'Carry On'
'Carry On'

A record 500 filmmakers from 37 countries attended the 20th annual Palm Springs International Shortfest (June 17-23). The largest short film festival and only short film market in North America screened 330 short films out of 3000 submissions. The Fest awarded more than $115,000 in prizes, including $21,000 in cash awards, in 21 categories. 

Among the jury awards, "Carry On," Yatao Li’s World War II drama set in China, won the Best of the Festival award, which makes it eligible for Oscar submission. "Whisker" won Best Future Filmmaker. Frank Meli’s live-action "Dragula," Ned McNeilage's doc "Showfolk" and "Bendik & the Monster" took home audience awards. 

I participated in Part One of two well-attended Filmmaker Forums on The Business, moderated by Preferred Partners' Kevin Iwashina, along with The Exchange's Brian O'Shea, CAA's Nick Ogiony, ICM's Peter Trinh, and Jeremy Kay, of Screen International. Part Two, moderated by critic John Anderson, featured Nickelodeon's Brian Banks, Anonymous Content's Alix Madigan, TNT's David Poynter, Variety's Pat Saperstein and Participant Media's Diane Weyermann.

The takeaway from both panels was much the same: there is far more opportunity for financing and finding an audience via television and emerging digital platforms than the ever-narrower indie film market. It's flooded with aspiring short and feature filmmakers from all over the world hoping to get a foothold in the relatively large and seemingly robust American entertainment industry. But as the Hollywood studios are more focused on big-budget action tentpoles--much was made of the ascension of Gareth Edwards from "Monster" to "Godzilla," and Rian Johnson from "Brick" to the "Star Wars"--for most they are more out of reach than ever.

It's still possible to raise production funds via foreign financing, equity investors and crowd sourcing. But getting your work seen and appraised is a tall order. Self-releasing is one option. Several panelists complained about the lack of transparency with VOD numbers.

Shorts are one way to get attention with a popular hit. Gillian Robespierre's current feature "Obvious Child" grew from a short, as did Oscar-winner Shawn Christensen's "Curfew." Sure the agencies use festivals like Palm Springs to cull talent--most likely the ones who win awards and go on to Oscar nominations--but it was clear that the gulf between emerging indies and real sustaining careers in film has never been greater. 

The Palm Springs International Film Festival will be held January 2-12, 2015. 

See the full list of the 2014 Palm Springs International ShortFest award winner below: