As short film programmers, one of the most common discussions we have regarding whether a short film is something we want to feature on our platform, is around length. With a shorter run-time than its big brother, the feature, every second is precious in a short film and those of us with an expertise in this area will be looking to see whether your film drags and feels too long (there’s nothing worse than continuously checking that scrub bar when screening short films) or lacks engagement and impact because of its brief duration.

For the team here at Short of the Week, curating films for an online audience, the duration of a film, along with its pacing, is always present in our conversations. While the short format is an accessible entry point for most filmmakers, it’s also so much more than this – offering the opportunity for a diverse range of stories and voices to be heard, that often wouldn’t get a chance elsewhere. With that in mind, we want to see storylines perfectly suited to the shorter duration, not just films that feel like a segment from a longer piece (although those also catch our eye sometimes). Whether your short film is 90-seconds or 40-minutes, it’s all about holding an audience’s attention. The run-time should be used to full effect, the story never outstaying its welcome.

13m 12s = Avg. Film Duration on S/W in 2021

For festivals, length is also a big consideration. If a festival has a 90-minute screening and your film is 40-minutes long, then how good is it going to need to be to take the place of three 13-minute films? That’s not to say that festivals won’t programme longer shorts, if anything they feel like the perfect setting for them, but with each added minute that film is going to need to maintain quality and not suffer any dips in engagement, and that’s not easy. The shorter short can also find a home at festivals, a strong film that’s anything from two to five minutes in length can feel like the perfect palette cleanser in a programme of lengthier pieces. My only slight concern with these briefer films is that often they don’t get the credit they deserve—I was on a jury once and my top pick was a sub 5-minute film, that felt like it was somewhat overlooked because if its short run-time.

With all this in mind, I’m sure a lot of you filmmakers will be reading this and wondering if there’s a perfect length for a short film? Well, the simple answer to that question is, obviously, it’s as long as it needs to be. It’s up to you, as its creator, to know how long you need to tell that specific story and how long long you can hold an audiences attention for. However, when it comes to making your film and deciding how long it should be, there are a few things you might want to know.

Festival Restrictions

Here at Short of the Week, we define a short as a film that is under 40-minute in length (although we have broken that rule on a few occasions), a belief we share with most organisations (the Academy Awards, BAFTA) and festivals (SXSW, BFI London, Palm Springs ShortFest, Clermont-Ferrand, Encounters, Tribeca).

Max. short film length per festival

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Sundance is one of the only festivals that believe a little extra time should allowed, classifying shorts films as having a run-time of 49-minutes or under. While some of those high-profile, A-list festivals keep things even tighter: Berlinale has a 30-minute restriction (for its main Berlinale Shorts competition – 20mins for its Generation programme), the Orizzonti section at Venice opts for a maximum duration of 20-minutes for its competing short films, while Cannes goes one-step further by asking that their entries do not exceed 15 minutes in length.

While we’d never advise making a short film with a particular event or platform in mind, we do think it’s good to know about these requirements beforehand, to save any disappointments or surprises later on.

The Average Length

Although we can’t tell you what length to make your short film, what we are able to do is examine the statistics coming out of festivals, awards and, of course, Short of the Week and draw some conclusions from there.

Here on S/W we featured 233 short films on our platform throughout 2021 – the shortest just over 90-seconds, while the longest made us ignore our usual 40-minute limitation – providing us with a year’s worth of run-times to crunch. So lets take a closer look:

S/W Films 2021

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As you can see from the statistics above, shorts that lasted between 10-15minutes proved most popular in our programming, making up 40% of our curated films in 2021,  whilst the two categories either side of that (5-10mins with 26% and 15-20mins with 16%) were second and third respectively. 13% of the films featured on S/W in 2021 were over 20-minutes – including U Shoot Videos? which at 42:21 made us bend our rules to allow it on our site and Short of the Year winner Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma which runs in at 38:07 – while only 5% were under five minutes, including our shortest film of the year, Acorns at just 1:35.

