How a Canadian Filmmaker Made an Award-Winning 26-minute short for $3500

Ahead of the release of his short film ‘There’s Nothing You Can Do’ on the Pendance Library, we caught up with Canadian filmmaker Ryan Terk to ask him a few questions about his 26-minute self-funded short film which won Best Canadian Short Film at the Pendance Film Festival in 2021.


Q: You approached this film with some very unique lens and camera choices. Talk about crafting the visual world of your short, and how you chose your equipment.

A: For me, it’s important for the look of a movie to reflect the world it takes place in, and for me the world is catalyzed by character. Like Ronny, it was important that everything looked a little murky and rough, like what Vilmos Zsigmond did with Altman for McCabe & Mrs Miller.

Chromatic aberration was something I obsessed over. My DP happened to own a vintage TV zoom that had the EXACT look I was going for, so we used that for exterior daylight scenes.

For everything else, we used vintage Nikon primes with similar but sharper characteristics. We also used a 7.5mm Laowa for the money montage, so we could get as close to the actors as possible while keeping a busy frame.

Q: $3500 isn’t a lot to shoot a 26-minute short. But in what ways did financial limitations force you to be more creative?

There were two big factors: one was writing the script being fully aware of the tight budget, finding the small bubble on the Venn diagram where creativity and practicality merge.

The other was involving very selfless people who would donate their time to a movie that could potentially suck. Every single name in the credits is a person I am very lucky to know. I only paid one of my crew members more than $400, and for 6 days of work. I think I paid a total of $300 to all the actors. Most of the money went towards locations, transportation, equipment and food.


Q: Was there ever a scene where an extra $5000 might have made a very big deal?

The restaurant scene and the club scene, for sure. The club scene is simple, we had to pay a big chunk of our budget per hour, and we only had 4 hours to shoot.

Everybody was drunk and rowdy, and to this day I’m surprised we got enough coverage to form a coherent scene. For the restaurant, we scored the location for free. I had done some work for a fucking awesome chef named Joe Mercuri, and in exchange for some of his recipes, a restaurant called Fiorellino let us use the second level of their dining room for a day.

However, there was a lot of background and foreground choreography, we had zero rehearsal time prior to shooting, and we only had 8 hours to rock n roll.

We spent the first quarter of our allotted time rehearsing (0 actors in that scene, all friends & family friends), so filming had to be a bit rushed, therefore sacrificing a lot of coverage. Fiorellino was great about it all things considered. My legendary PA unplugged all of the restaurants phones so they wouldn’t ring during filming, and the owner didn’t beat him up.



Q: What was your goal with this film and did you accomplish it?

A: I just wanted to make a movie, and learn as much as possible while making it. I learned a lot about films and filmmaking on my own time, but I had never actually made a movie. A lot of my friends suggested I make something very simplistic and short, but I did the complete opposite.

I knew if I tackled something complicated and on a ridiculously low budget, the learning curve would be a lot steeper, and I would have a lot more problems to solve. Reflecting on creative decisions I made, I would’ve done almost everything differently, so I take that as growth and a lot of lessons learned. Creatively and practically.


Q: Talk about writing Ronny. Inspirations, challenges, regrets.

A: Writing Ronny is so much fun. I say is because I still write short stories about him here and there. There is no clear logic or patterns in his decision making, everything he does is catalyzed by warped emotional motivations, and that’s what makes him so fun to write.

My only regret is I rushed to pre-production, so I didn’t have time to write out his entire history since age 1. It’s my favourite part of the writing process, and pretty critical to loosening my head up when writing.

Q: What are the pros and cons of wearing so many hats on your film? Acting, directing, handling post can’t be easy. Would you do it again?

A: Kinda the same answer to question 1. Very steep learning curve, and very informative to me as a filmmaker. When I eventually hire more crew, I’ll have a way better idea of what to look for, supply them with, and reasonably ask of them throughout production.

Would I do it again? I would prefer not to, but I will if I have to.

Q: How did you approach the festival process and do you have any advice for filmmakers who make shorts longer than 20 minutes?

A: Submit to Pendance.

You can now watch There’s Nothing You Can Do for Free Via the Pendance Library for free here.



Luzifer Takes the Top Prize at Pendance 2022

Luzifer (Austria) by Peter Brunner grabs the Best Feature Film Award while Jose Luis Aparicio’s Cuban fever-dream Tundra becomes the third Spanish-language short film in five years to win Best Short Film.

Laura Lehmus is awarded Best Director for her incredibly hilarious and sweet feature directorial debut, Sweet Disaster, and Toronto’s Erica Orofino takes home Best Canadian Short Film honours for She Keeps Me.


What this film does to you cannot be understated. And how rare this is can also not be understated.

To the gruelling process of shooting, intense preparation and work in preproduction to the sheer commitment to honesty in the script and performances.

Our sincere congratulations to the entire team that made Luzifer possible. From the lead performances by Franz Rogowski and Susanne Jensen to the brilliant camera work by Peter Flinckenberg. It was a true team effort.  Watch the Trailer Here



This is only the second ever film from Cuba to be selected to Pendance joining Alberto (2020) and the first ever to be awarded a prize.

We salute commitment with all of our awards. And it’s hard to imagine someone more committed to their art, their story and their cause than Jose Luis Aparicio. Tundra is a masterpiece. We don’t use this word lightly. Watch the Trailer Here


We started our tradition of Best Director awards in our first edition with Qiu Yang, and then Peter Brunner in 2019, and last year with Sabrina Doyle for Lorelei . It’s an award we give to a director whose vision and presence most elevated the project.

And to that end we see no one more clearly deserving of our 2022 Best Director award than Laura Lehmus for Sweet Disaster. Watch the Trailer Here


The Best Canadian Short film is a staple at Pendance which started with Kalainithan Kalaichelvan‘s Inland Freaks and extended to last year’s win for Ryan Terk with There’s Nothing You Can Do.

It’s an award which celebrates daring storytellers who’ve put to the screen something pure and honest and we’re proud to add another brilliant Canadian to this list.

We salute Erica Orofino and her team. This film was a goldmine of emotions and depth and we couldn’t be prouder to award it.



Pendance Announces 2022 Schedule

61 Films Coming to Ontario, Canada at the Pendance Film Festival March 10-13th, Virtually

Feature Films Lineups 

The features programme at Pendance 2022 features a diverse range of genres and languages; films from the United States, Japan, China, Germany, Austria, Italy and the Netherlands make up the nine selections, six of which are making Canadian Premieres


Short Films Lineups 

The short film lineup features fifty-two incredible films from around the world divided into eight screening blocks.

LMFAO Shorts‘ hilarious lineup starts with Carlos Gomez Trigo’s sci-fi comedy Survivers and Daniel Christpherson‘s Swan Song and ends with Dominik Hartl’s Austrian comedy The Washing Machine, and Nash Edgerton’Shark, starring Rose Byrne.

Through Her Eyes is a section by female directors. The block features work by prominent emerging talents Erica Orofino, Pom Bunsermvicha, Mya Kaplan, Huma HussainZou Jing, and Isabella Margara.

Cinema Mon Amour features the world premiere of Hanna Jovin and Adrian Morphy’s The MiddleJoe Perry‘s stunning Nobody’s BoyWe Won’t Forget by Lucas Eberl and Edgar Morais, and Jose Luis Aparicio’s Tundra which screened at Sundance 2022 among several other incredible films.

Copenhagen to Vienna is a short block featuring three longer shorts from Austria and Denmark. The block celebrates three of Europe’s brightest female voices; Julia Reiter, Lisa Hasenhutl, and Tone Ottilie.

So Much Drama features three incredible Canadian talents showcasing their work; Barbara by Aidan LesserLouise from 9 to 5 by Julien G. Marcotte, and The Way of Mourning by Matthew Segal. Joining the Canadian films are Nestor Ruiz Medina’s El MetodoAdrian Moyse Dullin’s The Right Words, and Oscar nominee The Letter Room by Elvira Lind.

StoryOverEverything features documentaries and animated shorts, including Adjusting by Dejan Petrovic, Naya by Sebastian Mulder, and two excellent animated entries from Canada; Memory Makers by Mark Pagliaroli, and Forgotten by Mawrgan Shaw.

Pendance Midnight features Cutter by Dan Repp and Lindsay YoungAll Night Long by Eric ScabarWild Will by Alan KingVisitors by Kenichi UganaMy Condition by Coke Arijo, Behind by Yili Li, and a sci-fi film by Adnan SiddiqueLast and First Woman.

Finally, New Voices is Pendance’s out-of-competition selection, showcasing emerging talents from around the world. Canadian talents Francesco FiliceMelisa Sahin, James Salmon and Luisa Maria Gonzalez join international filmmakers from Spain, the United States and France.

Workshops and Panels

Pendance will feature over 50 speakers live appearing for Q&As and to lead workshops and speak on various panels. All events are broadcast live on YouTube and are free to attend from around the world.

Read about them here. 

Straeon Acting Studios founders Isabel Farias and Jock MacDonald lead a workshop on Directing Actors, Sasha K. Gordon discusses overcoming PTSD through Art and the situation in Ukraine, and Carlota Pereda deconstructs her Sundance 2022 standout feature film Cerdita

Scott Monahan and Dakota Loesch discuss how they made a festival-winning feature in 5 days, Ethan Eng discusses how he became the youngest filmmaker selected to the features competition at Slamdance in 2022 with Therapy Dogs, and Erin Vassilopoulos and Chris Mutton lead a panel on film editing.  

Here’s the schedule 

Check Feature Films Here

Check Short Films Here

Check Festival Teaser Here 

Here’s a quick way to see what’s coming

A Simple Guide to Pendance 2021

We were having a conversation today with a pass holder who said they got a headache trying to pick which films they wanted to watch. “Nothing’s bad, everything’s interesting, and there’s no Brad Pitt so I have no idea how to pick”.

The bigger we get, the less comprehensible we get. That’s been true every year. It takes a rare person to unpack 54 films and 20 live events across a three-and-a-half-day window. So we had an idea—why not simplify Pendance?

So below, we’re going to give you our top three picks for every genre and taste imaginable. Just go to your mood and check out our suggestions. Who better to guide you through Pendance than the programmers who picked the films? Consider this our version of Vimeo Staff Picks.



Lorelei by Sabrina Doyle | March 28, 8pm

Through Her Eyes Shorts Showcase | March 27, 5pm

Toprak by Sevgi Hirschhäuser | March 28, 1pm



My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell it To by Jonathan Cuartas | March 26, 9pm

Bleed with Me by Amelia Moses | March 27, 11pm

Pendance Midnight Shorts | March 26, 11pm



The Bears on Pine Ridge by Noel Bass | March 28, 12pm

StoryOverEverything Shorts | March 26, 2pm

The State of Texas Vs. Melissa by Sabrina Van Tassel | March 26, 4:30pm



Dinner in America | March 26, 7pm 

Show Me the Money Shorts | March 27, 9pm

Le Cafe de mes Souvenier (The Cafe of my Memories) by Valto Baltzar (World Premiere) | March 28, 5:30pm 



Cinema Mon Amour Shorts | March 28, 3pm

The Trouble with Being Born by Sandra Wollner | March 28, 10pm 

Window Boy would Also Like to Have a Submarine | March 27, 2pm  



Fine. Paper Spiders by Inon Shampanier | March 27, 7pm



Get Passes
Check Out the Full Event Schedule
Free Workshops & Panels
Check Out All the Feature Films

Check Out All the Short Films






*There are effectively 2 passes at Pendance 2021 right now; 5 for 5 ($25) and All-Access ($50). The Pendancer Pass for ($125) comes with a #StoryOverEverything sweatshirt but effectively is the same pass as the $50 all-access.

Tickets for individual screenings are

$3.99 for documentary features

$8.99 for short blocks

$8.99 for features.

