Harold Matzner at the Palm Springs International Short Film Festival

What makes ShortFest truly “a filmmaker’s festival”?

Our Palm Springs International ShortFest is the largest short film festival and market in North America.  By providing exposure, connections, and education for filmmakers, the weeklong event, underway now, truly embodies the Palm Springs Film Society’s mission of nurturing and encouraging new filmmaking talent, honoring the great masters of world cinema, and expanding audience horizons.

Shortfest is celebrating its 29th year. Initially, it was part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, but in 1995, the short film portion branched off from the feature festival. Lili Rodriguez, artistic director of both the feature and short film festivals, told Palm Springs Life: “The audience doubled from year one to year two, and it found this nice little niche with filmmakers, industry, and locals. The second year, they included some panel discussions, which eventually became the ShortFest Forum, [featuring] classes, roundtables, and industry ‘speed-dating’ one-on-ones.” 

Both the short and feature film festivals grew into industry-leading events under the stewardship of Immediate Past Chairman Harold Matzner. He is particularly proud of ShortFest’s status as an Academy Award-qualifying festival in five categories — Best of the Festival, Best Live-Action Short over 15 minutes, Best Live-Action Short under 15 minutes, Best Animated Short, and Best Documentary Short.

Lili Rodriguez continued, “It’s a filmmakers’ festival — we’re doing this for them. We invite every filmmaker who submitted a film to attend the festival. We give them complimentary badges, so they can go to the movies, the forum, and the parties.”

Filmmakers have certainly taken notice of the positive effect ShortFest can have on their careers. Co-director Parker Smith (2022 Best U.S. Short Act of God) told Palm Springs Life: “Getting into Palm Springs made us feel, ‘OK, this film is actually pretty good.’ After winning it, we were like, ‘Maybe we have something here.’ ” Afterwards, The New Yorker video series Screening Room licensed the film, and a feature-length version is in development at the 2023 Sundance Screenwriters’ Intensive. Filmmaker Oran Zegman said, “I’d rank it among the top five festivals in the world. It breeds amazing filmmakers.”

This year, the ShortFest welcomes back filmmakers from around the globe, in-person with screenings, nightly parties, and other events for the first time since 2019.  Sudeep Sharma, the event’s director of programming, told The Desert Sun that he looks forward to providing filmmakers with the opportunity to watch their films on the big screen and engage with audiences through Q&A sessions. “I’m into that experience and excited about it, and I feel every year because of the reputation of the festival and the biggest U.S. short film festival, (filmmakers) want to come to it as a goal in their career. We’re back to a level where I’m hopeful people from around the world are coming that are all at the same level in terms of they worked on and made a short, meeting each other, seeing different types of stories and the wide variety of films we’re playing.”

ShortFest runs June 20–26, 2023 at the Palm Springs Cultural Center.

Tickets and passes available at psfilmfest.org

Photo: Zoe Meyers for the Desert Sun