Getting through high school, getting a driver's license, finding a summer job—if you're a young filmmaker, you've probably got a lot on your mind! If you're passionate about filmmaking and have a film to show for yourself, why not get a leg up and screen your work in festivals dedicated to your age group?
Film festivals can be a confusing bag for people at any age. Why should you take the time to apply to a film festival?
Your festival submission should, in theory, be tied to one of these potential goals, depending on what the festival offers: exposure of your work at a festival that has industry credibility, to meet other filmmakers and film champions, to win some cash prizes, or to get those "official selection" festival laurels that can look good on your movie poster or resume.
Of course, many festivals charge submission fees, so applying everywhere can start to add up (in the list below, the average submission fee for the early deadlines for youth filmmakers is usually around $10; tread carefully when you see a submission fee for a lot more than that).
The list below goes in order of early deadlines, which are usually consistent from year to year. Click on one of them to get more details.
If you’re a high school teacher (or a student who knows of a high school teacher that could bring your group) the esteemed Telluride Film Festival offers the City Lights program, where they put you up at the festival and have you share films with people at the fest. From TFF:
The TFF's City Lights Project provides a select group of high school juniors and seniors and their teacher/chaperons a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the experience of the world-renowned Telluride Film Festival high in the Colorado Rockies.
Deadline: February 9
This well-regarded festival has a special section for high school students from anywhere in the world with a film under 20 minutes in length. From LAFF:
High school shorts must be works shot, directed and produced by high school or secondary (pre-college) students. Adult supervision must be limited to an advisory capacity.
Deadline: February 12 (Early), April 9 (Regular)
With categories for students 16 and under or 17 and older, this Film Festival from Cinema/Chicago is a three-day festival full of discussions, panels, and workshops, with $100 prize for top films and a chance to screen at the Chicago International Film Festival. From Cinema/Chicago:
CineYouth is the Chicago International Film Festival’s yearly film festival that showcases short films made by filmmakers 22 years old and younger from around the world. CineYouth strives to encourage the talent of young artists and to provide them with opportunities to tell their stories, network with their peers and be recognized for their creativity. CineYouth is free and open to the public of all ages.
Deadline: February 12
Presented by Heartland Film, If you made a film while in High School that is under 15 minutes in length, you could win the Young Filmmakers Competition, and score $2,000 for the top prize, or $500 for each category winner. And if you apply by the early bird deadline, it’s free to enter. From HeartlandFilm:
Launched in 2010, the High School Film Competition encourages tomorrow’s filmmakers to create films that inspire filmmakers and audiences through the transformative power of the art form.
Deadline: February 19 (Regular), April 27 (Extended)
For students 18 and younger with a short film, the FutureWave program is a great way to get into this well-regarded festival. From SIFF:
This program of new films created by filmmakers younger than 18 years old celebrates international talent who are exploring the creative possibilities of the art form. FutureWave is the perfect way for high-school and college students to access the Festival. Many of the films are stories about youth told with a vitality and style that will be a stepping stone to exploring more extraordinary films across the Festival.
Deadline: March 2
Students participate in youth programming at FutureWave hosts, the Seattle International Film Festival.Credit: SIFF
If you are enrolled in High School (or something equivalent) or made your film while you were still in high school, and have a five-minute-or-less film, you can enter this festival, with the first prize winning $300. From FilmNow:
The Film Now Festival was founded in 2015 with a mission to guide young people to the art of filmmaking. Taking inspiration from the Media Arts program at Germantown Academy, Film Now offers high school students from all over the world the chance to submit original short films to be juried by a panel of industry experts.
Deadline: March 11
The AAHSFF hosts a weekend of festivities in New York City, with Film Invitational Competitions and a reported $400,000 in scholarships. If you submit by the regular deadline, the submission is free. From AAHSFF:
We believe in the voices of our youth, we invest in the stories they have to tell, we empower young artist to share their stories and we transform their world through digital media. We believe in the voices of our youth, we invest in the stories they have to tell, we empower young artists to share their stories and transform their world through digital media. Each year, in the heart of New York City, we present the world's largest high school film festival. We offer a grand stage for the next generation of talented filmmakers where they can: screen their amazing creations, learn from top industry professional, connect with the latest technology, explore myriad higher education opportunities, receive scholarships and technology prizes, and perhaps most importantly, create a community of shared passions and lifelong relationships.
Deadline: April 15
Through the Dallas-based strategic creative group ATK PLN, this category invites teen filmmakers from Dallas area high schools to enter their original short films for the chance to win over $10,000 in awards. From ATK PLN:
At the third annual Pegasus Film Festival, ATK PLN sees this initiative as a way to not only support the next generation of creative talent in the Dallas area, but also to strengthen and cultivate the local creative community as a whole by exposing a vibrant creativity right in their own backyard.
An international company that is headquartered in Dallas, ATK PLN will continue to seek opportunities to connect with local students and spread awareness of the thriving D/FW media industry, paving the path for the industry to continue to flourish in the years to come.
Deadline: April 16
If you’re in high school (or middle school) you can submit a film of any length to this festival with an emphasis on youth programming. From BIKFF:
Filmmakers Collaborative created the Boston International Kids Film Festival in 2013 at a time when the average teen was spending almost 7 hours per day on some form of an electronic device. Our goal in showing films from around the world, all made either FOR or BY kids, is to show teens and tweens that there is more to tech than texting, snapchatting, and instagramming their friends —that making a film can be a powerful way to tell a story, express your emotions, state a point of view and ( more importantly) to have fun!
By screening amazing student-made films from around the world while at the same time offering these young filmmakers a look at professionally-made films created just for them, we are enabling the next generation of filmmakers to realize the power and potential of media.