How Passes Work

5-for-5 unlocks any 5 screenings for $0, and All Access and Pendancer pass unlocks all screenings for $0.

Once you have your pass, you can begin adding screenings through the ‘virtual festival portal’. You’ll see 11 features, 1 re-screening, and 5 short blocks listed. Make sure you’re logged into the eventive account (and same email) your pass was issued to. You should see a $0 charge next to the pre-order now button.


How a Screening Works

2 Things matter here: Unlock time, and watch window. Let’s use Dinner in America as an example. It can be pre-ordered now, but won’t officially ‘unlock’ until March 26th at 7pm. From the second it unlocks at 7pm (EST) you will have exactly 2 hours to begin watching the film. From the point you unlock, within that 2-hour window, you will have exactly 8 hours to finish watching the film.


28 Directors from 5 Continents Headline the International Shorts Programme at Pendance 2021

The international shorts selections at Pendance are one of the highlights each year. As a festival that’s always seeking and open to programming films from anywhere and everywhere—there are always a handful of short films that come to Pendance as their first or only North American festival.

For the full festival schedule, you can check here. In this article, we take you through each international short film selected to Pendance using the comprehensive notes from the programmers who selected them.


The Bears on Pine Ridge by Noel Bass – Friday, March 26, 12pm + Sunday March 28, 12pm

At 40 minutes—the film is either the longest short film or the shortest feature film in Pendance history—in either case it’s a record that’s unlikely to be touched for a few years—it’s a really special film. Unlike other short films, it will screen solo to open Pendance 2021.

Bass takes an unflinching dive into the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, which declared a State of Emergency as youth suicide rates jumped to the highest levels in the country.

Director Noel Bass will be live for the Q&A after the screening where he will join a panel of others on the topic of suicide among Native populations, what barriers to support youngsters face, and what needs to change.

The Bears on Pine Ridge had its World Premiere earlier this year at the Academy Award®-Qualifying Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and will have its Canadian Premiere at 12pm on Friday, March 26th at Pendance. The film screens again at 12pm on Sunday, March 28th. Noah Bass is expected to join the Q&A for a panel discussion about the film and its message. Watch Trailer


#StoryOverEverything Shorts Showcase – Friday, March 26, 2021, 2pm

#StoryOverEverything is a short block devoted to documentaries and true stories—starting with Blue Frontier by Ivan Milosavljević—which had its North American Premiere at the Big Sky Documentary festival earlier this year. A co-production between Serbia and Slovenia—the documentary follows an elderly fisherman as he seeks to catch a sea giant—the largest fish in the Danube River.

Each morning he wakes up and heads to the river—clapping at the surface of the water with a hand-carved piece of wood, longing to meet the creature just once before one of them dies.

Featuring some stunning cinematography, and hyper-focused pacing, the film serves as a visually powerful allegory that any dreamer could relate to. Trailer

School Ties by Oscar Albert is a visually compelling dramatic short about lost innocence. Two boys help a friend in need after he runs away from the nearby boarding school—building him a makeshift tent and sneaking him food whenever they can.

It’s rare to have child actors deliver such even performances, and the impressive attention to wardrobe and set design goes a very long way in terms of world building.

At the heart of the film is the question that is asked repeatedly—why did he run away in the first place? Albert leaves that to the viewer to decide. Trailer

Maalbeek is an animated/experimental film, which challenges the very notion of what a documentary is. Director Ismaël Joffroy Chandoutis examines the notion of remembering and forgetting by exploring the tragic 2016 Maalbeek metro bombing in Brussels—which killed 32 civilians, three perpetrators and injured over 300 others.

The film dives into one of those survivors—Sabine—who has severe amnesia about the event. She remembers it in bits and fragments unlike those around her who’ve formed their memories of the horrific event through news footage and second-hand accounts.

The film examines the notion of memories and how they influence feelings and perspectives—and perhaps how losing our memories allows us to actually move forward.

On a much-needed lighter note, we move to Thomas Sandler‘s highly enjoyable documentary about Edward Pratt—a young man who unicycled around the world. At the heart of Sandler’s short film is one question, which he asks repeatedly—why did Ed do it?

The Curiosity of Edward Pratt invites the viewer to open their minds to bigger ideas. Ed’s story is every bit as fascinating as it is inspiring. You can watch a bit about Ed and the 22,000 miles he cycled via this video.


There’s a juxtaposition at the heart of Guillermo and Javier Fesser de Petino‘s The Invisible Monster—how can a film about such a heartbreaking topic be this gorgeous? Both brothers are masterful and accomplished Spanish filmmakers with a list of career accomplishments so long it would span the length of this article to list them.

Their 29-minute short film ventures far east to the Philippines and follows an 8-year-old-boy Aminodin and his family as they navigate the hardships of living in the Papandayan dump with a central focus on exploring the topic of world hunger.

Jairo Iglesias’ cinematography—which earned the film an in-competition Selection at Camerimage 2020 in Poland elevates this film into masterpiece territory.


Pendance Midnight Shorts Showcase – Friday, March 26, 2021, 11pm.


Pendance Midnight is back and it’s edgier than ever. Screening at 11pm on March 26th, The Midnight Shorts showcase begins with Special Selection The Fall, by Under the Skin director Jonathan Glazer. At just over 6 minutes, the film packs a haunting punch.

Inspired by The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters—an etching by Francisco Goya, the film takes a surrealist approach, which feels a bit like a live-action representation of a Goya painting.

A man clings to a tree for dear life as strangers wearing masks attempt to rattle him free. The title leaves little to the imagination regarding what happens next—the fall.

As the mob descends on the fallen man, they force him to pose for a picture—a decision Glazer states was inspired by a photo Eric Trump and Donald Trump JR. took next to the carcass of a defenceless leopard.

It’s one of the strongest short films of the past decade and one that’s likely to have a strong and bitter aftertaste.

Rob Stanton-Cook‘s Kilter examines generational trauma through a poetic lens. To call the film’s cinematography by Aaron McLisky excellent would be an understatement—it’s one of the most visually dazzling shorts of the year.

It uses smart cuts and breathtaking locations to tell the story of a young man haunted by abuse at the hands of his father and a disconnection he feels from his younger self.

The film’s deeper messaging exploring toxic masculinity is represented by the radical physical transformation the character makes, and the constant visions he has of himself as a child which blur the line between dreams and reality.

Words are never spoken—and with a clear sense for visual storytelling and probably one of the better cinematographers in the world behind the camera, they aren’t really missed.

We had a strange Greek entry in the Midnight block in 2019 with Fake News, and 2021 re-welcomes Greece to Pendance Midnight with Take It And End It by Kirineos Papadimatos. The film is a delightfully allegorical tale about a butcher who refuses to kill a veal he’s grown to view as his own child.

To say anymore would be to ruin the film, but it’s absolutely a dream fit in the middle of this block.

There will be MONSTERS is a 5-minute short film by Pendance alumnus Carlota Pereda—winner of the Best Short Film Award in 2019 for her film Piggy.

Her most recent film brings us to a summer night in Spain as a clearly intoxicated woman sits on a bench trying to gather herself. As she’s approached by a group of rowdy men looking to have a few laughs—and much more—at her expense, the story turns from mildly uncomfortable to absolutely horrifying.

Pereda is a master of suspense and tension—the camera always holds to raise the nerves at the perfect boiling temperature. There’s always a twist—and it’s always a good one. Trailer


Matheus Farias and Enock Carvalho bring the audience to Brazil in their Sundance 2021-selection Unliveable. The 20-minute short film follows a woman desperately in search for answers after her daughter—a trans woman—goes missing.

Seeking answers and support from those who knew her daughter best, the film explores a mother’s grief and the rampant social issue of violence against transgendered individuals in Brazil.

While at the surface, this feels like an odd fit for the midnight block, you may comprehend the reasoning a bit better in the film’s final act.

Closing out Pendance Midnight, Japanese filmmaker Ken’ichi Ugana brings us the weirdest short film in Pendance’s 4-year history.

Extraneous Matter is an unflinching, erotically charged and surrealist look at a sexless woman’s longing for affection from her disinterested partner. The film takes a sharp turn as she finds a solution to her woes in her bedroom closet.

Like Pereda and Glazer, Ugana absolutely understands how to hold a frame to manipulate the audience. No one’s going to bed after watching this film.


Through Her EYES Shorts Showcase – Saturday, March 27, 2021, 5pm.


Through Her Eyes Shorts showcase starts with Mamaville, by Turkish director Irmak Karasu.

The film follows a young girl as she spends her summer days with her grandmother watching soap operas, hanging out with boys she may or may not like, and sitting in the shade at the beach—all of which is building on the boredom she feels and sense of sexual awakening she desires.

The film is a meditation on being young and pensive whilst attempting to transition from childhood innocence to full-fledged adulthood.

Milena Bennett‘s The Listening follows a couple—Freya and Dan—who move to the countryside to have their first child. As the pregnancy develops, they lose their grip on reality.

Distance and time, dreams and waking life, the living and the dead converge in this 25-minute short film about isolation—an all-too-relevant topic amidst the current state of the world.

There will be MONSTERS makes a second appearance in this block because as much as it is a genre film, it’s also a film about a woman establishing ultimate control.

We won’t spend any more time hyping up this 5-minute gem—just consider this a good opportunity to check it out if you miss it the first time around.

Cinematographer Molly Manning Walker flexes her strong directing and writing chops in Good Thanks, You? A young woman, Amy, played by the talented Jasmine Jobson, finds herself voiceless amidst a sea of bureaucratic incompetence following a violent attack.

Unable to speak about the event to her boyfriend, played by the Michael Ward, Amy must navigate the sea of questions on her own as she grows increasingly distanced from the ones she needs most.

So much is said through the powerful acting and strong script, but the dizzying effect and the sinking experience of watching the film has a lot to do with Molly Manning-Walker’s strong command of camera movement and visual storytelling. It’s a must-watch film. Trailer

Sister This by Claire Byrne is an Irish drama driven by two strong performances and a solid script which take the form of a phone conversation between an away-from-home working mom and her sister.

As the sisters war over their differing priorities, a child lays himself down in the grocery store pouting for attention.

It’s a rather intelligent and compelling spin on the working father trope and an engaging short film.


Finally, Peeps by Sophie Somerville closes the block on a hilarious high note. This delightfully weird Aussie selection will have you in stitches.

Peeps provides a peek into the inner world of a turbulent group of teenage girls during their after-school shopping trip. It’s equal parts brilliant and original from the opening credits to the final frame.

As shorts programmers wrote in their notes “it did things to me that only a handful of shorts have ever done”. It’s high praise from a group that have watched nearly 500 short films per year for four years running.


Show ME the Money!!! Shorts Showcase – Saturday, March 27, 2021, 9pm


Show ME the Money!!! is an absolutely hilarious short film block which features some of the most brilliant and daring attempts by a hodgepodge of defiant characters to circumvent the overall moral fabric of society.

In Ilya Polyakov‘s How to Get $100 Million—a young woman goes to extreme lengths on the advice of a self-help guru to achieve her goals—the price is just a little higher than she expected. It’s a completely fun and accessible short film which you won’t have to think about too much.

Amandine ThomasCherry Cola stars Thomas in the leading role, and it prompts two immediate questions—is the film good because Thomas is a strong director, or is it good because she’s a really talented actress?

The programmers answered this question with another question—does it really matter? Point taken. Honestly, it’s a little bit of both.

We meet Sherri as she’s being fired for stealing from her employer. When her emphatic pleas for reconsideration and mercy are met with contempt, Sherri goes to unimaginable lengths to pay her bills—manipulating everyone and anyone around her.

It’s rather unusual to cheer for the bad guy to win. But the bad guy isn’t a bad guy—it’s a charming bad girl—and it’s hard not to root for her when everyone around her is equally cold, equally calculating, or helplessly stupid.

Boris Kozlov’s The PIGS Method continues the earlier chapter on slimy self-help gurus. Toni is a father to two children who don’t take him very seriously.

His ex-wife is a sex cam worker and his biggest idol is a self-help guru who inspires Toni to write a book—the PIGS method—about using the useless scraps to make something meaningful of your life.

The film features damn-near-perfect acting across the board and serves as a great and subtle exploration of the perceptions of success and the toxicity of social media.


Georgi M. Unkovski‘s Sticker is one of the most prominent festival darlings of 2020, having premiered at Sundance and gone on to 200+ festivals worldwide.

The film follows a down-on-his-luck Dejan who can’t seem to renew his car registration. Equipped with a toy horse for his daughter who is performing in a play that evening, Dejan will do anything within his power to show up for the play to earn his daughter’s love forever.

Unfortunately, a series of events and consistent run-ins with the cops will threaten his desired outcome.

It’s not derivative, but Sticker will probably evoke a lot of the same feelings as 2012’s Live-Action-Oscar-Winner Curfew by Shawn Christensen. It’s a total crowd-pleaser. There are surely deeper undertones in Unkovski’s work, but the surface is just glossy and substantial enough to work on two levels. Trailer


Cinema Mon Amour – Sunday, March 28, 2021, 3pm.

Cinema Mon Amour is a short block devoted to unique and creative expressions—experimental, art-house with a little bit of narrative drama. This block is for the cinematically inclined and initiated crowd. Consider yourself warned.

We start this block with the second and newest short film by Jonathan GlazerSTRASBOURG 1508. The film is an adaptation of Martin Amis’s holocaust novel The Zone of Interest, featuring a series of head-banging interpretive dance performances from some of the world’s top dancers—filmed in isolation during the pandemic.

The film is as much a protest as it is another brilliant entry into the filmography of one of the world’s most interesting directors.

The first of two Pendance Alumni with shorts in the Cinema Mon Amour Short Block is Jonas Riemer with The One Who Crossed the Sea.

The animated documentary tells the story of a GDR refugee who joins the new right. In a folding boat, he flees via Denmark to Western Germany, where the story tips into the dark.

His newly acquired freedom turns into disorientation. Only in a burgeoning nationalist movement does the main character find a new home.

The film poses the elementary question: Where does the fear of the foreign and the desire for isolation really come from?

Riemer created the film” with the Cast&Cut short film grant via Nordmedia, and it continues a lifelong obsession for the young director of genre-blending.

With 2019’s Mascarpone, there was a very unique blend of animation with Live-Action. His most recent short is certainly an animated documentary—but flashes the director’s chops as an experimental filmmaker as well. We’re consistently on edge to learn what Jonas Riemer will do next.

To Sonny by Maggie Briggs and Federico Spiazzi is both a meditation on a simple life and a hyper smart character study of a lonely vending machine delivery driver.

The context for the film is peppered throughout via a series of radio interviews that serve as a backdrop for the audience to re-live the 2016 run-up to the American Presidential election.

The film doesn’t necessarily take a side—opting instead to ask questions; who are these people? How can they think the way they think? And have I actually met any of them?

In a world which feels increasingly closed off to debate and discussion, To Sonny urges viewers to sit in the shoes of a simple man, listening to the things he hears all day, seeing the roads he travels, and coming a little closer to seeing him as an actual human being. Trailer

Audiences in Toronto should be familiar with Nikola Polić, given that his earlier short film On My Own had its North American Premiere at Pendance in 2019.

In his most recent short film, Organisms, a young man named Petar finds himself distraught—when after a decade of cohabiting—his sister decides to move out of their shared apartment to start a family of her own.

Unable to cope with the loss, Petar concludes that his definition of family is at odds with the society he lives in.

Organisms represents a maturation for Polić as a storyteller. Many of the thematic elements remain consistent between both films—loneliness, isolation, longing for connection, idealism vs. reality.

This is obviously the work of a director who is still exploring some of the same fundamental questions as he was three years ago. What has changed is how he’s doing it.

Organisms feels more focused and surer of itself—it dares to be virtually inaccessible—but only in service of telling the story.

There are so many Easter eggs peppered in throughout the film’s 15-minute runtime that a few watchings may be essential to grab all of it. What’s clear is that this is an important film from an emerging director who is absolutely finding his voice. Trailer

Finally, closing Cinema Mon Amour is 2021 Live-Action-Oscar contender De Yie by Anthony Nti, a 20-minute short film from Ghana which follows 2 children as they’re forced to navigate some intense adult situations when they meet a stranger who offers to take them to the beach.

The film is a thrilling and at-times terrifying ride through the eyes of vulnerable children. Nti masterfully subverts expectations at every turn, leaving for one of the richest short-film experiences you’re likely to have this year.

That it for the International Shorts at Pendance 2021—to learn more about some of the feature films, you can read an article we wrote highlighting them. To read about some of the homegrown talent from Canada in the Shorts Programme, check here.


Robert Misovic is a Serbian-Canadian writer and director, the founder of the Pensare Films Studio in Toronto, and the festival director for the Pendance Film Festival. If you’d like to keep up with Rob on social media, you can find him on instagram @pensare.films or reach him directly at robert.misovic@pensarefilms.com 

10 Feature Films Selected to Pendance 2021

Five female filmmakers and films from 6 different countries headline a strong 10-feature-lineup for the 2021 Pendance Film Festival.  Apart from being held virtually for the first time,  the fourth year at Pendance marks a lot of firsts—a World Premiere feature, two documentary features, a Canadian feature, and feature films from Uruguay, Finland, Germany and Turkey. Here, we take you through each film in chronological order starting with the opening feature film at Pendance 2021— The State of Texas vs. Melissa




Friday afternoon is all about documentaries at Pendance. The second feature is The State of Texas VS. MelissaSabrina Van Tassel‘s Raindance-winning documentary about Melissa Lucio—the first Hispanic woman ever sentenced to death in the state of Texas.

Van Tassel builds a compelling case in advocating Lucio’s innocence in the film—outlining the numerous people at each stage who mishandled the case and the trial.

Sabrina Van Tassel will be joining Pendance for a live Q&A following the screening to discuss the film and Melissa’s case. Watch Trailer




Dinner in America is easily one of the best films in Pendance’s short history—The Sundance favourite follows an on-the-lam punk rocker and a young woman obsessed with his band. The two fall madly in love and go through an epic, scenic journey through America’s decaying Midwestern suburbs.

It’s both humanistic and compelling—a good probably-still-too-early bet for the Audience Award. It draws on a few inspirations but will remind some of another Sundance crowd favourite—2004’s Napoleon Dynamite.  Watch Teaser 




Friday night just became a must-watch event—following up Dinner in America is Colombian-American director Jonathan CuartasMy Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell it To. It’s one of the more unique twists on the horror genre—an absolutely haunting family drama which should earn big points from the ‘smart horror’ crowd.

Two mysterious siblings find themselves at odds whilst caring for their frail and sickly younger brother. We don’t want to spoil this film for you—just know that it’s programmed on Friday night at 9pm by design. It’s a story about loneliness and family—packing plenty of punches, twists and thoughtful surprises throughout. Watch Trailer




Saturday starts with one of the most unique films we’ve ever seen at Pendance—Uruguayan director Alex Piperno‘s  Window Boy Would Also Like to Have a Submarine.

Piperno’s mind is every bit as fascinating as his film—where aboard a cruise ship a young sailor discovers a doorway to an apartment in Montevideo. Meanwhile, a group of Asian farmers find an abandoned shed in a valley, attributing it to supernatural powers.

When discussing the process of how he came up with the idea for the story, Piperno mentioned writing things down on a piece of paper and then finding unique ways to connect them—spoken like a true artiste. Watch Trailer 





Saturday night’s first feature isn’t nearly as abstract as Piperno’s but it’s a huge crowd pleaser and a breathtaking love story—a working class story about a biker, a mermaid, and three shades of blue. To call Lorelei a masterpiece might be a stretch—few films truly are.

Jena Malone and Pablo Schreiber deliver the best performances of their careers, and it’s impossible to ignore the soft honesty which permeates throughout the film.

But film is subjective—it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that for a lot of people—this will be their favourite film of the year.  This is the type of film you watch once—and hold forever. What director Sabrina Doyle has accomplished with this marvellous fable should stand the test of time for decades. Watch Teaser





Saturday’s Pendance Midnight screening is a record-breaker for the festival—the first-ever Canadian feature. Coming to Pendance after premiering at Fantasia, Amelia MosesBleed With Me is a highly impressive feature film debut for young director.

Bleed with Me follows a self-destructive young woman—who on a winter getaway in an isolated cabin becomes convinced that her seemingly all-too-perfect friend is stealing her blood. It’s twisty, creepy, and absolutely worth staying up a bit past midnight for. Moses will be joining the Q&A after the screening from Montreal.

We first discovered Moses’ work in 2017 when her body-horror film Undress Me went to over 30 festivals—and Bleed with Me represents a massive step up. If she’s not already there, Moses is primed to become one of the true stars of the female horror genre—joining the likes of Karyn Kusama and fellow Canadian Jovanka Vuckovic. Watch Trailer  



Sunday represents a massive shift in tone and cinematic focus—and that shift starts with Sevgi Hirschhäuser‘s Toprak. Winner at Woods Hole for Best Cinematography, the film is uniquely beautiful in its depictions of rural Turkey.

A simple family deal with poverty, family traditions and religious heritage—a war of wills and ideas, and a family on the brink of falling apart. Director Sevgi Hirschhäuser—and her husband Chris Hirschhäuser—who masterfully handled the cinematography on the film—will join Pendance from their home in Germany following the screening. Watch Trailer





We travel away from Turkey and  journey west to Cherbourg for Valto Baltzar‘s Le Café de mes Souvenirs, a film which presents many firsts for Pendance—the first ever musical, first ever Finnish film, and the first ever feature to have its World Premiere at the festival.

A visually mesmerizing musical which inspires and excites the senses—song and music take lovers Emilie & Philippe from Cherbourg to Paris, where the stress of urban living and multiple jobs begins to threaten their relationship.

It’s a crowd-pleaser which features beautiful cinematography, writing, and compelling performances across the board.




Curtains close on Pendance 2021 with the final feature film of the festival—Sandra Wollner‘s The Trouble With Being Born. This is a film that’s more than certain of itself and what it’s doing.

You’ll probably respect it more than like it at first, until you find yourself thinking about it a week later. It’s a remarkable feature film which pinches at the nerve endings and challenges the viewer on a deeper subconscious level.

After world premiering at the 2020 Berlinale, the film received favourable reviews from a number of critics citing Wollner’s pitch-perfect direction and the films originality—and the praise is well earned—it’s a film that should age like fine wine.

The Trouble with Being Born follows Elli—an android programmed with memories that mean everything to her owner but nothing to her. It’s a sharp film from a director at the height of her powers. Watch Teaser Trailer

Individual tickets for features and short film blocks go on sale March 13th, 2021. To check out passes, visit Eventive here. 



Robert Misovic is a Serbian-Canadian writer and director, the founder of the Pensare Films Studio in Toronto, and the festival director for the Pendance Film Festival. If you’d like to keep up with Rob on social media, you can find him on instagram @pensare.films or reach him directly at robert.misovic@pensarefilms.com 

A Record-Setting 17 Canadian Directors Heading to Pendance 2021

Short films have always been a huge part of our programming at Pendance, and as the festival goes virtual in 2021 for the first time, we were bound to break a few records. Fun Fact: there are more Canadians selected to Pendance 2021 than there have been from 2017-2020 combined—and they’re all worth talking about.

