The Best Short Film Festivals For Up-and-Coming Filmmakers

Filmmaking September 17, 2019 4 min read

Are you a budding filmmaker looking to gain exposure, earn industry cred, and maybe even score some sweet cashola along the way? Then maybe it’s time to enter a short film competition!

And why a short film competition? Well for starters, shorts are cheaper, easier and take way less time to make. But more importantly, due to our shrinking attention spans, they’re far more likely than feature films to soak up the love via social media likes, views, and shares.

For up-and-coming filmmakers, submitting your work to short film festival really is a no-brainer. The big question is: which festival to enter. There are literally thousands out there and it can be difficult finding one where your chances of getting shortlisted or *fingers crossed* winning aren’t hovering way out there in the earth’s thermosphere.

Well, the good news is we’ve done all the homework for you. Compiled below is a list in no particular order of the most accessible indie film competitions that do not require a massive budget or decades of experience to catch the judge’s eye.

Short Film Festivals for Budding Filmmakers

1. FilmQuest

As far as indie film festivals go, FilmQuest hits the sweet spot. It’s big, but not commercial big. It’s well known within the film community, but not to the point of attracting too many submissions. And it’s received loads of accolades, yet remained totally unpretentious about it.

There’s no denying that in its brief five-year existence, FilmQuest has developed quite a reputation for itself. This is no doubt due to its large scope of prize categories which this year was extended forty-five. 

Accepting Submissions: September – July
Festival Date and Location: September, Utah
Entry fee: $25 – $60

2. Boston Short Film Festival (BSFF)

BSFF is all about giving emerging and established filmmakers with ‘an edge’ an added profile boost. Accepting submissions from both Boston and beyond, BSFF arranges its entries into five categories of narrative, animation, documentary, underground, and experimental. It also offers a $500 cash prize to the numero uno standout film of the festival.

Accepting Submissions: July – November
Festival Date and Location: July, Boston
Submission Fee: $24 – $35

3. Top Shorts

Carried out entirely online, Top Shorts is one of the most low-maintenance film festivals out there. Another great thing about Top Shorts is that it welcomes a wide range of genres including parody, western, LGBT, and dark comedy. In addition to awarding prizes for each genre, the festival also dishes out a bevy of audience choice and individual cast/crew awards. More award categories = more chance to win!

Accepts Submissions: November – December
Festival Date: December
Entry fee: $60

4. Short. Sweet. Film Fest

Like Top Shorts, the Short. Sweet. Film Fest also welcomes a wide variety of genres from music videos and horror to student films and fan fiction. Submissions from all over the world are welcome. The only requirement is that they run under thirty minutes.

Accepts Submissions: May – December
Festival Date and Location: February-March, Ohio.
Entry Fee: $60

5. Short And Sweet Film Festival

Not be confused with the competition above, the Short And Sweet Film Festival is a conveniently-scheduled short film competition that takes place every year in Utah exactly one week before the Sundance Film Festival. (Did someone say two birds, one stone)?

All submissions must be under 40 minutes long and fall into the category of either narrative, documentary, animation or web series. In lieu of cash, winners are rewarded with a trophy and a lifetime of glory.

Accepting Submissions: February – November
Festival Date and Location: Utah
Submission fee: $10 – $30

6. Quickie Fest

Quickie Fest is a lightning-fast film festival held twice a year in New York. All submissions must be under 60-seconds in length. Cash prizes of $100 are awarded for the crowd and jury favorites.

Accepting Submissions: Mid-September to late October for the Fall festival; late April to early June for the Spring festival
Festival Location
: New York
Submission Fee: FREE!

7. Portland Unknown Film Festival

The Portland Unknown Film Festival asks applicants to “bring us into worlds we’ve never seen before… teach us something new… make us go ‘huh?’” Basically, if you have a quirky short that doesn’t meet the requirements of any other competition, then this is the place to send it. The competition states a clear preference for low-budget and analog format shorts. All submissions must be under 2-minutes.

Accepting Submissions: November – July
Festival Date and Location: October, Portland
Submission Fee: $7

8. New York No Limits Film Series

As the title suggests, there are no limits to the genre or content that can be submitted as part of this film festival. The only restriction is that all submissions must run under 40 minutes in length. The best-selected shorts will go on to be featured at the New York No Limit’s annual summit with the best one landing a cash prize of $500.

Accepting Submissions: November – December
Festival Location: New York
Submission Fee: $40

9. Toronto Smartphone Film Festival (TSFF)

Who says you need fancy film equipment to win big? For the past eight years, the TSFF has been welcoming low-budget, smartphone shorts from applicants the world over. There are no restrictions on the genre — the only limitations are that all submissions must run under ten minutes and be filmed entirely on a smartphone. In terms of editing equipment, applicants have carte blanche.

Accepting Submissions: January – April
Festival Date and Location: June, Toronto
Submission Fee: $10 – $20


This list of short film festivals is by no means an exhaustive one. As we said at the beginning, there are thousands of film competitions out there. So if you’re after something more tailored to your location or preferred genre, then do yourself a favor and jump on Film Freeway. You’re bound to find something right up your alley!