city of Espinho, in Portugal - it seems unfair that Lisbon and Porto get all the good press -. The regular application window extends from March until June. Short films may run up to 50 minutes. No fee is required. The Grand Prize Winner, awarded by an international jury, gets the Oscar-qualifying ticket. The 2022 winner was “Bestia”, by Chilean filmmaker Hugo Covarrubias. The stop-motion wonder defied any prejudice about animation being just for kids. Based on the memories of an actual torturer from dictator Augusto Pinochet’s secret police, this is a gut-wrenching exploration of the country's dark past and an all-too-human monster. And yes, it went on to score an Oscar nomination.
12. Hiroshima Animation Season (Japan): The youngest Festival on this list is an offspring of the Hiroshima Festival, which takes place every summer in the Japanese city. A biannual event, its second outing will take place in 2024. There is no information yet on submission schedules, but if we go by precedent, plan to have your film ready for January to February 2024. Don't bother to send physical copies of your work. You share a digital file via the Internet following their required standards. There is a Pan-Pacific Asian Competition and a World Competition. The 2022 Grand Prize Winner was “Darwin’s Notebook,” by Swiss filmmaker Georges Schwizgebel.
13. Spark Animation (Canada): The Sparks Computer Graphics Society of Canada held the first Sparks Animation Festival in 2008. Over its 15 years, it counts 3 Oscar winners: “Bear Story” (2015), “Dear Basketball” (2018), and “Bao” (2019). Other 11 alumni were nominated, including “Ice Merchants” (2022) and “Bestia” (2021). The 2023 edition will take place November 9-30, and you still have time to submit your film. Book your ticket now to Vancouver! The winner of the Best in Show category is the one who can qualify for the Academy. The submission deadline is September 10, 2023.
14. Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film (Germany): Since 1982, this wide-reaching Animation festival has attracted thousands of artists and fans to the capital city of Batten-Württemberg state in Germany. The Grand Prix winner of the International Short Competition gets the Oscar-qualifying status. The 2023 winner was “Dog Apartment,” by Estonian filmmaker Priit Tender. The next ITFS will take place from April 23 to 28, 2024. No word yet on when the application process will begin, but the 2023 edition closed on December 1.
We cannot guarantee this information is 100% accurate by the time you read it. We advise you to contact the Academy and the Festivals that pique your interest before making crucial decisions. Things tend to change. Case in point: the Academy list included the Brazilian Festival Anima Mundi. If we go by its web footprint, it closed down in 2019. Jair Bolsonaro’s conservative government cut off funding for the event, and a crowdfunding campaign was necessary to make the event happen. There are no reports on whether the new administration led by Luis Ignacio “Lula” da Silva will help restart the event.
Remember that the Oscar-qualifying status granted by a win at these festivals does not exempt you from complying with the Academy’s rules for the Short Film categories. For example, you can win the top award at CINAMINA with a 50 minutes-long short, but the Academy sets the limit at 40 minutes. You are automatically out of the running. Forget about writing "Oscar qualified" on the press notes.
Going over this list, it is striking how many shorts are ubiquitous in the Festival circuit. I feel like "Ice Merchants" played in every possible place! The cream rises to the top. Take a hint from the pros, and submit your work to every competition available. After all, most do not charge you for it. You can only improve your chances!
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