Fighter (2020)

Fighter by Toronto-based documentarian Meagan Brown is Canada’s sole short doc at Pendance 2021. Meagan turns the camera on her own family—three generations of firefighters—and asks them why they do what they do. It’s deeply honest and hits a high note on the climax.

Cliff Skeltons Not Your Average Bear follows a middle-aged man attempting a daring and ingenious heist to escape a mountain of debt and his mother’s piling medical bills. It’s a reasonably smart film that is one part action-thriller, another part underdog-comedy.

Savage Breakup is a masterclass in why tension and comedy make good bedfellows.  The film marks Jaclyn Vogl‘s directorial debut and it’s an early indication of good things to come from the team at Hysterical Hearts Collective—a Toronto production company led by Vogl, Sarah Slywchuk, Nora Smith and Melissa Paulson.

The shortest Canadian film comes from one of Canada’s funniest personalities—Gemini award-winner Shaun Majumder with Truth Hurtz. It’s 3 minutes long and it’s clear from the first twelve seconds that Majumder just understands comedic beats.

And finally, while it’s not strictly a comedy, Aris AthanasopoulosLloyd Loses Everything might be one of the funniest shorts we’ve ever seen at Pendance. It’s incredibly paced, so well-acted, and features commanding performances from Mickey Milan and Jenny Raven (Black Mirror, Kim’s Convenience).

Her Coming (2020)

Switching gears to sci-fi, Vancouver’s Christie Will Wolf and former-Torontonian-turned-Vancouverite Camille Hollett-French are coming to Pendance with Her Coming and FREYA, respectively.

Her Coming starring Chelsea Hobbs examines a future where men are gone and female leaders rule a conflict-free world, while FREYA imagines a dystopian future in which the state and social media operate as one. Both films are visually breathtaking and massive accomplishments in production design and storytelling.


Canada’s Got Talent

There’s Nothing You Can Do (2021)


Switching from the west coast, it turns out Quebec’s got a gem on the rise as well. You’d assume when a 22-year-old decides to direct, produce, write, edit, sound-design and act in his own project that the project would be unfathomably bad—but apparently, if you’re gifted and work hard enough, things turn out just fine. This film is ridiculously good.

It might give you an anxiety attack, but Ryan Terk‘s There’s Nothing You Can Do is an absolutely pure adrenaline rush and a commendable short film. At 27 minutes, it’s the second longest short ever selected to Pendance.


A familiar face—Pendance alumni Michael Alexander Uccello follows up Pendance 2020 selection Dreamcatcher with his new shot-on-16mm-short film The Man Who Became Everything. It’s a moody sci-fi film that earns some serious style points.

Noah Brown‘s stunning animated short The Wireman is ethereal, open-ended, and a remarkable accomplishment relative to its paltry budget. It joins a host of international animation films that are absolutely the strongest we’ve ever had and totally holds its own.

If there’s one short film that’s sure to make you cry, it’s probably Christian Bunea’s Pacaroni, which follows a teenage boy’s attempts to salvage the last remnant’s of his mother’s homemade pasta following her sudden death. Bunea’s sense of pacing and visual literacy are well beyond his years.

Another Canadian foray into the sci-fi genre, Douglas GibbensDeparture takes us to a future where an uninhabitable earth leads humanity to make a mass exodus to Mars. The gorgeous production design by A.K. Shand is complimented by Pendance alumni Matt Kinahan‘s (The Sunset Channel) dazzling score and writer-actress Konstantina Mantelos‘ strong performance.

And He Was Gone (2021)

Ace McCallum‘s And He Was Gone is a suspenseful dramatic short. The setup is simple enough—a young boy sees a man through his kitchen window. He smiles at the man to let us know the man is fine, and the music lets us know that he’s anything but.

Giran Findlay probably wasn’t thinking about pandemic protocols when he wrote Line—a Kafkaesque short film about the lunacy of bureaucracy—but he might have inadvertently made a film that stands as the perfect metaphor for the past 12 months.

A man is forced to wait behind a white line to get out of an empty roomonly to realize that every time he gets out, he comes right back in. Sounds like grocery stores in 2020 to us!

Shifting back to familiar faces, Pendance goers probably remember Molly Shears from Pendance 2020—she was one of the 10 filmmakers selected to our first-ever Pendance directors lab. In her latest short film Middle of Nowhere, she tackles grief through the lens of a young girl and her brother reeling from the sudden loss of their older brother. It’s a smart film and is an assured entry from a director on the rise.

The final Canadian short at Pendance is Right Side Down by the Jefferies Brothers—perfectly capturing the collective feeling of having the world flipped upside down by literally having a protagonist who was born and lives upside down. There are no words to explain why he’s born upside down, but the cinematography and music absolutely speak for themselves.

With much of the world closed, it has never felt quite as small and connected as it does today. We’re excited that home-grown artists from across the country will share the platform with 29 of the best filmmakers from across 5 continents. You can check out the full list of shorts selected to Pendance 2021 here. 


Robert Misovic is a Serbian-Canadian writer and director, the founder of the Pensare Films Studio in Toronto, and the festival director for the Pendance Film Festival. If you’d like to keep up with Rob on social media, you can find him on instagram @pensare.films or reach him directly at robert.misovic@pensarefilms.com 

44 Short Films Selected To Pendance 2021

The Pendance Film Festival is going virtual on March 26-28, 2021 via Eventive. Passes go on sale March 9th. With 2020 being a generally slow year for the film industry, we’re absolutely humbled to announce that our shorts programme may be our best one yet. Below is a full list of short films selected to Pendance 2021.



Blue Frontier | Ivan Milosavljević | Serbia
Cherry Cola | Amandine Thomas | United States
Da Yie | Anthony Nti | Ghana
Extraneous Matter | Kenichi Ugana | Japan
Good Thanks, You? | Molly Manning Walker | United Kingdom
Kilter | Rob Stanton-Cook | Australia
How to Get $100 Million | Ilya Polyakov | United States
Maalbeek | Ismaël Joffroy Chandoutis | France
Mamaville | Irmak Karasu | Turkey
Organisms | Nikola Polić | Serbia
Peeps | Sophie Somerville | Australia
School Ties | Oscar Albert | United Kingdom
Sister This | Claire Byrne | Ireland
Sticker | Georgi M. Unkovski | Macedonia
Take it and End it | Kirineos Papadimatos | 20 mins
The Bears on Pine Ridge | Noel Bass | United States
The Curiosity of Edward Pratt | Thomas Sandler | Belgium
The Invisible Monster | Guillermo Fesser Perez de Petinto, Javier Fesser Perez de Petinto | Spain
The Listening | Milena Bennett | Australia
The One Who Crossed the Sea | Jonas Riemer | Germany 
The PIGS method | Boris Kozlov | Spain
There will be MONSTERS | Carlota Pereda | Spain
To Sonny | Federico Spiazzi, Maggie Briggs | United States
Unliveable | Matheus Farias, Enock Carvalho | Brazil 




Fighter | Meagan Brown | Canada
FREYA | Camille Hollett-French | Canada
Lloyd Loses Everything | Aris Athanasopoulos | Canada
Not Your Average Bear | Cliff Skelton | Canada
Pacaroni | Christian Bunea | Canada
Right Side Down | Ted Jefferies, Marshall Jefferies | Canada
Savage Breakup | Jaclyn Vogl | Canada
The Man Who Became Everything | Michael Alexander Uccello | Canada
The Wireman | Noah Brown | Canada
There’s Nothing You Can Do | Ryan Terk | Canada  




And He Was Gone | Ace McCallum | Canada 
Bertin | Elise Lausseur | France 
Departure | Douglas Gibbens | Canada 
Her Coming | Christie Will Wolf  | Canada 
If You Love Her, Let Her Go |  Ilan Zerrouki | France
Line | Giran Findlay | Canada 
Middle of No Where | Molly Shears | Canada 
Strasbourg 1518 | Jonathan Glazer | United Kingdom 
The Fall | Jonathan Glazer | United Kingdom
Truth Hurtz | Shaun Majumder | United States 


Click to Read More About the Selected Films Here



Peeps (2020) – Sophie Somerville


2021 has brought the world together in unique ways. Our International In-Competition programme for 2021 features projects from 13 countries; Australia, United States, United Kingdom, France, Ghana, Greece, Turkey, Serbia, Macedonia, Germany, Brazil, Japan and Belgium—that’s 24 different perspectives across 5 continents. And they’re all really good. Exploring diverse genres and ideas, from established and emerging directors alike, these 24 films will absolutely blow your mind.


There’s Nothing You Can Do (2021) – Ryan Terk

2021 is a record year for Canadian short films at Pendance. With 15 Canadian selections among the 43 shorts, there are more Canadian short films at Pendance 2021 than there were in our first three years combined. Among the 10 Canadian shorts, 9 are by directors who are being selected to Pendance for the very first time.



The Fall (2019) – Jonathan Glazer

Most Special Selections to Pendance will be free to access through the Pendance Library. Each year we’ve had to leave five or ten really deserving films off of the Official Selection Programme. It’s not a statement on the quality of the film—sometimes it’s just a matter of fit. Programming a cohesive short block around theme sometimes means a film we really believe in often finds itself on the outside looking in.

As we move towards virtual cinema in 2021, we wanted to celebrate as many artists as possible. Making most of our special selections free-to-access means even those who do not purchase a single pass or ticket to Pendance 2021 can still enjoy quality shorts!
Note: The Fall and Strasbourg 1508 by Jonathan Glazer will exclusively screen (Geo-Blocked to Ontario) via Eventive. 

Everything You Need To Know Before Making Your Next Short Film

In this article, I’m going to lay out the entire short film playbook—festival strategies, maximizing your festival experience, cost-cutting on submissions, marketing ideas, and how to execute your distribution and release.

Look—short films are basically a rite of passage. Anyone who has ever picked up a camera has at some point been told to make one. And since they’re considerably less resource-intensive than making a feature—most filmmakers stumble into short films by default.

Christopher Nolan did it. Martin Scorsese did it. Why would you not do it?

You absolutely do not need to make a short film. The end. Mic drop. End of the article.

All kidding aside—if you’re going to make a short film, or if you’ve already made one, this article is going to save you a lot of money, time and headaches.




That’s a really fair question. Who am I to tell you what to do with your next short film?

I’ve produced 13 films—only 3 were actually any good. I’ve been a programmer and festival director for the Pendance Film Festival for 4 years—never went to film school—studied statistics and philosophy, and worked at a hedge fund for 3 years instead.

None of this gives me the insight to write this article—but I’m curious and I ask thousands of questions. I’ve had opportunities over the past 6 years to speak with programmers and festival directors from some of the best film festivals in the world.

Through our festival, we’ve dealt with the top agents and distributors—interacted with the very best young filmmakers working today—and you had better believe I brought my pen and notepad to ask hundreds of questions each time.

The first step to learning anything is admitting your blindspots—I had hundreds of them, and probably still do.




Running Pendance was akin to attending a high end film school. Becoming a festival director made me a wiser filmmaker, but it is my curiosity and propensity to remain curious that helped me write this playbook—to any of those people I pestered for insight who might be reading this—I’m sorry I was so annoying!

There IS a playbook—a set of ideas, rules, theories—that no one tells you about until you get in the right room with the right people. Some of us don’t get into that room until we’re already 10 years into our careers—and most others will quit long before ever getting there.

If you’re a filmmaker—I respect you. It’s a brave career choice and anyone who even thinks about doing it has my admiration. But how many people have to make the same 100 mistakes—waste the same $30,000—before we extend help?

Before we started Pendance in 2017, I had zero depth perception when it came to filmmaking. I assumed the difference between my short films and the best short films being produced was at best negligible. And each time I received a rejection from TIFF or Sundance, my heart would sink into the floorboards and I’d eat ice cream for a week. The films they selected looked just like mine. I didn’t get it.

Pendance 2019, Toronto, Canada.

