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Explore Film Festivals in the USA Where Films Qualify for the Oscars

Film Festival

We recently covered film festivals that can qualify Animated short films for the Academy Awards. It was a rather international affair, which easily could project your work in the world arena. We don’t play favorites, so we will do right by filmmakers working on Live Action fiction and documentaries. We went over the list of US-based Film Festivals with Oscar-Qualifying credentials for their short film competitions, and we highlighted here the biggest and the coolest of them all. Bear in mind that the complete list covers 55 events. We will profile them all over time, so visit this blog often.

Find a Film Festival With Oscar-qualifying Credentials Near You

We have designed this map to highlight some of the most important festivals. Feel free to explore it! The blue circles with stars mark the most coveted fests. The yellow circles with a film strip highlight events you should keep on your radar.

Read on and start writing! Shoot, edit, and apply! Even if you don’t get an Oscar nomination, you’ll end up with a movie—and that is an award in itself.

Film Festivals in the West

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival was founded in 1986 by the Santa Barbara Film Society. Smack-dab in the middle of Oscar season and so close to Hollywood, the event carries the aura of an insider event. Next year’s edition will take place from February 7 to 17. Submission started on July 1, 2023. The early bird submission for short films costs $50, and the window closes on August 11, 2023. The regular submission deadline extends to September 22, and the fast submission fee rises to $60. If procrastination gets the best of you - or if you are cramming in post - the “late deadline” is November 3, with the fee going up to $70.

Fret not if you can’t make it by then. The forgiving fellows of Santa Barbara set a final deadline of December 3, which will cost you $80. Shorts can be fiction or documentaries with less than 40 minutes of running time. All three categories - Best Live Action, Animated, and Documentary Short - are Academy-award nomination qualifying. Check out more information at https://sbiff.org/.

Check out the trailer of the 2023 Best Documentary Short Film Award, “Nowhere to Go But Everywhere,” by Masako Tsumura and Erik Shirai.

L.A. Shorts International Film Festival

L.A. Shorts International Film Festival, also known as L.A. Shortfest if you are into the whole brevity thing, has the particular distinction of holding seven different categories from July 19 to the 30. Since 1997, it has attracted talent from all over the world. It goes the extra mile by qualifying for the British Academy Awards, the Canadian Screen Awards, and the Goya Awards in Spain. The 2023 edition is right around the corner, beginning July 19 and extending to the 30. The submission period usually starts in January and closes in early May. Shorts must be 40 minutes or less. The submission fee might cost from $49 to $70, depending on which deadline you abide by. For more information, visit https://www.lashortsfest.com/

4 LA Shortfest winners made it into the Oscar nominations in 2022. Check out the Best Live Action Short Film Oscar-nominee “On My Mind,” directed by Martin Strange-Hansen and Kim Magnusson.

HollyShorts Film Festival

HollyShorts Film Festival is celebrating its 19th edition with an extra push from the Academy. Since 2023, four categories can earn the coveted Oscar-Qualifying tickets, adding one more to the tally. Best Documentary Short Film now seizes up to the Best Short Film Grand Prize, Best Short Animation, and Best Short Live Action winners. Their record as an Oscar-winner launching pad is superb. In 2021, Aneil Karia’s “The Long Goodbye” took the Grand Prix and won the 2022 Oscar for Best Live Action Short. You are on time to scout the competition caliber.

The 2023 edition will take place from August 10 to 20. For future applications, the submission period usually opens in early February and extends to early June. The submission fee runs from $45 for early birds to $85 for Johnny-come-latelies. For more information, check out https://www.hollyshorts.com/

Check out the Hollyshorts Grand Prix winner and Oscar Winner for Best Live Action Short, "The Long Goodbye."

Check out the 2022 Best Live Action Short winner “Sandstorm,” directed by Seemab Gul.

AFI Fest

AFI Fest this festival is a banner event for the American Film Institute. The nonprofit organization was founded in 1967, aiming to preserve the history of American film. It runs a conservatory that ranks as one of the best film schools in the country, with alums as prestigious as David Lynch. The 37th Edition of the AFI Fest starts on October 25 to 29, 2023.

As you can imagine, 2023 submissions are already closed. For next year, consider that the submission process usually opens in early February and runs to late May. Short films are under 40 minutes. Submission costs go from $40 to $70, depending on the closeness to the final deadline. For more information, visit https://fest.afi.com/

Check out “Halout,” the 2022 Grand Jury Prize winner Documentary Short. Directed by Evgenia Arbugaeva and Maxim Arbugaev, it scored a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short. In my book, it should have been the Oscar winner.

