Filmmaker Praise & Festival Info

In its 25th year, the Heartland Film Festival is widely regarded for its rich slate of independent films, filmmaker support, cash prizes, Academy Award® qualification status, and Hoosier hospitality:

Heartland Film Festival FAQs

What is the Heartland Film Festival?

A 11-day celebration of independent film, the annual Heartland Film Festival gives its moviegoers access to more than 100 visiting independent filmmakers from all over the world, right in the heart of the Midwest. Heartland showcases more than 130 entertaining movies that do more than just entertain over 10 days of red carpet premieres and events, parties and hundreds of film screenings across Indianapolis. The 25th annual Heartland Film Festival will take place Oct. 20-30, 2016.

The Heartland Film Festival has awarded $2.9 million to independent filmmakers from all over the world–more than any other festival in the United States–since its inception in 1991.

What makes the Heartland Film Festival stand out from other festivals?

We Value What Filmmakers Value: Highest possible standard of exhibition. Time to interact with other filmmakers, time to interact with audiences during the Festival and after screenings, and marketing/promotional support during the Festival and beyond.

Academy Award qualification: The Heartland Film Festival has earned the special designation of being a qualifying festival for the Annual Academy Awards® within the Short Films category. This means that the winner of the Grand Prize for Best Narrative Short Film will qualify for consideration in the Short Films category of the Annual Academy Awards® without the standard theatrical run, provided the film otherwise complies with the Academy rules.

Hospitality: Volunteers meet filmmakers at the airport and take them to the host where the Festival hospitality suite is staffed with knowledgeable volunteers to greet filmmakers and go over orientation. Festival staff goes out of their way to introduce themselves to filmmakers, talk to them in all venues. Ultimately we want filmmakers to feel like rock stars with badges that let sponsors and volunteers and attendees know who they are, introductions to sponsors, nice accommodations, punctual ground transportation, etc.

We Actually Watch Your Movies: When a film is submitted to the Heartland Film Festival, we guarantee that it will be seen–in its entirety–by at least three separate individuals (jury members, staff and/or interns).  Each film is scored and is given feedback based on standard judging criteria, and that feedback is available to filmmakers upon request.

Full Exhibition Control & Quality: With primary screening locations at AMC Theatres, our Festival screenings give indie films and filmmakers the blockbuster treatment. We exhibit off the most reliable and high-quality formats, hire our own projection staff, and tie in directly to AMC's state-of-the-art systems. Every Festival we hear that the films we showcase have never looked better on the big screen – it's this level of control and quality that ensures that the work of our filmmakers looks and sounds exactly as it was intended.  

High School Film Competition: In its sixth year, the High School Film Competition honors the best among the next generation of filmmakers from around the world. For winners of the High School Film Competition, the prize money and Festival experience serves as inspiration to follow their passion into the professional world of filmmaking. The top winner receives a $3,000 cash prize, accommodations, travel, a filmmaker badge and more.

What kinds of filmmaker perks does the Heartland Film Festival offer?

Cash prizes to the top winners ($122,000 total in 2015).

For Festival Award winners (essentially nominees in each category) we offer roundtrip economy class airfare for a single person, director or producer, to attend, lodging for up to five nights, ground transportation to and from airport, hotel, and venues, Filmmaker Badge, special event tickets. Glitzy Awards Ceremony designed to highlight the filmmakers and their films, giving out Grand Prizes while celebrating and spotlighting all of the Festival Award winners.

For Official Selection filmmakers we offer discounted hotel rates, ground transportation to and from airport, hotel, and venues, Filmmaker Badge, special event tickets at discounted rate or free depending on scheduling. For select Official Selection filmmakers, if our budget allows, we will offer travel/airfare stipends and/or lodging at our host hotel.

We have a great relationship with ShortsHD, the premiere cable/satellite short film network who also produces and distributes the Academy Award nominated Oscar shorts programs. Beyond distribution deals for short film filmmakers, a festival video recap and interviews have been featured on the ShortsHD network over the years.

What are Heartland Film Festival's prizes and awards?

The Heartland Film Festival has awarded $2.9 million to independent filmmakers from all over the world–more than any other festival in the United States–since its inception in 1991.

These cash prizes inspire and assist filmmakers to push their craft, pay off debts and to pursue
their next projects. For winners of the High School Film Competition, the prize money and Festival experience serves as inspiration to follow their passion into the professional world of filmmaking. 

During the 2016 Heartland Film Festival, one Grand Prize winner in each category will be announced. The prizes are as follows:

  • Best Narrative Feature ($45,000 total award)
  • Best Documentary Feature ($45,000 total award)
  • Best Narrative Short ($5,000 total award)
  • Best Documentary Short ($5,000 total award)
  • Jimmy Stewart Memorial Crystal Heart Award Winners ($2,000 each, $4,000 total award)
  • HSFC Grand Prize Winner ($3,000 total award)
  • Best Premiere, Narrative Feature ($5,000 total award)
  • Best Premiere, Documentary Feature ($5,000 total award)
  • Indiana Spotlight Winner ($5,000 total award)
Have any big names come through the Festival recently?