Deadline: May 25 (Early Bird), June 15 (Regular)
While not actually a part of the Tribeca Film Festival founded by Robert DeNiro, If you’re a NYC youth aged 17-21, this program by one of the country’s top Film institutes can get you a mentoring from festival film directors, panel discussions, workshops, screenings, and special events. From TFI:
Through this year-round fellowship, students gain a deeper knowledge of higher education and career opportunities in media through intensive workshops and direct contact with seasoned filmmakers. They become better educated about the independent film community and the role of international film festivals in the industry. Finally, Fellows forge new positive relationships with peers, educators and Festival filmmakers that will assist with their individual, scholastic and career development.
Deadline: September 1
If you’ve got a film under 12 minutes in length, you could play at the Young Filmmakers Showcase in the fun and well-known Austin Film Festival, have your travel reimbursed, and win $250 bucks. From AFF:
AFF’s Young Filmmakers Competition is open for submissions! If you are between 12 and 18, submit your masterpiece for FREE!
Deadline: September 2
Young filmmakers as part of the newest batch of the Sundance Ignite Fellowship.Credit: Sundance Institute
Not specifically for high school students, this Seattle based festival offers $2,500 in cash awards and an additional $8,000 in scholarships to filmmakers 24 and under. From NFFTY:
NFFTY is the world’s largest film festival for emerging directors. In 2017, we screened 257 amazing films from the best filmmakers 24 and younger representing 38 states and 27 countries, with over 13,000 in attendance. NFFTY 2018, our 12th anniversary, will be held October 25 - 28 in Seattle, WA. MovieMaker Magazine has twice (2016, 2014) rated NFFTY as one of the top 50 festivals worth the entry fee. We are currently one of the Top 100 Rated Film Festivals on FilmFreeway (out of more than 4,000).
Deadline: September 4
If you’re at least 18 years old and can make an eight-minute max film that expresses what stories ignite you, you could become of the Ignite Fellows from the organization behind the prestigious Sundance Film festival founded by Robert Redford, the Sundance Institute. From Sundance:
The year-longSundance Ignite Fellowship is open to emerging documentary and narrative filmmakers between ages 18 and 24. It kicks off with a free trip to the 2019Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where fellows attend a special, curated program. Throughout the year-long fellowship, fellows will work with their Sundance Alumni mentor, attend select Sundance Institute programs, be eligible for internships, receive additional creative and professional development opportunities, and a complimentary Adobe Creative Cloud subscription from Adobe Project 1324.
Deadline: September 17
If you made a five-minute or shorter film while in a Texas High School for the full academic year, this could be your chance to screen your film at one of the biggest film festivals in the country. The submission fee is $10. From SXSW:
To support the next generation of filmmakers, the SXSW Film Festival presents a special film competition for students enrolled in Texas High Schools. Selected films will be shown in the Texas High School Shorts screening section as part of the official SXSW Film Festival Program, and will be judged by a panel of independent filmmakers. Winners will receive future SXSW Film registrations to continue their growth in the industry.
Deadline: September 20 (Regular), December 13 (Final)
If you are currently enrolled in grades K-12 and have a 10-minute film or under, this Youth Film Showcase could be a neat opportunity to screen your work. If you apply by the early bird deadline, it costs $10 to submit. From NBFF:
Launched in 2005, the Newport Beach Film Festival’s Youth Film Showcase celebrates the cinematic works, visions, and perspectives of young people from around the world. Through the exhibition of youth created media, the Festival seeks to create a forum for young filmmakers and encourage freedom of expression through cinema. The free event features a screening of short films created by filmmakers 18 years and younger, followed by an interactive Q&A session and an awards presentation. The showcase features a wide array of genres, including comedy, drama, suspense, romance, documentary, animation, science fiction, experimental, music video and PSA’s.
Deadline: September 28 (Early Bird)
This competition from the well-regarded Nashville Film festival has a much more broad length requirement. From NFF:
An international competition for narrative, non-fiction, and animated films under 40 minutes in length created by filmmakers aged 18 and under. The winning filmmaker receives a $500 cash prize.
Deadline: September 30 (Early Bird), February 28 (Regular)
If you live in L.A. county and have a film that’s 10 minutes or less, you could be honored in this special category of the Burbank International Film Festival that is free to submit to. From BIFF:
The Burbank International Film Festival is proud to showcase 6th-12th Grade student filmmakers in Burbank and Los Angeles County schools with a special award.
Deadline: December 31 (Early Bird), June 17 (Extended)
In this festival affiliated with the Phoenix Film Festival, if you’re a high school student (or under!) in Arizona, the top prize could get you a $1,000 scholarship to the school of your choice. The submission fee is $10. From ASFF:
Started in 2007, the Arizona Student Film Festival is a yearly film festival and competition that celebrates the next generation of Arizona Filmmakers. Grade school and high school students from all over the state of Arizona are invited to submit their best short films under 8 minutes.
Films are reviewed and selected by Phoenix Film Festival programmers. Films selected for the AZSFF are screened during the Phoenix Film Festival. Each student filmmaker receives 2 Phoenix Film Festival Filmmaker Passes!
Deadline: December 31
This is a list of opportunities across the country. Unfortunately, most film festivals will not pay for your travel to a festival as a short filmmaker. Remember, after this list, you might want to check with film festivals geographically closest to you. Shoot them an email about programming your film. At least you know you might be able to get a ride out there!
While some of these accept international entries, this list squares off with festivals located in the United States. Looking for more festival opportunities in Europe or the rest of the world? Check out this resource from BFI of international film festivals for young filmmakers
Need some more work before you're ready to submit a film to a festival? Don’t forget to look into this list from PBS of Youth Filmmaking Programs, many of which are free!
Know of a festival with opportunities for teenagers that we missed? Please share in the comments below.
Featured header image of student filmmakers at the All American High School Film Festival.