Festival brings best short films to online audience

For the past two summers, movie lovers have come together to see some of the best short films in the world.

They’d gather for screenings throughout the Indy Shorts International Film Festival, taking in the quick-paced and punchy nature of short-format films. Movie buffs got a glimpse of Oscar-nominated selections on the big screen. Red-carpet parties and other special events blended film-festival flair with a unique, laid-back summertime atmosphere.

Like most big events this summer, people won’t be gathering together for the film festival. But that’s not to say that Indy Shorts is cancelled.

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“We definitely had to shift gears a little bit from our regular festival, where everything is in person and having that festival atmosphere,” Jessica Chapman said. “So we had to look for safe but still fun options. The best way to show all 128 films and 18 programs was having them all available virtually.”

The Indy Shorts International Film Festival is going virtual this year. Starting on Tuesday, people will be able to watch more than 120 short films, with a special emphasis on Indiana filmmakers, from their own home. Viewers will see big names such as Patton Oswalt, Debra Messing and Leslie Odom Jr., as well as writers, producers and directors attached to films such as “Toy Story 4” and “Jurassic World.”

Organizers have planned 18 special programs, such as director question-and-answer sessions with focuses on LGBTQ+ issues and films that attempt to change our society. For those who also want to gather to watch films as a (socially distant) group, a selection of the films will be put on the big screen at the Tibbs Drive-In in Indianapolis.

The changes will make the festival look entirely different than it has, but also retain some of the most popular aspects that audiences have loved in the past.

“So many events are being cancelled right now everywhere, people want something to be a part of. They like to see that this event is still continuing, and they can still participate in the way they feel most comfortable,” Chapman said. “We’re happy to be able to provide different options for people.”

Dedicated entirely to features and documentaries with short running times, the Indy Shorts International Film Festival was created by Indianapolis-based arts organization Heartland Film. The event is the largest short film-focused festival in the Midwest.

Heartland Film has been staging the Heartland International Film Festival since 1992. The event brings hundreds of unique features, documentaries, live action and animated work together, all under the mission of inspiring people through film. In years past, both full-length and short films have been showcased.

But as the festival has matured, a majority of the festival submissions have been in the short-film category — 40 minutes or less. With that growth, and the robust creativity put into making these films, it became necessary to separate the shorts out, organizers said.

The first Indy Shorts festival was held in 2018, and grew even larger last year. Heartland officials were gearing up for another huge event, Chapman said.

The pandemic undercut those expectations.

But Heartland Film organizers weren’t ready to give up on this year’s festival. Instead, they adapted it.

All of the festival’s finalists and officials’ selections will be available online, where patrons can pay for individual programs or blocks of short films. People will be able to watch animation, narrative films, documentaries and other genres from their own couch. A new genre-specific competition will chill viewers with the best of short horror films.

One of the highlights of Indy Shorts is the space given to Indiana filmmakers. The special Indiana Spotlight blocks draw attention to films made by or about Hoosiers, giving the state’s film industry a well-deserved showcase for local talent.

“People love coming out and supporting Indiana filmmakers. That is usually one of top programs. We want to support those filmmakers right here in our state and showcase the incredible work that they’re putting together,” Chapman said.

One benefit of going online is that it has greatly expanded the festival audience, Chapman said. Whereas the in-person film festival mostly drew fans from around the region, tickets for this year’s events have already been purchased from around the country, and even as far as Jamaica, England and Turkey.

“We’ve always been an international film festival, showcasing international films, but now we truly have an international audience,” she said.

The festival’s Q&A sessions, featuring actors, filmmakers and others involved in different productions, will also be held online. People can watch them live, or take them in on their own schedule.

Going hand-in-hand with the online festival is a special drive-in slate. The Tibbs Drive-In, located on the westside of Indy, is scheduled to host four nights of programs, including film festival award winners, comedy films, the Indiana Spotlight selections and the horror competition.

People will be asked to stay socially distant; people will be asked to wear face masks when walking to restrooms or to get concessions. But for those aching for something relatively social, without risking sitting in a crowded theater, this is a perfect opportunity, Chapman said.

“This will give people that festival feel they’ve been wanting to see, that true cinematic experience on the big screen, so they feel like they’re back at the theaters again,” she said. “It’ll be safe and fun, but a unique way to get out of the house.”

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Indy Shorts International Film Festival

When: Tuesday through July 26

Where: Online at indyshortsfilmfestival20.eventive.org/welcome

Cost: Individual programs or blocks of films are $7. Festival passes, including just the online programming, are $50. VIP passes, which includes all online programming and shows at Tibbs Drive-In, are $69.

Tibbs Drive-In Screenings

What: Tibbs Drive-In will be hosting five screenings of Indy Shorts selections on the big screen, allowing people to come together outdoors in a safe manner to watch the films.

Where: 480 S. Tibbs St., Indianapolis

Cost: $11 per screening


  • July 23: Indiana Spotlight 1 films, 9:25 p.m.
  • July 24: Indiana Spotlight 2 films, 9:25 p.m.; Heartland Horror, 11:15 p.m.
  • July 25: Award winners, 9:25 p.m.
  • July 26: Comedy, 9:25 p.m.

Information: IndyShorts.org