In August, 2017, my friend Andjelika Javorina and I launched the Pendance film festival with the help of four other Toronto artists.  She was a composer and I was a screenwriter. Pen-dance—get it? And it was this film festival that allowed us to understand that we were wrong—our work was crap.

We were making  mediocre films that had no business going to top-end film festivalsso we stopped submitting for 3 years until we learned how to make better films.

Here’s a free tip—you need to watch other quality short films. It provides some context for your own work. They’re not mini-featuresthey’re an art form with their own set of specific rules and guidelines.

During the first two years at Pendance, we received 657 short film submissions. What did we learn from watching 657 shorts? Get really honest about your own work and what you’re trying to achieve.

• No more blindly spending $4000 on festival submissions.

• No more laurel-hunting via haphazard submission sprees.

• No more giving shorts away to streaming sites that at best get the same circulation as my personal Facebook page.

I started working on this article 3 years ago. And as much as I’m writing it for youI’m writing it for my former self. It’s a long-overdue letter full of better ideas and things worth knowing—a series of connected and disconnected things I wish I knew in 2015—but I’m happy to know today.




You’ve probably heard of the 80-20 rule or the 90-10 rule—but filmmaking is a 99-1 business. You will derive 99% of your value from 1% of the potential opportunities at your disposal.

You need to seek feedback—sorry—you need to seek honest feedback from someone capable of giving credible feedback on your film. That’s the 99-1 rule. Whether you’re looking for someone to give you notes on your latest script or your new short film—99% of people will be either unwilling or unable to give you credible insight.

Pro Tip: Find 4-6 people  who make films and create a group where the sole focus is to provide brutally honest feedback on each other’s work.

Your mom probably isn’t trained to give you professional notes. She gave birth to you and she might even love you, but she cannot provide the type of feedback you need on your work. Sorry mom. Your lead actor and your sound designer are probably not much better. 

Before festival submissions—arrange a small watch party with some modestly intelligent friends and fellow filmmakers who had nothing to do with your film and just listen. Do they laugh at the funny parts? Do they look engaged? Do tense moments feel tense? Urge them to share their brutally honest opinions afterwards. 

Pro Tip: A lot of people attend festivals to watch their own films—BAD IDEA. Attend festivals to watch other people’s films. When your film comes on, step out to the side and make sure everyone sees you leave—then, periodically look at the audience and scan their faces for real-time feedback. 




The first step is also the hardest. Before anything is submitted, sold, or pitched, get a very clear idea of what you’re doing.

• Is your short film over 30 minutes?

• Does it contain excessive swearing and/or nudity?

• Are the sound design and colour a notch—or 3 notches below perfect?

• Did you use a single LED panel to light your entire film?

• Does your film take place in a forest? Your apartment?

• Did you use unlicensed music because it sounds cool?

If you answered “yes” to two or more of these questions, it might be wise to opt out of festival submissions—or—limit yourself to only the smallest and most local ones.

Pro Tip: If you want to make a big splash on the festival circuit, and insist on making a drama, make it a phenomenal one. If you’re not capable of making a great film, don’t make a drama—make a horror film. Or make a a documentary. Whatever you make—be original.

Honestlydon’t lock yourself into having to submit to festivals to please your cast and crew either. Film festivals are just one of many tools at your disposal—if you just finish the film within a year and send a link, everyone’s happy.

But I get it—laurels, parties, red carpets—if you’re still considering submitting to festivals in the next 12 months, this is the part of the article you absolutely need to read.





We’re here—you have a short film and you’ve determined that it belongs somewhere out there. Now it’s time to clearly identify what you’re looking for and what you’d like to get out of the experience.

Do you want to get distribution for another film?

Do you want to sell this film?

Do you want to get producers and agents interested in your work?

Do you want to have your 8 minute film financed to become a 96 minute feature?

OR do you just want to have fun, meet other filmmakers and learn?

Curfew became Before I Disappear. Whiplash, Thunder Road and The Last Black Man In San Francisco started as short films. In 2019, we had 2 short films; Piggy and Baghead which were picked up to be adapted into features—happens all the time. Whatever your goal—write it down.

Pro Tip: Be realistic. Some films have a market—others don’t. Selling your film at the Orlando Film Festival isn’t just difficult—it’s virtually impossible.

Whatever you want—there’s a festival best suited for it. You’ll have to do your research. Reach out to filmmakers who did what you’re trying to do and just ask for some pointers—a particular bar where all the distributors hang out, someone to look out for, an event which always features a few reputable agents.




Are you starting at TIFF? Or Venice? If you have a good film, you’ll want to start out at a festival that has good press contacts—and a good established reputation among the industry.

Identify 5 festivals you’d really love to start your festival run at, and focus all of your energy into getting into at least one of them.

Pro Tip: Did you know that programmers scout and attend top-end festivals and will often invite the films they like to submit to their festivals?

Getting into Sundance or TIFF isn’t just valuable because they’re amazing festivals— it also guarantees favourable odds at 1000’s of other festivals—you’re basically getting stamped for an amazing festival run.




TIFF, 2020, Toronto, Canada.

You need to note deadlines—you know this! Early deadline fees are between 200-300% (sometimes more) lower than late deadline fees. Submitting late doesn’t mean you won’t get in—but there are almost zero advantages to doing so.

Do you really want to be the fourth film a programmer watches that year about a woman facing a bed bug infestation?

Once you have your first 5 festivals picked out, you absolutely need to map out 2 dates—the opening call for submissions, and the earliest submission deadline.

Let’s say I just finished my short film. I want to premiere at TIFF, but I’ll be fine with starting at any of these 5 festivals.These are the earliest submission deadlines for my 5 options.

Toronto International Film Festival – March 26, 2021

Fantasia Film Festival – February 28, 2021

Calgary International Film Festival – February 26, 2021

Vancouver International Film Festival – April 23, 2021

Austin Film Festival – March 26, 2021


Pro Tip: Once you’ve made your submission, kindly reach out to the head shorts programmer and introduce yourself via email, and in less than a paragraph notify them that you’ve made a submission to the festival and include your tracking number. This will increase the odds that a programmer watches your film or checks it out before a screener does.

This means that I need my final deliverables in by February 26th for Calgary, and I won’t submit to any festival that takes place before these events—clearing up any premiere conflicts in advance. You’ll also need to colour-code your calendar to map out the distinct festival runs based on where you’re starting out.

Pro Tip: Do not hound programmers or festival staff via social media—it’s weird and absolutely doesn’t work in your favour.




Sundance Film Festival, Park City, Utah.

Let’s assume you do get into TIFF. Congrats! Now what? It’s August 12th and you’re excited. You blast it out on social media. Everyone goes crazy. Your ex is calling. Everyone’s sharing it—next thing you know you’re two days away from the festival and you’ve done absolutely nothing for a month.

This is why you need a colour-coded calendar. Label each starting point a different colour, and then map out a festival path.

Within moments of receiving a TIFF acceptance you should be emailing programmers at virtually every other half decent autumn festival asking for a waiver or discount.

You should also be emailing the other 4 festivals on your list to let them know that your film will be having its premiere at TIFF ahead of their festivals. This is sometimes a little wink wink nudge nudge to give your project a second look if it has already been passed up. Other times—it’s just so they know.

Pro Tip: I’ve heard some very smart people suggest that asking for waivers is a bad idea and pisses people off—I disagree. Festival submissions are really expensive, and most larger festivals are more than capable of giving out a few waivers each year without incurring a big hit.

How does this look in practice? If TIFF is represented by the colour orange, then any festival you’d like to screen at—not in your top 5—that happens more than 3 weeks after TIFF should also be coloured in orange—this is your TIFF path. Getting into the Austin Film Festival is going to unlock different doors than getting into TIFF. The point is—have a game plan and logical steps pre-planned so you’re not scrambling on the day of.

Fun Fact: Most people suggest submitting to Sundance first—and this is likely why Sundance receives 9000+ short film submissions each year.

With most top end festivals—you’re going to want to pay very close attention to premieres. While a lot of top-end festivals will say they don’t have premiere requirements for shorts, there is certainly a premium placed on films making World and International Premieres.

Pro Tip: Canadian films would be wise to start in the summer from TIFF to Sundance, and American films would be wise to start in the fall/winter and go from Sundance to TIFF. Clermont-Ferrand—Melbourne—TIFF is probably one of my favourite pathways.

Conversely, some festivals do have premiere requirements for short films—State/Province premiere, International Premiere, World Premiere (rare). There’s absolutely no point in submitting to 4 festivals in Florida if all of them require Florida Premieres—pick the best one or the one that happens soonest and wait to hear back from them. Festival runs can range from 6 months to 18 months and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this.

Pro Tip: I highly discourage submitting works in progress—especially if there’s some major component of your film missing from the edit. Just wait until you’re done and submit the final film.




I’ve seen so many filmmakers blow their entire budget on submissions without ever considering travel and lodging. 99% of film festivals aren’t going to cover travel or lodging for short filmmakers. We covered 2 days of hotel stay for short filmmakers last year and were baffled to find out that this was almost unheard of among other festivals.

It’s a scary world and filmmakers are often the ones left holding the bag. If you are paying a sizeable sum submitting to a festival, make sure that if selected, it’s one you can actually attend.

Pro Tip: You can negotiate with festivals. Do so politely and as soon as you’re selected. You can ask for extra passes, extra tickets, some help with the lodging costs and possibly more. Just be aware that most festivals will not cover travel for short filmmakers, and only the best ones will cover a short hotel stay. Beyond that you’re usually on your own.

Festivals are brilliant platforms to learn, connect, grow, and get feedback. You miss so much of that if you don’t attend. I should clarify—good festivals are brilliant platforms. Attending a festival like Melbourne, Cork, Leeds, or Warsaw will absolutely be a worthwhile trip regardless of the expense. As for Joe Schmoe’s International Monthly Festival? You can just put that acceptance letter in the drawer and forget it.




If you have a really good short film, align yourself with a festival distribution company. They get favourable rates on bulk submissions and can leverage pre-existing relationships to help you get into the best festivals.

I’m not even going to pretend that this is as easy as it sounds—reputable distributors only represent the best shorts by artists that have already established themselves on the festival circuit—but it’s never going to hurt to email some companies and ask if they’d consider taking your film on.

Pro Tip: Almost all reputable distributors attend or scout the top 20 festivals, so getting into one is a good way to get on their radar. You may even meet some in person at these events OR they may approach you about representing your film after your screening.

Check out the distributor’s catalogue and try to imagine how your film fits in. Some distributors specialize by genre or specifically represent women or POC filmmakers.

Pro Tip: If you see hundreds of titles in their catalogue, move on to someone who does a better job curating. We’ve received dozens of requests from festival distributors looking for bulk rates and we almost always pass on the ones who don’t properly curate their catalogue for quality control.

If you’d like some guidance on some of our favourite festival distribution companies, you can check our past selections and find some common trends. Or you can just email us! 




Aspen Shortsfest, Aspen, USA.

Try to look at past selections to get a sense of the types of projects the festival favours. If 90% of the short films at the festival were from local filmmakers, and you’re not a local filmmaker, don’t submit to that festival. If all of their films were under 15 minutes and your short is 22 minutes, don’t submit to that festival.


Also, the biggest film festivals aren’t necessarily the best film festivals for your short film. Film festivals like Aspen Shortsfest, Palm Springs International Shortsfest or Claremont-Ferrand might be far better options to kick-start your festival run.


Pro Tip: Don’t blow your entire budget on Sundance, SXSW and TIFF—but if you’ve made a great short submit to a few heavyweights. An Official Selection to Sundance is worth 50 selections at mid-sized regional festivals, and 1000 selections at these obscure monthly ones.