In total, those 233 films added up to around two-days, three hours and 17-minutes of short film pleasure, which if you boil it down to an average makes for just over 13-minutes, a figure a fair few festivals seem to agree with:

Average Short Film Duration by Festival

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At 12:46, the 2022 edition of SXSW had the shortest average duration (from those festivals we looked at) of short films in their programme, 27-seconds less than Short of the Week’s average for 2021 of 13:12. Sundance’s 2022 average was just a little longer at 13:22, while Cannes – despite having tighter restrictions on the length of their entries – came in at approximately 14-minutes. Both Berlinale 2022 and the Oscar shortlists, of the same year, had 20+min averages – the German event producing a figure of approximately 20-mins, while the Academy Awards shortlists averaged out at 21:51.

That makes for a nine-minute difference between the shortest and longest average, but with Cannes and Berlinale recognised as top tier festivals with restricted places and the Oscar shortlists a pretty exclusive club to be a part of, the trio of S/W, SXSW and Sundance offer a reasonable barometer for emerging filmmakers. With just 36-seconds separating the three figures, 13-minutes appears to be the marker they share for average short film duration. Whether this tells us more about the ideal length for a short film or the preference of programmers is up for debate, but again it should help shape expectations when submitting your work.

Comparison of SXSW & Sundance 2022 short film line-ups

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Both SXSW (39%) and Sundance (36%) favored films in the 10-15min category, with longer films of 25+mins proving the least popular with the programmers, making up just 3% of the curation at the Texas festival and 5% at the Utah event. While Shorter films did get programmed, again, they didn’t prove as common as the longer entries with 5% of the films at SXSW and 8% of Sundance’s under five minutes.

So what can you do to make your short or long shorts standout?

The Short Short

Here at Short of the Week, we tend to classify films that have a duration of five-minutes or less as a Short Short. The majority of the these tend to be animated (Augenblicke – a blink of an eye and Wochenbett (Postpartum) are good examples of what can be achieved in this brief time), but live-action does also come into the equation (with recent examples including Backpedal and Learning Tagalog With Kayla).


At just over two-minutes in length Rob Savage’s Salt manages to immerse its viewers in its terrifying world and care for its characters.

Told using stock footage the director recorded as a side hustle, Duncan Cowles’ Taking Stock is original, funny and a great introduction to a filmmaker with a distinct style.

The Appeal: If a short can evoke a strong emotional connection and leave a lasting impact in five-minutes or under, that’s the sign of strong storytelling and confident filmmaking. These Short Shorts can prove popular picks for festivals, where they act as a much needed refresher between longer and often heavier films and are also perfect for online, where audiences like their content short and sharp.

The Challenges: Making an impact in such a short time is no easy feat, these films needs to move quickly and provide a lot of originality if they’re going to stick in an audiences headspace long after watching. Also, filmmakers often tend to be quite precious over their own material, so cutting a film to a sub five-minute run-time could prove tricky for some.

The Long Short

If your short is over 20-minutes in length, this is what we classify as a Long Short here at S/W – we even have a whole collection dedicated to these longer watches. We tend to get a lot of documentaries with durations over the 20-minute mark (recent Oscar contenders Do Not Split and Call Center Blues are good examples), but experimental films (SotY winner Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma), ambitious genre pieces (Ukrainian horror ELEUSIS) and sometimes (but very rarely) Animation (Kop Op) do also feature in this sub-category.


At 42:21 Morgan Cooper’s U Shoot Videos? is one of the longest films we’ve featured on Short of the Week, breaking our usual 40-min rule, but was too strong to ignore. An insightful and engaging watch, full of heart, every second of it is a jot to watch.

Another film topping the 40-min mark, DAY OF RAGE: HOW TRUMP SUPPORTERS TOOK THE U.S. CAPITOL offers unparalleled insight into a historic day, the depth of its investigation making it a landmark short.

The Appeal: With over 20-minutes to tell your story, this gives a filmmaker a real opportunity to build backstory and deliver a complex narrative. The length here is also an appeal for filmmakers looking to progress their career (which I’m assuming is most filmmaker’s working in the short format) as it’s a strong showcase of what a director can do with a longer run-time, proving they have what it takes to move to Television or Features.

The Challenges: We have high expectations from these longer shorts and when they pass over that 20-minute mark, these expectations are getting higher and higher. If a film gets past this marker and runs out of steam, that’s a big tick in the negatives column. As a filmmaker, if you’re making shorts of this length you need to make sure you can hold your audience’s attention, keep the engagement levels up throughout and give extra attention to the pacing of your film.

Are Short Films getting Longer?

We’ve long had a belief within the team here at Short of the Week that over the years the average duration of a short film has been getting longer. While this is a hard statement to prove without crushing tons of data, we can again look at our own internal information and that of some of the larger festivals to draw conclusions.

Comparison of S/W’s 2011 & 2021 Curation

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The curation here at Short of the Week over the last 10-years certainly indicates that short films are getting longer. With the most popular length for a film showcased on our platform last year in the 10-15min range (40%) , back in 2011 it was the films with a duration of 5-10min that we programmed most of (38%). Those sub five-minute short shorts were also a lot more popular 10-years-ago making up 27% of our curation, compared to just 5% in 2021. The long shorts of over 25-mins may have been close percent wise, 2% of our programming in 2011 and 3% in 2021, but the longest film we featured in 2011 was 29:45, over 12-minutes shorter than the longest in 2021, while the average length of these long shorts has risen from 29:22 to 31:16.

Avg. short film duration in 2011 compared to 2021/22

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Please note: The data in this chart shows information from the 2022 editions of SXSW, Cannes & Berlinale and data from a year’s worth of programming on Short of the Week (1st Jan – 31st Dec 2021)

There’s also evidence of increasing durations from festivals, with average run-times increasing across the board at the festivals we looked at. Although none of them registered a change as large as the one we saw at S/W, almost 40%, both SXSW and Berlinale saw the average length of their programmed shorts rise by about 20% over the last decade – a noticeable difference. Cannes was the only festival we looked at that showed a very slight increase of around 6%, but again we can probably put this down to the tight restrictions on duration at the festival meaning you don’t get a vast disparity in their curation.

The numbers certainly seem to prove that, as we expected, short films are getting longer, but of course there are other factors at play here that we should take in to consideration. Because festivals are programming longer films, does this intrinsically correlate to an overall change in duration? Perhaps we need to see submission data from both periods to get a more accurate picture? Also, the filmmaking landscape has changed dramatically over the last 10-years, perhaps filmmakers weren’t making longer films in 2011 because it wasn’t financially viable. With equipment and software more accessible than ever, the resources are now more readily available to invest in longer shorts.


While this information is not intended to directly shape your short film, it’s important to help shape your expectations. When it comes to getting selected for Short of the Week, or to a film festival, quality and originality are more critical than length, but it would be foolish not to be questioning the run-time of your short when making it. If a short is good enough and meets our requirements, we’ll feature it (and I’m sure festival programmers feel the same), but with our focus on a format defined by its length, it would be neglectful to suggest the duration doesn’t come into play.

No-one wants to sit through a film that feels too long – whether it’s a short or a feature – so while we don’t expect you all to go out and make your work exactly 13-minutes long, we do advise you take a good, long look at your shorts and make sure that run-time is justified.

Ultimately, the length of your film isn’t really where the focus should be, it’s whether it manages to hold the audience’s attention throughout. Keeping a viewer engaged and invested in a narrative is one of the biggest challenges for any storyteller, if their attention starts to drift you have a problem. Ultimately, you need to be economical with your storytelling – consider how much information or backstory you want to give an audience – and don’t be overly precious with your material, objectivity is key.