Background, Judging Criteria, Winners, Badges

Elfenworks, in partnership with Campus MovieFest (CMF), invites students to become social justice filmmakers (or game developers) by participating in the annual Campus MovieFest competition. It’s an opportunity to win up to $10,000,  make a difference with your art, and have fun, all at once.  Winning entries are SALIENT * EXCELLENT * COMPELLING * ENDURING.  See below for details!


The 2017 Awards Ceremony for the Elfenworks Social Justice category took place during the Campus MovieFest Terminus Conference + Festival, June 22-25, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. A special thank you to everyone who took part in the tenth year of our partnership. We are amazed at the hard work, imagination, and heart on display in these great student films. It’s so heartwarming to see students causing their own ripples.

Please note that all prizes are awarded by Campus MovieFest at or shortly after the Atlanta Finale. See for more information!

2017 First Place – “Growing Up in the Ghetto”

This interview driven documentary tackles the issues faced by children that grow up in impoverished neighborhoods in Baltimore City. Residents, volunteers, a pastor, and a teacher tell their stories and give insight about how growing up in the ghetto can negatively impact children. One good takeaway: “There is no solution. There are solutions, plural.”

2017 Second Place – “Battle Buddy”

When veteran Bill Stump returned from 20 years of service, he faced the toughest battle of his life. K9s for Warriors was there for him. And his new canine battle buddy saved his life.

2017 Third Place – “One in Five”

During a study group Jamie’s friends pressure her to explain why she hasn’t been herself recently. As she imagines what would happen if she told her friends about her recent sexual assault, her deepest insecurities are revealed. When she refuses to divulge her secret, many of her friends storm off, but one remains offering her a sliver of hope and a positive path towards the future.


How It Works  


Winning films go beyond raising awareness… they bring out something better in us. They often dare to include some hopeful solutions in their message, pointing out a path forward, uplifting rather than berating or shaming.  Winning films are non-partisan. They open hearts, rather than closing ears. And they look to stand the test of time. Perhaps it’s a tightrope walk, but our winning filmmakers always rise to the challenge.

Filmmakers and game developers at participating CMF schools can sign up for free online and get all the gear needed to tell your story in a week. Or, students who attend any US college or university may submit their short movies and games online. If yours is a socially-conscious movie or game, be sure to flag your entry “elfenworks” so CMF will know that you’re entering our category.   

Winners are selected cooperatively – judges at the Elfenworks Foundation work in association with judges at Campus Moviefest. Films are judged based on the following criteria: story, message, cinematography, audio/music/narration, and overall impact. Games are judged on story, message, graphics, implementation, audio/music/narration, and overall impact. Winners are announced each June at the CMF International Grand Finale, often by celebrity stars.  We’ve been honored to have many wonderful celebs present our Elfenworks/Campus Moviefest Social Justice awards over the years, including Gabouray Sidibe (2011), Nate Parker  (2012), Larry Wilmore (2013), Jurnee Smollett-Bell (2014),   Elijah Kelley (2015), and Thomas E. Ackerman (2017). You won’t want to miss the excitement at this year’s event!

A NOTE TO STUDENT FILMMAKERS:  Every year, the number of entries into our category grows. We want to THANK YOU for being a social justice filmmaker, lending your artistic eye and your voice to issues you care deeply about.  We want you to have the best chance of winning, so please invest a few minutes watching our ‘filmmaker tips’ video, above. And then you might want to peruse some of the previous years’ entries.

A NOTE TO GAME DEVELOPERS:  For years, we enjoyed music submissions. Now, we look forward to receiving another sort of “alternative” entry: games.  Students ask: what’s a social justice game?  We thought by answering with an example. Suppose your issue is the ocean… You could create a game where the player rescues a dolphin from stray nets, and goes about tackling stray nets, or where the player is actually an albatross, flying over the ocean, trying to distinguish between delicious fish and deceptive plastics.  Suppose your issue is numeracy… you could have a game that helped teach maths.  Your game could have, as its objective, helping low-income students envision themselves in medicine or other careers. Or, you could create games with strong heroes from all walks of life, rather than the “same old thing.”  The sky is the limit, so get creative!  We missed you last year. Will you submit to our category this year, the second year CMF is offering a gaming component? We’re on board… are you? Let’s have social justice themed games; bring CMF your best, and you’ll be considered for a possible **cash prize**  (!!)  Just as with film entries, your games must be SALIENT * EXCELLENT * COMPELLING.  See CMF’s website for details.