  • 2014, The Judge special sneak preview kickoff event with Actor/Producer Robert Downey Jr. and Director David Dobkin in attendance.
  • 2013, The Book Thief special sneak preview closing night event with Academy Award Winner Geoffrey Rush, Director Brian Percival and Actress Sophie Nelisse in attendance.
  • 2011, The Way opening night event with Actor Martin Sheen and Director Emilio Estevez in attendance.
Have any Heartland Film Festival filmmakers gone on to do great things?

Past Heartland Film Festival filmmakers have gone on to be Oscar® winners and nominees:

  • 2010 HFF Festival Award Winner, Short Film - God of Love: Won Oscar for Best Short Film – Live Action (Luke Matheny)
  • 2012 HFF Grand Prize Winner for Best Short Film - Head Over Heels: Nominated for Best Short Film – Animated (Timothy Reckart, Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly)
  • 2012 HFF Award Winner, Short Film - Inocente: Won Oscar for Best Documentary – Short Subject (Sean & Andrea Nix)
  • 2013 HFF Festival Award Winner, Narrative Short - Buzkashi Boys: Nominated for Best Short Film – Live Action (Sam French, Ariel Nasr)
  • 2014 HFF Festival Award Winner, Documentary Short - White Earth: Nominated for Best Documentary – Short Subject (Christian Jensen)
  • 2014 HFF Festival Award Winner, Documentary Short - Our Curse: Nominated for Best Documentary – Short Subject (Tomasz Sliwinski, Maciej Slesicki)
  • 2014 HFF Official Selection, Narrative Short - The Dam Keeper: Nominated for Best Short Film – Animated (Robert Kondo, Daisuke ‘Dice’ Tsutsumi)
  • 2014 HFF Official Selection, Narrative Short - The Phone Call: Won Oscar for Best Short Film – Live Action (Mat Kirkby, James Lucas) 
  • 2015 HFF Official Selection, Narrative Short - Stutterer: Won Oscar for Best Short Film – Live Action (Benjamin Bleary)
How does Heartland Film support filmmakers during and after the Festival?

Year after year we tell filmmakers that they’re now part of the Heartland Family, and it’s true. We continue to support Heartland Film Festival films throughout their festival runs, road to distribution, theatrical or VOD releases and more (website, social media and 18,000+ email list). As a year-round organization, we have the Heartland Film Roadshow program that showcases Festival films all throughout the year. We consistently bring back filmmakers for encore screenings, mini festivals, master classes and more.

Filmmaker Praise

J. Christian Jensen

“I really loved the weekend experience of being with so many incredible filmmakers over a few days.  It was an experience I've only had at a few festivals and I felt much closer to my fellow filmmakers at Heartland than I usually do at other festivals. The fact that you offered flight, transportation and lodging was huge and greatly contributed to my ability to attend.”

- J. Christian Jensen
Director, White Earth
2015 Academy Award® Nominee

Ken Ochiai

"If you’ve never been to the Heartland Film Festival, you should come! This is one of the best film festivals in the world, and I strongly recommend you be a part of this amazing experience.”

- Ken Ochiai
Director, Uzumasa Limelight

Katie Celia

“It felt like we were part of a family. It was like summer camp; we can't wait to go back again and meet up with all the other filmmakers and see what they come up with next.”

- Katie Celia
Director, Off the Floor

John Antonelli

“It was important to me to attend as I'd never been before and heard great things. Your reputation is well deserved. I'm glad I got to come. It’s a wonderful atmosphere and I thought the audiences were particularly thoughtful and responsive and the staff was very friendly and appreciative. It’s awesome that you give such generous prizes.”

- John Antonelli
Director, Unfair Game: The Politics of Poaching

Susann Ostigaard

“Great place to meet audience and fellow filmmakers. Best festival I've attended!”

- Susann Ostigaard
Director, Light Fly, Fly High

Cassie Charlton

“Heartland is the best festival experience I've had to date and it was an absolute honor to be selected.”

- Cassie Charlton
Director, Frank

Rick McFarland

“The staff was very helpful, courteous and patient with our questions and requests. We enjoyed each of our interactions with them. The audience members were delightful, receptive, and insightful. We loved the Heartland experience!”

- Rick McFarland
Director, Highway to Dhampus

Ava Lowry

“Heartland promotes heavily and the local community is very engaged in the screenings. I really love seeing such full screenings and meeting so many Indy people and talking with them about my film.”

- Ava Lowry
Director, Fred: The Town Dog

Sarah Evans

“It was really important to me to go to Heartland. I loved Heartland because it gave me the opportunity to talk to and connect with other filmmakers and I was able to meet amazing people and see incredible films as well. It was without a doubt the best festival experience I've had.”

- Sarah Evans
Producer/Actor, Chris