SUNDANCE

The offspring of Robert Redford's Sundance Film Institute is probably America's most influential festival. Any movie buff worth his or her salt follows it. It single-handedly sets the template for Art House theatrical exhibitions throughout the year and is a gateway for international films. Short films can run 50 minutes tops, a whopping 10 minutes longer than most festivals. The Festival does not demand your film to premiere there. The application process divides shorts into two categories, U.S. and International. However, there are six different award categories for shorts: Grand Jury Prize, U.S. Fiction, International Fiction, Nonfiction, Animation, and Special Jury Awards.

The submission fee goes from $45 to $85, depending on how close you get to the late submission deadline. As of the publication of this article, the next deadline is August 18. After that, you must pay $85 for Late Submission. Save the date for January 18 to 28, 2024.

Check out “The Flying Sailor,” the 2023 Best Animated Short Film winner at Sundance. It got an Oscar nomination in the same year. Not sure how the dates align, but at least you get a sense of the quality of the work!

SLAMDANCE

Sundance began as the rebel festival, but once it became the status quo, it was only a matter before others took the mantle. When three young filmmakers got the shaft from the biggest indie fest, they pulled up their britches and started their indie fest. It even takes place in Park City. Submissions for 2024 are open until the end of the extended deadline, by September 29, 2023. You will have to pay from $45 up to $80. It will take place from January 19 to 25.

Film Festivals in the Midwest

The Cleveland International Film Festival

The Cleveland International Film Festival claims to be one of the longest-running film festivals in the good ol’ USA, and we have no reason to disbelieve them. Submissions are open from July 1, 2023, to January 5, 2024 - a generous six-month stretch of time! - but the subscription fee, which ranges from $60 to $150, goes up the later you send your masterpiece.

Good luck finding out their running time limit for shorts. We could not find the information on their webpage or their Filmfreeway portal. Reach out directly to them for that all-important nugget of wisdom. Visit their official website at https://www.clevelandfilm.org/

Check out the trailer for the 2023 Best Short Documentary Winner, “A Chocolate Lens.” Director Gabriel Veras follows African-American photographer Steven Cummings.

Film Festivals in the South

The Atlanta Film Festival

The Atlanta Film Festival gained traction by being located in an important production hub for the film and television industry. The submission period usually opens in May and extends to November. The next edition is scheduled from April 25 to May 5, 2024. The submission fee ranges from $35 to $85. As usual, the earliest you submit, the less you pay.

Short films should run for 40 minutes or less. Georgia-based filmmakers can get a 50% discount! Yay! There is an Experimental Short category, but only the Documentary, Live Action, and Animated Shorts are Academy-Award qualifying, Boo! Get more info at https://www.atlantafilmfestival.com/

SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST

Everything is bigger in Texas; the same goes for this massive event. SXSW extends beyond film with simultaneous events dedicated to TV, interactive media, and music. But let’s concentrate on short films, our focus of attention here. Submissions for the 2024 edition opened on August 1 and extend to the final deadline of October 3.

Short film submission costs $40 to $75, depending on how close you get to the final deadline. Your work must be under 40 minutes in length. The Grand Jury winners for Narrative, Documentary, and Animated short films qualify for the Oscars. Three contenders every year! For more information, check out SXSW’s website: https://www.sxsw.com/

Film Festivals in the Northeast

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL

Actor Robert De Niro and fellow New Yorkers founded the Festival in 2002 to revitalize the lower Manhattan neighborhood after the 2001 terrorist attack destroyed the World Trade Center. Short films must run for less than 40 minutes and explore any genre of your liking: fiction, documentary, animation, and experimental.

The entry fee goes from $50 to $70, depending on how close to the final extended deadline you submit your work. Official dates for the 2024 edition are still unknown, but they usually open in late October and extend to late February. Check their website regularly: https://tribecafilm.com/

Check out the 2008 Tribeca winner for Best Narrative Short Film, “New Boy” (Scott Green, 2007), not to be confused with “The New Boy” (Warwick Thornton, 2023), an Australian feature film that premiered at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. "New Boy" was nominated for Best Live Action Short Film at the 2009 Academy Awards.

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