Skip to main content
Tenth Anniversary of the PBS Short Film Festival Celebrates Independent Filmmakers
Email share
10th Anniversary of PBS Short Film Festival Celebrating Independent Filmmakers

Twenty-Five Films Exploring Culture, Family, Humanity, Identity, Race And Society to Stream July 12–23 on All PBS Digital Platforms

ARLINGTON, VA; June 15, 2021 – PBS announced today its Webby Award-nominated PBS Short Film Festival will return for a 10th anniversary year from July 12-23 to all PBS and station digital platforms, including PBS.orgYouTube and the PBS Video App. The festival features 25 short-form independent films presented in six categories: culture, family, humanity, identity, race and society.  And for the first time in the festival’s history, all 25 films will be presented in virtual reality, accessible on any VR device. Audiences can also use a computer without a headset and still look around 360 degrees.

The PBS Short Film Festival is part of a multiplatform initiative to increase the reach and visibility of independent filmmakers from across the country and amplify the voices of diverse content creators. Since its inception in 2012, hundreds of films celebrating love, acceptance, family, strength, equality, friendship, loyalty and more have been presented under the festival’s banner. The 2021 festival carries the tagline “A Decade of Being Seen” as a reminder that the festival has always striven to amplify the untold stories of America.

“The past year has been one like no other and in times of crisis, PBS’s mission to serve every person in every community becomes more important than ever before,” said Ira Rubenstein, PBS Chief Digital and Marketing Officer. “We are honored to be celebrating 10 years of the Short Film Festival—a decade of raising marginalized voices and keeping authentic narratives at the forefront. And we are excited to further extend our commitment to diverse content creators through ongoing initiatives like our open call for emerging filmmakers.”

Starting at midnight on Monday, July 12, audiences can watch and share all 25 films. In addition, a panel of nine jury members will select their favorite film of the festival for the Juried Prize.

Jury members are respected professionals in independent film and public media and were invited by PBS to participate. This year’s jury members include Simon Kilmurry, Executive Director, International Documentary Association; Nina Gilden Seavey, Documentary Filmmaker and Former Documentary Center Director for GW; Judith Vecchione, Executive Producer, WGBH Educational Foundation; Mike Sargent, Producer and Host, Reelworld/Nightshift; Eric Gulliver, Producer, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE; Adnaan Wassey, Digital Media Executive, formerly of POV; Wendy Llinas, Senior Director, PBS National Programming; Jada Leng, Senior Director, PBS National Programming; and Ximena Amescua, Artists Programs Coordinator, Firelight Media & Films. 

Films featured in the PBS Short Film Festival have been selected and provided by 15 public media partners and PBS member stations. This year’s lineup includes films from Black Public MediaCenter for Asian American Media (CAAM)Independent Television Service (ITVS)Latino Public BroadcastingPacific Islanders in Communications (PIC)POVReel SouthVision Maker Media and World Channel, as well as PBS local member stations, Alabama Public Television (APTV)Illinois Public MediaKLRU-TV Austin PBSLouisiana Public Broadcasting (LPB)MPT Digital Studios, and WSIU (Illinois).

Generating more than 11 million streams over the course of the festival’s history, the PBS Short Film Festival continues to be an engaging annual digital event. The festival also received a 2015 Webby Awards nomination for Online Film & Video: Variety (Channel).

For more information and updates on the PBS Short Film Festival, visit Viewers are also encouraged to engage in online conversation by tagging @PBS and using #PBSFilmFest on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Below is the full list of short films featured in the 2021 PBS Short Film Festival, separated into the six presenting categories.


In the late 1970s, when L.A.’s punk rock scene was exploding, an unlikely family-owned restaurant in Little Tokyo, started by Japanese Americans returning from America’s WWII concentration camps, became one its most popular hangouts. That’s when “Atomic Nancy,” with her “take-no-prisoners” punk makeup and demeanor, took over the café from her parents and cranked up the jukebox. Infamous for its eclectic clientele—from Japanese American locals and kids from East L.A. to yakuza and the biggest musicians of the day—the Atomic Café became an important part of L.A.’s punk rock history.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, a Chamoru cultural foundation attempts to continue its mission by having members create a new chant together, while they all remain in isolation.

Long ago, four extraordinary beings of dual male and female spirit brought the healing arts from Tahiti to Hawaii and imbued their powers in four giant boulders. The stones still stand on Waikiki Beach, but the true story behind them has been hidden—until now.

A powerful dance performance at an Alabama plantation has been repurposed for reconciliation and art.


A fiercely independent Latina is determined to celebrate the 4th of July with a bang.

“Guest of Honor” (KLRU-TV/ AUSTIN PBS)
Struck by tragedy, a couple has their anniversary party, when an unusual guest arrives.

“The Love Bugs” (POV)
Over 60 years, Lois and Charlie O’Brien, renowned entomologists, traveled to more than 67 countries, amassing the world’s largest private collection of insects.

A personal story of grief and a message to all to cherish every moment while we can.

Twelve-year-old Mildred must lead her family through the hardships of Depression-era America. Can a girl so young meet the challenges that lay ahead?


From hugs to high fives, this sculptor fabricates physical contact during quarantine.

“You and the Thing That You Love” (ILLINOIS PUBLIC MEDIA)
A decade ago, Nick Mullins was one of the most promising skateboarders to come from the Midwest. Then, overnight, it all changed. This is a story of pain, grit, fight, uncertainty, fear, desperation, and most importantly—love.

“Kids Game” (REEL SOUTH)
As of 2019, the San Antonio Metro Region in Texas leads the U.S. in poverty, with one in four children experiencing hunger. This cinéma verité-style short doc follows a group of unlikely underserved teenagers on a hunt to harvest wildlife for their families.

“Coup d’Etat Math” (REEL SOUTH)
This animated short film depicts four stories that speak to the complex equation of each immigrant’s journey. Purposely ambiguous in place and time, each story builds upon the other—like battle raps of struggle—a fight to be born, to survive, to find a place and to go on in the face of immeasurable loss. Not everything adds up evenly or neatly, and that’s the point. We have an immense ability to feel compassion—if we just stop to hear what brings people from A to B.


Sunny, a young Asian American woman with anger management issues, returns home to the San Gabriel Valley seeking respite from her recent career failures—but a simple grocery shopping trip with her mother may prove more than she can handle. In this charming short, Jessica dela Merced shines as both the star and the director. What could be a mundane trip to the store turns into a thoughtful exploration into complex family dynamics.

What would you do if you only had 15 minutes left on Earth to live? (And if the filmmaker wasn’t allowed to leave her house?)

“Forward Journey” (WSIU-TV/ILLINOIS)
This surreal film follows a woman as she unravels the mystery of what happened to her.

A local chef helps during the pandemic and discusses his history and goals at the Franciscan Center in Baltimore City.

“Ms Diva Trucker” (KLRU-TV/ AUSTIN PBS)
A long-haul trucker builds community and a new life on YouTube as @MsDivaTrucker43.


“Learning to Breathe” (WORLD CHANNEL)
The film catches up with young Black men who were part of the 2015 New York Times digital short film “A Conversation about Growing Up Black.” These young men reflect on who they are now and how their perspectives on race, justice, and social inequity and inequality have changed. “Learning to Breathe” is the second of three original films from WORLD Channel’s “The Conversation” series that revisits topics explored in “Conversations on Race,” a digital series originally commissioned by the New York Times from 2015 to 2017.

“For Our Daughters” (WORLD CHANNEL)
The film is a love letter to Black daughters—acknowledging the sacred and, at times, tense relationship mothers and daughters share as they face challenges and accept each other’s flaws. “For Our Daughters” is the first episode of WORLD Channel’s “The Conversation” series, three films that revisit topics explored in “Conversations on Race,” a digital series originally commissioned by the New York Times from 2015 to 2017.

“Mothers for Justice” (ILLINOIS PUBLIC MEDIA)
After her son, Dontre Hamilton, is shot 14 times and killed by a Milwaukee police officer in a popular downtown park, Maria rallies grieving mothers from across the country to join her in a cross-country trip to demand justice on behalf of their sons.


Christina Dawn Tahhahwah of the Comanche Nation suffered from mental illness and died in an Oklahoma jail. Brittany Weide, who was bipolar and suffered from addiction, after being incarcerated for sleeping outside and carrying illegal drugs, committed suicide in her cell. Like many states, Oklahoma has no mechanisms in place for handling or treating incarcerated people with mental illness. This investigative short looks at how advocacy organizations like the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma are trying to change the way these counties handle urgent mental health situations.

Oklahoma is one of 26 states with a “failure to protect” law, which prosecutes parents who fail to prevent child abuse. However, the ACLU and other groups say this law disproportionately criminalizes women, who are often victims of domestic abuse themselves. Hear the story of Clorinda Archuleta, a mother of twin boys, both of whom suffered severe injuries as infants. Clorinda and her ex-boyfriend pled guilty, but Clorinda received three consecutive life sentences under the Oklahoma law, while her partner was sentenced to 25 years. As Clorinda seeks commutation, the film shows how the law has contributed to a cycle of family separation and trauma.

This is a short form documentary about Mike, an Outreach worker with the Washington Heights Corner Project. There, he volunteers to distribute clean supplies to prevent overdoses. Mike received the nickname Highway Mike after panhandling along various highways in New York City while dealing with a drug addiction and homelessness. He now uses the knowledge that he gained to help others in need.

“Without a Whisper” (VISION MAKER MEDIA)
Explore the untold story of how Indigenous women influenced the early suffragists in their fight for freedom and equality. Mohawk Clan Mother Louise Herne and Professor Sally Roesch Wagner shake the foundation of the established history of the women’s rights movement in the US, joining forces to shed light on the hidden history of the influence of Haudenosaunee Women on the women’s rights movement.

About PBS Short Film Festival 
Since its inception in 2012, the PBS Short Film Festival, formerly called the PBS Online Film Festival, has showcased independent films of all genres. The festival, now in its ninth year, features short films created by PBS member stations, ITVS, POV and a wide variety of public television producers. Each year the films highlight topics like social injustice, religion, addiction, public policy, love and other subjects inspiring to the filmmakers. Throughout the festival, viewers can watch, love and share their favorite films on a variety of platforms. At the close of the festival, a prize is awarded to the film chosen by the hand-picked jury. The 2021 PBS Short Film Festival represents a celebration of independent films and filmmaking, and a love for the craft. For more information, visit

About PBS
PBS, with more than 330 member stations, offers all Americans the opportunity to explore new ideas and new worlds through television and digital content. Each month, PBS reaches over 120 million people through television and 26 million people online, inviting them to experience the worlds of science, history, nature and public affairs; to hear diverse viewpoints; and to take front row seats to world-class drama and performances. PBS’ broad array of programs has been consistently honored by the industry’s most coveted award competitions. Teachers of children from pre-K through 12th grade turn to PBS for digital content and services that help bring classroom lessons to life. Decades of research confirms that PBS’ premier children’s media service, PBS KIDS, helps children build critical literacy, math and social-emotional skills, enabling them to find success in school and life. Delivered through member stations, PBS KIDS offers high-quality educational content on TV – including a 24/7 channel, online at, via an array of mobile apps and in communities across America. More information about PBS is available at, one of the leading dot-org websites on the internet, or by following PBS on TwitterFacebook or through our apps for mobile and connected devices. Specific program information and updates for press are available at or by following PBS Communications on Twitter.