It is an unwritten, unspoken rule that is accepted by short filmmakers as an immutable reality——if you want your film to be eligible to screen at the world’s biggest fests, you can’t release it online. It’s a rule so widely accepted that no one has ever really bothered to see if it is true.

We weren’t content with the accepted wisdom however. We knew several influential festivals like Sundance had done away with online restrictions, but this information would always surprise the filmmakers we’d talk to. Was Sundance’s progressiveness the exception that proves the rule? To find out, we dug in and compiled a list of the world’s top festivals to determine whether they disqualify your film if it’s available online. The goal? Create a resource for filmmakers—a checklist to see if you’re in the clear before (or after) you post online.  Our findings are below.

Even we were surprised by the results however. Today, the majority of the top film festivals including Sundance and SXSW will accept your film regardless of its online status. You no longer have to choose between festivals and online. You can do both—and, in some circumstances, the two can work together to your advantage.

First though, a few caveats:

  1. This is a dynamic resource we hope to update as needed with more festivals and as rules change. At the moment, this list contains all the Oscar-qualifying festivals and a few others big and small. If there’s a festival you’d like to see added to this list, or if you represent a festival and the information is erroneous, please leave a comment below.
  2. This list is not intended to be gospel. Rules change. Festivals evolve. Withoutabox could be out of date. If you’re really unsure about a particular festival, e-mail them directly to find out the scoop. To use the old aphorism, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

The Festivals

AFI Fest USA Yes
American Documentary Film Festival USA Yes
American Film Festival Poland No
Anima Mundi Brazil Yes
Ann Arbor Film Fest USA Yes
Annecy Festival Int’l Du Cinema D’Animation France Yes
Aspen Shorts Fest USA Yes
Athens Int’l Film festival USA Yes
Atlanta Film Festival USA Yes
Austin Film Festival USA Yes
Bend Film Festival USA No
Berlin Int’s Film Festival Germany No
Bermuda Int’l Film Festival Bermuda No
Brooklyn Film Festival USA No
Brooklyn Short Film Festival USA Yes
Cannes Festival Int’l Du Film France No
Cartagena Int’l Du Film Columbia Yes
Chicago Int’l Children’s Film Festival USA Yes
Chicago Int’l Film Festvial USA No
Cinequest Film Festival USA Yes
Clermont-Ferrand Int’l Short Film Festival France Yes
Cleveland Int’l Flm Festival USA Yes
Dam Short Film Festival USA Yes
DC Shorts USA No
DeadCenter Film Festival USA No
Denver Starz Film Festival USA Yes
Edinburgh Int’l Film Festival UK No
Encounters Int’l Film Festival UK Yes
Fantastic Fest USA Yes
Festival De Cine Huesca Spain Yes
Festivus Film Festival USA Yes
Flickerfest Int’l Short Films Festival Austrailia Yes
Florida Film Festival USA Yes
Foyle Film festival Ireland Yes
Gasparilla Int’l Film Festival USA Yes
Guanajuato Int’l film Festival Mexico Yes
Hawaii Int’l Film Festival USA Yes
Heartland Film Festival USA Yes
Leeds Int’l Film Festival UK Yes
Little Rock Film Festival USA No
London Short Film Festival UK Yes
Los Angeles Film Festival USA Yes
Los Angeles Int’l Short Film Festival USA Yes
Los Angeles Latino Int’l Film Festival USA No
Maryland Int’l Film Festival USA No
Melbourne Int’l Film Festival Australia No
Montreal Festival Du Nouveau Cinema Canada Yes
Montreal World Film Festival Canada No
Nashville Film Festival USA No
New Filmmakers Los Angeles USA Yes
New Hope Film Festival USA No
New York Int’l Children’s Film Festival USA Yes
Nordisk Panorama Sweden No
Oberhausen Int’l Short Film Festival Germany Yes
Ottawa Int’l Animation Festival Canada Yes
Palm Springs Int’l Festival of Short Films USA No
Philadelphia Independent Film Festival USA Yes
Raindance Film Festival UK Yes
Rhode Island Int’l Film Festival USA No
Rio De Janeiro Int’l Short Film Festival Brazil Yes
San Francisco Int’l Film Festival USA No
Santa Barbara Int’l Film Festival USA No
Savannah Film Festival USA Yes
Seattle Int’l Film Festival USA Yes
Sedona Int’l Film Festival USA Yes
Shorts That are Not Pants Canada Yes
Siggraph USA Yes
Slamdance Film Festival USA Yes
South by Southwest USA Yes
St. Louis Int’l Film Festival USA Yes
Sundance USA Yes
Sunscreen Film Festival USA Yes
Sydney Film Festival Australia No
Tallgrass Film Festival USA Yes
Tampere Int’l Short Film Festival Finland Yes
The Hamptons Int’l Film Festival USA Yes
Tribeca Film Festival USA No
True/False Film Festival USA Yes
Uppsala Int’l Short Film Festival Sweden Yes
Urbanworld Film Festival USA No
USA Film Festival USA Yes
Venice Int’l Film Festival Italy No
Woodstock Film Festival USA Yes

The Oscars

One of the most potent platforms for short film is recognition from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Oscar will not reward a film that has premiered online, however, there’s a less understood caveat to this rule that many overlook. If your film has already become eligible by winning a qualifying festival, you can indeed release it online. Remember the fiasco around the 2013 Oscar shorts that were posted online only to be removed days later? That was entirely by request of the distributor and not the Academy.

A short film may not be exhibited publicly anywhere in any nontheatrical form, including but not limited to broadcast and cable television, home video, and Internet transmission, until after its Los Angeles theatrical release, or after receiving its festival award or Student Academy Award. (Rule 19, III B)

A Brief Analysis

The key takeaway point is that the majority of festivals don’t mind if your film is already online. Some festivals are still sticklers for premieres, including more than a few prominent ones, but for the most part, it’s not as taboo as convention would have you believe. As Bears Fonte, the Director of Programming at the Austin Film Festival succinctly puts it, “The simple answer to the question is yes, we do, and in fact have accepted films that were available online.”

68% accept online films: 56 Yes, 26 No

However, prior exposure does matter—if your film has already exploded online, there’s a chance that a festival will be less interested in screening it. Programming is subjective, and after all, some festivals do want to maintain a sense of exclusivity that a viral sensation would inherently negate. Yet, the opposite can also be true—it’s becoming increasingly common for films to be selected for festivals because they’ve done well online. Many medium and smaller festivals that have difficulty competing for entries are reaching out to filmmakers directly. It’s not uncommon for a filmmaker to receive dozens of requests for their film after they’ve posted it online—many of the fests willing to forgo entry fees.

Moving Forward

Both of these points stem from a humbling observation—the world is a big place. Even if your film has received thousands of views on Vimeo, odds are that not a single member of the audience that attends your festival screening has seen it. And, it seems that things are only going to continue in this direction. As more short narrative content continues to flood online—as more audiences turn to the web for the greatest stories—even the strictest of festivals will need to revise their rules or risk being left behind.

* Special thanks to Katie Metcalfe (curator/producer for the Sundance Film Festival and Future Shorts) for her help compiling the list.