The PBS Short Film Festival 2021 begins July 12! 

25 remarkable films. Two weeks of storytelling. A decade of being seen.

PBS’s Webby Award-nominated PBS Short Film Festival will return for a 10th anniversary year from July 12-23, 2021.

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. Films featured in the PBS Short Film Festival have been selected and provided by 15 public media partners and PBS member stations.

For more information and updates on the PBS Short Film Festival, visit www.pbs.org/filmfestival. Viewers are also encouraged to engage in online conversation by tagging @PBS and using #PBSFilmFest on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Where to Watch

The films will be available to watch on PBS.org, YouTube and the PBS Video App.

This Year’s Films

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

CULTURE

“Atomic Café” (Center for Asian American Media/CAAM)
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.

“Ta Hasso” (Pacific Islanders in Communications/PIC)   
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.

“Kapaemahu” (Pacific Islanders in Communications/PIC)   
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.

“Migratruse” (Alabama Public Television/APTV)
A powerful dance performance at an Alabama plantation has been repurposed for reconciliation and art.

FAMILY

“Luciela” (Latino Public Broadcasting)
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.

“Grab My Hand” (Black Public Media)
A personal story of grief and a message to all to cherish every moment while we can.

“Mildred” (WSIU-TV/Illinois)
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?

HUMANITY

“Stacey Holloway” (Alabama Public Television/APTV)
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.

IDENTITY

“PHONY” (Center for Asian American Media/CAAM)
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.

“Story of Your Life” (Louisiana Public Broadcasting/LPB)
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.

“Chef Steven” (MPT Digital Studios)
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.

RACE

“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.

SOCIETY

“Deadly Jails” (Independent Television Service/ITVS)
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.

“A Call Away” (Independent Television Service/ITVS)
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.

“Highway Mike” (Black Public Media)
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 U.S., joining forces to shed light on the hidden history of the influence of Haudenosaunee Women on the women’s rights movement.

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