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A Canberra short film festival for everyone

Updated: Mar 9, 2020

by Samara Purnell

The Canberra Short Film Festival has kicked off at Smith’s Alternative and continues until the 22 September. Venues across Canberra will be screening over 150 shorts, animations and music videos, after an exhaustive selection process to create a program and award winners from almost 400 submissions.

Festival Director John Frohlich says the animation and music video categories are outstanding this year, with entries from Indonesia, China and the USA. On Friday 13th September an animation and music video screening night will be held at Smith’s.

“We also have twice as many entries as last year in the First Nations category,” says Frohlich. “Norway, Mexico and Brazil are represented.”

Most nights are a mix of categories with a couple of specific screenings.

Over two nights, the festival will present an Iranian showcase, screening a selection of Persian films. This will give an insight into contemporary Iranian topics and shine a light on the rich Persian culture.

The judges have sifted their way through a record number of submissions and around 70 hours of film, to come up with the finalists and award recipients. When asked what the judges most enjoy about the festival, Frohlich laughs and says: “The closing night party!”

A still from "Swallows", a First Nations category film submitted by Victoria Thompson
A still from "Swallows", a First Nations category film submitted by Victoria Thompson

“Really it’s the satisfaction of bringing together film makers and enabling them to see their films with an audience,” he says. Frohlich also enjoys the lead-up to the festival. “We see such a variety of films. Even the ones that don’t make the cut, it’s very stimulating.”

“The judges are looking for two things,” says Frohlich. “Production values and storytelling, how well written and convincing the film is, how creative and innovative, and if the conventions of the short film medium have been used to good effect.”

Adi Watters, one of the judges in the National category, has another approach. “Sometimes you just know. Even if the individual elements might not all be the best, but it’s just a good film,” she says.

“There has been a huge increase in the use of drone shots this year,” Watters says of the film making process. Movies made entirely on phones has also increased.

With so many entries, the topics are wide and varied, but some themes stand out, in particular social media and its implications, extending to narcissism. The environment and immigration were also hot topics for this year’s entries.

Smith’s Alternative and Dendy are hosting several of the screenings, with Tuggeranong Arts Centre and Belconnen Arts Centre also holding screening nights.

Frohlich loves the intimacy of Smith’s. “It has a wonderful ambience. And the interstate film makers love it.” The Dendy screenings, being at a commercial theatre, are thrilling for the film makers, the judges explain. “It’s empowering, and rare to see their films with proper projection,” says Frohlich.

The venues will allow people all over Canberra to find one that suits them, as well as taking the festival to diverse audiences. Gungahlin and Queanbeyan locations are also included in the festival, with further venues being considered for next year.

The Canberra Short Film Festival aims to be a community festival. Its main goals are to support and showcase Canberra film making and to bring the best from around the world to Canberra.

Next year the festival will turn 25 and will add a 10th category, Experimental Film, to its extensive format.

Keep an eye out for First Nations film “Brolga”, “Troll Bridge”, a movie 15 years in the making, the stop-animation film “Imagine” and coming-of-age film “Bloom”.

There’s something for everyone in this festival that is not just about Canberra, but for Canberra. Networking nights as part of the event support both first-time film makers, as well as seasoned professionals. The program is rich in its diversity and the entrants are from all over Australia and the world, making this an exciting and quality festival.

For the full program, venue details and tickets go to


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