But there are dozens of festivals out there that can do something meaningful for your career that might be better fits for your project. Consider moving one notch down from mega festivals like Sundance and TIFF to festivals like Austin, Palm Springs, Aspen, Rotterdam, Slamdance or Seattle. You won’t have 600 in attendance, and you probably won’t meet Matt Damon, but it’s absolutely a great experience and one worth celebrating.


Pro Tip: Email festivals and ask for submission discounts and waivers. Tell them a bit about your project to pique their interest. Sometimes this works. But don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t.




I’ll be honest—I HATE THIS PART. I hate the idea of having filmmakers to reach out to the press to feature their film or attend their screening. I hate the idea that some filmmakers message us saying that if they’re selected, they’ll sell out a screening for us by leveraging their existing social media presence.


But hating reality doesn’t change reality. This is the harsh reality—you need a publicist. If you can’t afford a decent one—become a half-decent one.


We’ve worked so hard at Pendance to work for filmmakers—we cut trailers, write articles, do press outreach. We offer platforms for them to teach free-workshops at the festival and sit on panels.


But the best outcomes always come from filmmakers who work hard for themselves.


We selected Filmmaker A in 2019 and this individual was hyper-prepared. They really understood the game since they were dating a producer who had clearly explained it to them.


They asked for our press-list within moments of being selected and emailed hundreds of critics to attend their screening. It worked wonders—the film was covered by 2 major publications—they leveraged the publicity and positive reviews to get into 2-3 other incredible festivals and grabbed themselves a Vimeo Staff Pick. Smart Cookie!


We selected Filmmaker B in 2020. They didn’t have as strong a film as Filmmaker A, but they happened to be local to Toronto. They hammered people to come to their screening, they got on social media and made dozens of calls. Their film out-sold Werner Herzog’s Ontario Premiere at Pendance 2020.


I wish smaller festivals could do more for individual filmmakers, but they usually can’t. We’ve been able to do as much as we have largely because we have a really talented team full of editors, web designers, and people with strong business backgrounds.


If we had to pay for these things, we’d be broke. Festivals have a job to market their event. That event sometimes includes parties, galas, workshops, 70-130 films, and press conferences. As a short filmmaker, you’re not a priority for anyone except yourself. So become your own agent, publicist and hype man.




Filmmaker Barbara Vekaric, Aleksi, 2020

Beyond the top 20-40 film festivals in the world, those laurels are mostly meaningless. Honestly. Treat most festival submissions as a limited theatrical release commitment. In exchange for your submission fee, this festival is taking care of the exhibition costs associated with your film.


The raw deal for most short films is that they don’t generally garner a screening fee. You’ll see almost no money from this ‘limited theatrical run’—regardless of how well or poorly it goes. But you also assume zero costs or risk—that’s the tradeoff.


What is the real value of a Sundance selection for a short film? It totally depends on you. You could just not go and blast it on social media—thus limiting the value to virtually nil—OR you can use that one selection to go to Park City, meet incredible people, find gigs, find financing, find an agent, become a filmmaker Sundance repeatedly selects, and contact other festivals to set yourself up for a 150-170 festival run for almost no money—a value of maybe $500,000. Your call.




I’ve been told 100 times to NEVER publicly comment on other festivals. As the festival director at Pendance it probably appears tacky and unprofessional. I know a lot of these programmers and artistic directors and it’s a close-knit community—no one’s trying to commit career suicide here.

But I’m a filmmaker too. And that part of me wants to scream “Shut up! Shut up! Shut the f$#k up! They need to know this!”


Pro Tip: Google 4-5 of the reviewers. Are they real people? Are they the types of filmmakers you might want to meet? Are they filmmakers at all? All you need to sign up for a FilmFreeway user account is an email. Always remember that when festivals tout their 50 positive reviews as a reason for you to submit.


As a filmmaker, I was once told that my film would only be exhibited at a certain European film festival if and only if I paid to publish an advertisement promoting the screening in a magazine which was—wait for it—owned by the very same festival. Ah, first year filmmaking woes.


Pro Tip: Most reputable and reasonably established film festivals will actively watch your film in full and may even have 2-3 people do so while taking comprehensive and detailed notes on the film. Have I heard of festivals outsourcing screenings to first year film school students? Sure. But you haven’t heard of those festivals—and that’s probably why. 


FilmFreeway has a very low bar for what qualifies as a legitimate event—there’s an ongoing challenge in terms of quality control. I’d love to say you’ll know when you see a scam—but you won’t. So I’ll give you a list of 3 things I really look for.


•  Hundreds of positive reviews for a first or second year festival. This screams scam. Festivals that select 300 films after receiving 350 submissions aren’t festivals—they’re pyramid schemes. Speaking from experience, it’s virtually impossible to program that many films while maintaining anything that even resembles quality control.

•  Zero digital footprint. Some festivals aren’t tech-savvy and they’re just really old. They market films exclusively through newspapers and flyers and haven’t even heard of Instagram. These are not scam festivals—they’re dinosaurs. But if a festival started after 2001, and they don’t have a modern-ish website and some sort of ongoing social media presence, this is a major red flag and should be a strong indication to avoid submitting.

•  Too good to be true. “We’re the best festival in New Zealand”. Sure. The best festivals seldom market themselves like used car salesmen. It’s really difficult to ascertain the value of a festival that takes place 2000 km away, but just use your judgment and common sense.




I’ve never met a filmmaker who didn’t—at some point—completely misjudge their own work—for better or worse. You need to track your acceptance rate and know when to stop submitting. I’ve gone through this with 2 of my own films. I didn’t see them clearly at the time and I needlessly wasted $1000’s on submissions.

Pro Tip: If you’re consistently being rejected by more than 80% of the festivals you’re submitting to, there’s something wrong with your film OR what you’re doing.

When you find yourself getting really desperate, walk away. Some films just don’t belong in film festivals—it’s a tough pill to swallow. It doesn’t mean they’re bad per se—just means you need to find another way to get them out into the world.

Pro Tip: Most low to mid-tier regional festivals will accept virtually any short film that is professionally coloured, sound-designed, shot and edited. They’re either unwilling to seek more from their films, or unable to ask for more due to low submission numbers.

Festivals seem quite focused on how the film looks and sounds—audiences on YouTube or Facebook are far more forgiving of technical issues. If you have a great story that evokes strong emotion—and the only real problem is that it sounds and looks amateurish—you’ll have much better luck finding an audience online.




Programmers talk. Things get passed around. It’s only human. If you got drunk at a certain festival in Louisiana and trashed your hotel room—I’ve probably heard of you. E-mail me Jason. You’re a legend and we need to talk.

I’m not suggesting that you suck up to festival staff and act like someone you’re not—but be careful you don’t develop a reputation for making trouble or being difficult to work with.

Pro Tip: Take your Q&A seriously. This is an opportunity to give people the smallest glimpse into who you are, how you think, and what working with you might be like. Don’t blow it with um’s and ah’s or one word answers.

Pendance, 2020, Toronto, Canada.

I want to be careful about how I say the following thing—be careful when posting negative reviews.

I get it. I’ve been there. You have concrete proof that a certain festival rejected your film without even watching it. You want to write the most strongly worded email to them asking for your money back. How dare they take $40 from you and not even watch your film!

You decide to take it one step further and make a big post about it on social media. You’ll find some support in your virtual echo chamber—but for every 7 people you help or warn, you’ll turn 3 people away from ever wanting to work with you again.

Fun Story: I was once selected to a fairly popular American festival and I was over-the-moon excited about it. I had my bags packed and was ready to fly halfway around the country with my girlfriend at the time.

That’s when they dropped a bombshell—they wouldn’t cover a dime of my lodging expenses, refused to offer my girlfriend a complimentary pass, and were instead asking me to buy 20 tickets to my own screening so that they can donate the tickets to a local film school.

Here’s what I did—I wrote the nastiest email imaginable explaining my frustration—and then I deleted it. I made my donation, didn’t attend, and never submitted again.

Actually—they became a guiding light for me personally on how we would eventually run Pendance. We always offer complimentary tickets and passes to filmmakers, and always offer to cover some part of the travel and lodging expenses for filmmakers. That nasty email is going to make you feel good for 5 minutes—it’s not worth it.

Pro Tip: Don’t leave positive reviews after a negative experience. Unless it was abhorrently bad—don’t leave any reviews and just move on.

If you’ve had a negative experience with a festival, share it with your closest friends and family, a few select industry contacts you absolutely trust, and then just move on with your life.

Alright—this is where I commit my career suicide. It’s widely stated that this theory of favouritism is overblown and that festivals really do give every film the same opportunities—I completely disagree. I totally disagree. And every filmmaker who has cracked the surface of the pearly gates would privately admit the same.

There’s a heavy priority given to alumni, films that have come through reputable pipelines, films with stars or bigger names attached, and films by directors who already have a strong resume—honestly, I’m not even sure why the hell we’re pretending this doesn’t happen—it does.

But festivals are also prone to unearth gems and champion new voices each and every year. While this may sound like I’m contradicting myself—I’m not.

When you submit to a bigger festival, you do so under the impression that you and the other blind submissions will be competing for one of 135 or 150 slots. You’ve made a good film—you know some submissions will probably be wedding videos shot on an iPhone—so you like your odds.

That’s the part I’d like to correct—you’re not fighting for 135-150 slots. At best, you’re fighting for 1 of 10-15 slots—remember that. I know filmmakers who’ve screened at top festivals with absolute gems and then followed that triumph up with a terrible film—it still got in.

The question worth asking of course is at whose expense? Film festivals build relationships with artists, distributors, studios—filmmakers develop a following at that festival. You’re not going to not select a subpar entry from that director for 2 reasons—that director’s subpar film’s still going to outsell your random discovery film—and that director might not bring their next film back if you piss them off.

But you’re not sunk. If you don’t like this system—and I’m certainly not an advocate for it—then use what you can and leverage it to your own advantage. Film festivals are like a family—they promote their own. Hating this isn’t going to get you anywhere. I suggest you instead find a creative way to get into that family.

Pro Tip: Scrub that social media profile. If you’re hoping for a bigger festival to take a chance on selecting you—be sure to polish up your social media footprint and ensure that nothing too embarrassing shows up when someone googles you.

Apply for labs. Get on their radar. Talk to festival programmers. You’re not going to get into that inner circle if no one knows who you are.




There are so many things to do at most decent film festivals. You can become a tourist in a new city and make life-long friendships with other filmmakers. You can chum up to some of the programming staff to learn more about their jobs. You can attend workshops and panels on relevant industry topics. You can attend gatherings and parties around the festival.

Pro Tip: Whenever you attend a festival, always have a project in mind in case someone asks what you’d like to do next. If possible, bring the script itself on a flash drive or a pitch deck. Most good producers are going to be reluctant to accept anything from a filmmaker directly and will ask you to submit through your agent, but you never know what a few martinis might do to people’s inhibitions. On a related note—stay sober. Others won’t. And that’s fine. Use it.

Some festivals create filmmaker-specific activities and retreats like kayaking and hiking. Overall, we’re very pro-festival experience and suggest you try and make some new friends! We’ve heard so many stories about how a film that screened at our festival in 2019 actually started as a conversation between 2-3 people at the Brooklyn Film Festival in 2015, or Telluride in 2017.




Robert Misovic & Tijana Milenkovic, Pendance 2020.

We’ve never selected a film because the filmmaker was known to us or because we’d selected their past work—that’s where our #StoryOverEverything slogan comes from—a promise that films will be judged exclusively by the story on the screen and nothing else.

But this isn’t how the rest of the world works and I’ve needed to learn to come to terms with it. Have you ever had that one friend who always has their Louisiana Premiere at the same festival—year after year? He or she is leveraging their alumni status—and you should do it as well.

Let me be blunt—unknown filmmakers are a risk. And the biggest festivals have a lot to lose by making a mistake. What if you select a person and they turn out to be a Neo-Nazi? What if they come to your festival and trash the hotel room?

What if they get on stage and scream obscenities? What if a selected filmmaker refuses to screen their film at the 11th hour and pulls out—sending you into a tailspin to adjust your already-printed schedule?

There are hundreds of variables involved when you select a filmmaker to be part of your event—and it’s human nature to want to give a slight preference to the safer option.




There’s no way to prove to someone that you’re an upstanding human who will bring value to the film festival, but you can absolutely tilt the odds of being perceived as one in your favour by doing a few things.

  • Don’t harass programmers for waivers OR status updates on your project. Emailing once is enough.
  • If you submit on FilmFreeway, keep your project file up to date with past selections
  • Complete your director bio and include education history and a snapshot of past accomplishments (talent labs, film school, a past selection to Cannes, a few personal anecdotes)
  • Post an image of yourself not doing stupid things at other festivals—this helps.
  • Send in a reference letter from someone who has already screened at the festival or a credible programmer who knows you.


Final Deadline: February, 24, 2021.




Programmers and screeners aren’t built equal. I’ve had conversations with programmers over at Calgary or at Karlovy Vary that have humbled me deeply—and I’ve had conversations with programmers that leave me wondering how they’re allowed to walk with scissors.

Regardless of who watches your film, bank on 2 things—they’re human, and yours isn’t the only film they’re going to watch that day.

It helps to have a short, well-written (1-2 paragraphs) cover letter, a marketable poster and a few high quality stills.

Pro Tip: Don’t just include 9 behind the scenes photos. Include at least 4-5 excellent still photos from your film—photos that convey tension, drama, production value. Play to your film’s strengths.

If you’re going to include a tonne of behind-the-scenes photos, you had better have one helluva production story. One example was Justin Black and Emily Jenkins’ Terminally in Love where they strapped a special camera rig to the actors’ heads for this amazing POV short film.

That’s really cool and it gets me super excited to see how you made it—but if it’s just you and your buddies holding a boom pole in your apartment as the camera assistant eats a muffin—save it for yourself.

Programmers are humans.

Director statements are so important if your film is even slightly in need of some additional notes and insight. This is a canvas to tell the people watching your film a bit about why you made it and why this story is important for you.

Sometimes, highly intellectual films with too many moving parts actually do go over a screener’s head. Wait. It was a metaphor for classism in modern society!? I thought it was about hating your job!

Don’t assume that people are going to read your film properly. Films are highly subjective. Last year we had TIFF programmer Robyn Citizen leading our 8-person Short Film Jury.

Among the 10 films short-listed for Best Short Film, the film I had ranked 8th won the Grand Prize. Am I stupid? What did I not get about that film? It took a director statement for me to realize there were a few details I’d missed, and after understanding those details it was impossible to watch the film the same way again.

Pro Tip: Don’t email me to tell me your film was a labor of love, that you self-financed it, or that you didn’t have enough time. Also, get comfortable with rejection. I spoke with someone who won an Oscar with their short and they told me they had over 150 rejections too.

FilmFreeway gives you a profile which takes an hour to fill out properly—and yet over 95% of filmmakers either do it poorly or don’t do it at all. You’re not going to get in to the best film festivals just because you filled out this profile—but this is an advantage you should cease. Film festivals receive 1000’s of submissions—why not give yourself a 1% advantage and stand out?




Every festival and every programmer starts somewhere—learn to spot the good ones. Ask filmmakers you trust who are a bit further ahead in their careers about which festivals they’d recommend.

Maybe 1-2% of first year festivals are legitimately worth submitting to towards the tail-end of your festival run. While it’s possible that the festival itself may take giant leaps in the future, it’s equally possible that a programmer or director from that festival might find themselves on a bigger stage in a few years. Where do you think film festivals like SXSW and Venice find new programmers?

Pro Tip: Oscar-Qualifying Film Festivals are often misunderstood—if you win an award at one of these festivals, you become eligible to submit your film to the Academy for consideration for an Academy Award. Our 2020 selection The Van was just short-listed for an Oscar. But if you don’t get into one of these festivals, all you need to do is hold a brief theatrical run in Los Angeles with paid screenings (2 per day minimum) to become eligible. Check out this awesome article to learn more. 

I’ve personally been offered lead programming jobs at several established European festivals with a bit more clout and prestige than Pendance—and if I ever took the opportunity to move halfway across the world and join them, I’d be bringing my filmmaker Rolodex and list of experiences with me.




Italian Contemporary Film Festival, Toronto, Canada.

Submit to some local festivals that you have a good chance of getting into—preferably decent ones with a good turnout. Local festivals are a good idea to schedule at the tail-end of your festival run.

You can get your cast and crew out, meet others within your local industry, and even land some meaningful leads for work if your film is decent.

I’ve regularly had my shorts selected to ICFF (Italian Contemporary Film Festival) because they’re a welcoming film festival with great press contacts. Bonus—they always showcase our film at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. It’s not Berlinale—but it’s more than worth the experience. Since they exhibit films across Canada, I usually get to have my Ontario, Quebec and B.C premiere in one go.




Actually—the end is not near. A successful festival run is just the beginning of your film’s journey in the digital age—not the end. So many amazing projects fizzle out after their festival run and go die out on a hard drive. In the final section of this article, I want to give you some solid ideas on what to do with your film after you’ve completed your festival run.





I am a big advocate for filmmakers retaining the rights to their work. If you want to give your work for free to a big channel to generate some viewsfineI’m just going to suggest you do it differently. In order to keep this nice and legal, I’ll refrain from citing any specific channels. Here are my top 5 options for what to do with your short film after it’s done.


This is the most sensible option, and one that a lot of people don’t even think exists. If your short is good, you can sell it in a multitude of different ways. You can package it with 3-4 other shorts with similar themes and market it as a feature-length anthology. There are producers and distributors that specialize in this sort of thing. One of my favourite short films from our 2019 festivalRubber Dolphin by Ori Aharonis now part of an LGBTQ anthology called ‘The Israeli Boys’ which is for sale via Vimeo On Demand. 



Did you make a festival darling that premiered at Sundance or Cannes? Had a big star or someone involved in the film who has a huge following? Go On-Demand and devote yourself to aggressive cheap marketing to draw in your audience. Create a social media account and get very chatty. Or, you could try and sell it to a streaming service like CRAVE or MUBI—both of which list short films!

Visually Ambitious Short Film? Sell it for stock. Seriously. Part out those brilliant crane and drone shots of the African wilderness and sell it. Don’t even have an ego about this and don’t think twice.  Now is not the time to get snobby and pretentiousthe next person who wants to invest in your film ideas will love that you thought to do this.

A lengthy short documentary? Maybe about someone famous or a current topic of importance? Try to see if a network would consider licensing your film and putting it on television. This is rare but I’ve seen it happen a few times. The deals those filmmakers got were $15,000 and $20,000 CAD respectively.

None of the above? Don’t waste your time. It’s admirable, but the marketing push required to sell an average or below average film to a wide audience isn’t worth it. But don’t be sad, because you might still find success.



Put your film on Vimeo and enlist the help of services like ‘Short of the Week’, ‘Director’s Notes’ or any number of digital libraries out there that have a following and a platform but allow creators to keep their own film link. Most of these sites will additionally release some sort of article along with your film, including an opportunity for a Q&A or background on the film to engage potential viewers.

Those first 72 hours when you release a film are super important, and you should take every bit of help you can find. Reach out to local film blogs. Reach out to magazines. See who might be willing to cover your release.

Pro Tip: Whenever possible, have something interesting happen within the first 15-20 seconds of your film. Don’t waste those seconds with credits and black screens. People have a very limited attention span.

Include a trailer, a poster, some stills, a bit about yourself and if possible, an electronic press kit. Give them a story. This is the last film so and so ever acted in! It’s the first film ever shot upside down on an iPhone.

Become your own PR department. Of course, the holy grail here after all of this would be the Vimeo Staff Pick—awarded to films that Vimeo wishes to give their stamp of approval in a highly selective and curated list. 8 past selections from Pendance have gone on to be staff-picked and it’s so exciting whenever this happens.

But not all Staff Picks are created equal. Some get 400,000 views, others get 50,000. You’ll still have to do a ton of legwork to make sure your film does well. But regardless of how many views the film generates, being listed as a Vimeo Staff Pick means about as much as any festival selection you’ll ever receive.


• Compared to YouTube, Vimeo is relatively niche. Google obviously prioritizes YouTube links, and the site has far more users. But even if it means getting 50% less views, I’d still advocate for a Vimeo Release over a YouTube one.

• Vimeo users are more likely to be other people in the film industry.

• Vimeo registers ‘views’ differently and arguably more accurately than YouTube does.

• Vimeo allows creators to have a ‘hire me’ button below their video so that those looking to hire the filmmaker for an upcoming project can reach out directly.

• Vimeo encourages reflection while YouTube is algorithmically designed to never let you stop streaming.  This means that after a film is over, Vimeo isn’t urging the viewer to check out some related video on someone else’s channel. Instead, viewers are given an option to save the film to a collection, like the video, or follow the creator. You can amass a huge and dedicated following from just 1-2 really good videos on Vimeo. YouTube requires a bit more work and a steady stream of content.

• No ads. This is either a pro or a con depending on how you look at it. But ads are tacky and unless your film is generating 400,000 views, any money you may or may not make on a YouTube video these days from ad revenue is very small.

• Better video quality. Vimeo just has better video quality. I have nothing further to add and it’s not even debatable.



Okay. No one wants to staff pick your film? It didn’t get a nod from Short of the Week? No problem. Put it on your own YouTube or Vimeo channel and aggressively market it. You might have to spam some Facebook groups. You might need to follow thousands of accounts on Twitter. It’s not fun and it’s not always proven to work, but just keep putting your film in front of people.

YouTube videos can continue amassing thousands of views for years after they’re released. I put some of my own short films on YouTube and one in particular, Stain, caught on. Now just 2 months in, it’s averaging about 250 views per day (and building). I get at least one email or message per week from someone who saw the film OR wants to work together.

Pro Tip: YouTube and Vimeo channels should be treated like television channels. They open a world of possibilities to creators to build loyal followings.

It’s by no means the type of short that’s going to roll out the red carpet to Hollywood, and it will never go viral. But it’s nice to know that something you made is finding an audience and allowing you to build a small following.

Our Pensare Films YouTube Channel just crossed 1,540 subscribers and a lot of them are coming in because of a handful of shorts. It is these people who will watch your trailers for upcoming projects and share your films in the future.  If your short film does nothing but find you 10 awesome people who want to work with you, consider it a success.



This seems smart until you think about it. Short term it’s great. Long-term, you’re selling yourself short. It’s a step up from not doing anything with your film, but it’s not a big step. If the channel is huge you might get a few hundred thousand or even a million views. In either case, the channel that uploaded the film generates more subscribers for their channel, more views for their other videos, and pays the filmmaker nothing in return.

Pro Tip: Data is everything. Understanding your audience trends and demographics is invaluable. Speaking from a tech background, you should aim to have every interaction on your own playground. YouTube and Vimeo offer you the right to host videos for free because they realize it’s a small cost to have your content on their site as they gather information about the people who view your film. 

They also keep all that super valuable data about who is watching your film. This is an absolutely terrible model, and the fact that it’s often touted as the best option is absolutely baffling.

Alright. The New Yorker uploaded 2016’s Live Action Oscar Winner ‘Stutterer’ and that actually wasn’t the worst option available. There are exceptions to this model—some pay something, some split ad revenue, some link your channel in their description. But in most cases, these channels use free content to generate maximum value for themselves and minimal value for the original creators.


This was a lengthy article so if you’ve made it to the end, thank you. Honestlyyou’re probably not going to get into Sundance or TIFF or be nominated for an Oscaramong the thousands of short films made each year—only a handful ever are. I don’t say this to discourage you—rather—I’m suggesting you embrace this as a reason to find solid plan B’s and C’s to achieve the results you want.

In this article, I wanted to offer my perspective on what you should and shouldn’t do with your short films moving forward. If you got something useful out of this, please share it with others in the industry! Any tips you think we missed? Get in touch! We share this knowledge because we’re a festival for filmmakers by filmmakers—and we never forget that. 

#tips #filmindustry #filmfestival #movies #filmfestival 


Robert Misovic is a Serbian-Canadian writer/director, the founder of the Pensare Films Studio in Toronto, and the festival director for the Pendance Film Festival. If you’d like to stay up to date with Pendance, follow @pendancefilmfestival. If you’d like to keep up with Rob on social media, you can find him on instagram @pensare.films or reach him directly at robert.misovic@pensarefilms.com.

How Students from Uruguay made an Award-Winning Short Film for $2000

Clara Lezama’s short film ‘Emma’ screened at a host of South American festivals, including Festival Internacional de Escuelas de Cine & Festival Piriápolis de Película, winning best Uruguayan Short Film at both. ‘Emma’ came to Pendance for its North American Premiere on December, 15, 2017 and was awarded the Jury Prize for Best Short Film.

After the screening of ‘Emma’, we introduced Clara to the audience and everyone seemed to have one question — “Was that seriously a micro-budget student film written by a 19-year old?” Have you ever heard 420 people audibly gasp in unison? It was chilling. After years of spinning our own theories on how Clara, her cinematographer Karen Antunes, and fellow students from Escuela de Cine del Uruguay managed to pull this off, we decided to just ask her.

If you haven’t seen Emma, you can watch the full film for free on The Pendance Library here.



Thanks so much for doing this. Firstly, how are you and how is the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic in Uruguay?

The situation here was under control until December when the number of cases started to rise and we reached ‘Level 4’. I work at the cinema and my job was interrupted for six months. Now we’re back –with preventive sanitary measures- but things are very unpredictable (like everywhere I guess).

What advice would you give to any filmmaker who can’t decide whether or not they want to go to film school? Pros? Cons?

I think it depends on the school, its approach, teachers, and what it can offer to you. Personally, I think it was nice to have the guidance of my teachers (most of them actively work in movies). Then I think it’s up to the student to make the best of it.

You wrote ‘Emma’ when you were 19 years old. And yet it feels ‘mature’. It doesn’t suffer from excessive dialogue or rushed pacing. Where did this story come from and how were you (at 19-22) able to tell it?

I think it all came from what was going on in my mind those days. The idea of isolation, mental states and altered reality was very attractive to me. I guess my anxiety was my inspiration. My goal was to create a certain atmosphere and I thought that dialogue wasn’t the way to achieve that. I was interested in letting the audience create its idea of what exactly is happening, I focused on the feeling.

We’ve had a lot of people mention the visual and narrative similarities between ‘Emma’ and Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ and David Lynch’s ‘Eraserhead’… In that they take place in these immaculate locations, warmly lit, as a paranoid character quietly seems to lose their mind. Was ‘Emma’ visually or narratively inspired by those films, or other films?

Wow, those are big great films. Lynch’s work is very inspirational to me all the time. For ‘Emma’ my primary inspiration was Polanski’s apartment trilogy but of course other films inspired me in other ways like Zulawski’s Possession, Suspiria (Dario Argento), Barton Fink (Cohen Brothers) or 3 Women (Robert Altman).

There’s a very warm colour palette with reds and yellows contrasted by greens and occasional blues. How much attention to detail went into production design and colour theory?

I wanted to create an enclosed, saturated atmosphere with lots of textures. I wanted it to look like the hotel had no time. The story could be happening today or 30 years ago. It was important for me and I always saw the hotel as a character that is alive and not living at the same time. My first idea was more brown with yellow, green and blue but more low-contrasted. When we got our location confirmed things changed a little. I had several references of film frames and paintings that I showed to the production designer and things came intuitively.

If you had to be trapped on an island and could bring only 3 books and 3 films with you, to watch and read for a whole year, what are you bringing?

I can’t answer this!

Given the gender disparity between men and women behind the camera as both directors and cinematographers, how important was it on ‘Emma’ to work with your cinematographer Karen Antunes?

Well, we were like 15 people in my class and more women than men, we worked equally. Karen is a great editor and cinematographer, it was great working with her. I feel the most important thing is to have fluent communication where both understand the particular needs of the narration.

You shot this film on $2000 if I recall correctly?  How were you able to achieve such a result, between the lighting, locations, set design, wardrobe, feeding people, gear, crew?

We shot it at an incredible place that used to be the countryside mansion of a wealthy family and now is the National Anthropology Museum. We had other places in mind but this location was perfect and cost-free because it’s municipal. The director of the place allowed us to shoot for four days, five hours each day and we had to adjust our schedule to that and it was enough to tell the story. That reduced feeding and transportation costs. Most of the set design was already there, we only rented a few things. The crew were my classmates and some people who collaborated as volunteers with us. Most of the gear was from school, we only rented the camera and a few other things.

Q: How did you approach casting your characters? Were they known to you? Did you hold big auditions?

A: We made an open audition in school but it wasn’t very successful for me. I contacted some casting agencies and asked for help from friends from the acting world. I’d seen Chiara and Hugo (man next door) acting in other films so I called them. Then for the extras I called my aunt and my little cousin.

Q: What’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you about ‘Emma’?

A: I don’t know!

Q: What’s the worst comment you’ve ever received about the film?

A: None!

Filmmaker Clara Lezama (b. 1994)

We asked our Instagram followers if they had questions for you. Here are 6 of those questions.
Audience Question from Alex: Who is this film targeting? Who did you make this film for?

A: For me and whoever is interested.

Audience Question from Ethan: What is the arm injury she has supposed to represent? And what happened to her before? Abuse? Accident?

A: It represents something that hurt (her) from the past.

Audience Question from Cassandra: Hey Clara loved Emma. When is your next film coming out and whats it about?

A: I’m glad you liked it! Soon I hope! I’m working on it.


Audience Question from Jessica; What’s with all the creepy men?

A: It’s the feeling of being threatened.

Audience Question from Kamelia: Is this film really happening? There’s naturally something surreal happening, a dream, a nightmare, purgatory?

It’s a subjective reality and a high stage of paranoia she needs to confront to get over.

Audience Question from Filipe: Theres a picture on the wall of the bird? You kept showing it, changing under the light. Does this signify time? And how much of your film is about time and waiting if any?

Those birds belong to a silk tapestry that was hanging in the location and I was mesmerized by it. They were facing each other and I felt there was a connection with what was happening. The first idea was to use them for the credits but the editor used them as transitions and I think it came out better. Time is suspended in the film, it passes but not really. She waits for things to change until she realizes she’s the one that must act for that to happen.



There’s a lot to learn from Clara’s process behind ‘Emma’, but we did a ton of digging to come up with a few tangible lessons we could offer readers trying to create their own success story with micro-budget short films. Consider them the golden rules to planning your next shoot if money is tight.


One thing everyone says when they watch ‘Emma’ is that while the cinematography and editing are indeed commendable, it’s the location which adds significantly to the production value and story. As Clara mentioned, they were able to source the location for free. Locations like this do occasionally become available. Far too many filmmakers give up before trying and resort to shooting in their apartment or in a field.

As Tom Hardy’s character says in Inception “You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger darling”. Align yourself with a producer and locations manager who can source good deals for you. You might not find the type of location Clara found for ‘Emma’ for free, but you might find something close to it for almost nothing. It happens all the time. Even here in North America.


If you’re going to be shooting at a break-neck pace, you absolutely need to put some serious emphasis in how well you cast your principal actors. The actors in ‘Emma’ are highly natural. It is difficult to imagine that this film was shot in roughly 20 hours over 4 days given the complex nature of the set design and lighting setups. If time is of the essence, you need actors who are hyper prepared and ready to adapt on the fly when things aren’t working.


It’s apparent from knowing Clara for the past few years that she’s an incredibly humble artist. She served on our short film jury in 2020 alongside some incredible people because we really value her opinion and judgment. And it’s remarkable how often it is these types of directors who are willing to align themselves with the best collaborators.

Clara’s cinematographer Karen Antunes is currently an editor in Mexico City. Just a few years removed from her graduation, she’s been working on high profile projects including some high end brand content and the Netflix series ‘Selena’. She’s really talented. It was genuinely shocking to learn that Karen had literally never been a cinematographer before shooting ‘Emma’ and had never done it again since.

What would ‘Emma’ be without Clara’s deeply personal script, Antunes’ sharp creative eye, or Chiara Hourcade’s compelling performance? It would be incomplete. Filmmaking is never a one man or woman show. The best directors get over themselves early on and really understand that.


This should be a general rule of thumb regardless of budget, but you should especially sincerely consider slashing dialogue to a minimum when time and money are tight. Dialogue is not only one of the hardest things for younger screenwriters to get right, it’s also one of the most difficult things to nail on set. One thing we truly loved about ‘Emma’ was that it felt extremely self-contained and focussed. It was deliberate and well-paced, and each line of dialogue felt absolutely essential.


There’s a line, and it’s a fine one. A lot of films submissions our festival receives each year could have desperately used another shoot day. Which film couldn’t? But when locations are restricted, and the budget constraints are so severe relative to the overall scope of the project, there’s very little wiggle room to lose twenty minutes, much less an hour. To shoot a fourteen minute film which looks as good as ‘Emma’, with a small crew, in roughly 20 hours is almost unfathomable.

This means plan everything when it’s free. Go through all of your blocking rehearsals. Mimic the locations beforehand. Every crew member needs to be prepped and each actor needs to know their lines forward and backwards before arriving to set.


This might be controversial to all the 14-hour-day-minimum people out there worried about spiking rental and location costs, but when people are working for low-pay or volunteering, working shorter days can go a very long way to earning some much needed good will. The downside of course is rentals. But since most rental houses offer a significantly discounted rate on weekly rentals, consider this the trade-off for a more productive and happy cast and crew.

If everyone knows that they’re in and out in less than 7 or 8 hours (or in the case of Clara’s shoot, 5 hours), there’s an intense focus with which everyone moves. 14 hour days feel long for all 14 hours. People are slow to set up because they’re trying to pace themselves, and they’re generally counting down the minutes by hour 9. People simply aren’t meant to work 14 hours productively.


No. We don’t mean you should write a story about being a struggling screenwriter. But do write from something you can draw on from personal experience. Whether that’s a feeling, a fear, a character, a thought, or an idea. Whatever you’re filming should mean something to you. Far too many people get bogged down into making something that they think is relevant or marketable to others. We sincerely believe that writing a script you care about early in your career will attract better people to your project. It’s absolutely lovely to work with a director who actually cares about their script.


It’s not hard to be short-sighted—it’s almost a default setting in the film industry. Once a project is announced, there’s a ton of momentum to get it done. Any filmmaker who has seen the full process behind making a really great film would tell you that there’s a million mini-steps, re-steps, do-overs, and problems that need to be solved. Clara wrote ‘Emma’ in 2013, shot it in 2015, released it in 2016, made her North American Premiere in late 2017, and had the film released to the world in 2021.

Films can have a really long story. Once released, they can go on to have a life of their own, potentially generating cashflow via VOD, or racking up millions of views on streaming platforms. It’s not uncommon that a film made in 2012 nets someone a job in 2021. It happens all the time. So take your time. Take as long as you need to make the best possible film you can.

Then let it go.

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Robert Misovic is a Serbian-Canadian writer and director, the founder of the Pensare Films Studio in Toronto, and the festival director for the Pendance Film Festival. If you’d like to keep up with Rob on social media, you can find him on instagram @pensare.films or reach him directly at robert.misovic@pensarefilms.com