For many years CMF had a music component.We congratulate our winning musicians from those years, many of whom have been showcased at our events, and two of whom have even gone on to be our ambassadors for hope.  These are the band Eyeshine (partner for a number of years) and A Moment’s Worth (one of the band’s original members, Alex Bondarev and his new band Conversing with Oceans continue that effort). Their work empowers audiences with the message that your efforts matter, that each of us can indeed make a positive difference. We encourage all our winners to keep in touch with us so we can amplify your successes through our social media outlets.   


$15,000 in prizes are awarded annually, including a first prize of $10,000 for the winning filmmaker, and cash prizes for runners-up and winning games. See the CMF website for complete details. Some who don’t win cash prizes may also receive an honorable mention. Cash prizes will be distributed by Campus MovieFest. There are also bragging rights: you’ll be an award-winning social justice filmmaker.  And finally, the winning film will air on Virgin America airlines! 


  • Why do you keep asking for more? Don’t you have enough submissions after all these years?
  • There can never be too many. Imagine the power of an onslaught of student social justice productions – lots of ripples, bringing on a great wave of change.
  • What topic is best for a submission?
  • Great question… but you’ll never win by picking a topic you think we want from you. Winning films have one thing in common: winners have chosen a topic that’s close to their hearts. They care, and they make us care. They don’t just raise awareness, they shine a light on the way forward to a more hope-filled tomorrow. That said, the best question to ask is, what topic touches YOU? That’s a question only you can answer.

Categories of Winners

Check out our previous winners in each of these important thematic areas:

In this category, students convey hope in the American landscape, often through individual hero stories, tales of personal triumph, or of supporting someone else in the face of adversity. They triumph over poverty, inequality, or some other social injustice. Previous winners include:

These films bring home the story of someone or some group who, unwilling to be overcome by the problem, tackles it.  They tell tales of visionaries who are doing something to create positive change.  As Lauren Speeth, CEO of Elfenworks, explains, “We’ll always consider films that tell the story about how NOBODY should underestimate their ability to make a ripple of positive change.”  This has been our most popular topic, and we invite you to tell us about the heroes in your community.Previous winners include:

Let your imagination soar and think of artistic and creative ways to portray your message.   Your film may rise to the top and sweep the award, or it may earn a special mention for your creativity, your artistry, your plot twist, or some other special winning attribute. Although horror is NO LONGER an official category, you can still submit your film and we will consider it under “artistic and other.”Previous winners include:

We are constantly amazed at the dedication and imagination of these students!

Winning productions are not only excellent and compelling, they are also salient to our current domestic social justice landscape. By social justice issues, we mean societal issues –  that is, issues centering around fairness, hope, and so on. The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality’s website, breaks social justice issues into numerous distinct categories. Over the years, students have shown keen interest in some of the categories and very little interest in others. For example, we’ve had a lot of submissions on homelessness. We’re not saying “stay away from straight documentaries on homelessness.”  If that is what moves you, tell that story.  It’s been said, “there’s no such thing as a new story.” So, tell it again, your way, with your voice, and with hope as a key. To win in our category, you will want to try to find a way to move hearts and minds, rather than simply to inform. Sometimes a whisper works better than a shout. Hollywood professionals, when telling social justice tales, often embed a whispered “social justice” message inside hero stories. The classics not only inspire, they also teach us about life’s true meaning. For reference, consider The Pursuit of Happyness, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol (or Scrooged), and Stand and Deliver. We’ve found that the most compelling films are where the filmmaker has a personal interest – it’s an area that touches their heart, personally.


Social Justice Filmmaker Badges

Have you produced content for our category, tackling a compelling fairness, justice, civic, or related issue? If so, congratulations! We thank you and we salute you. As filmmakers ourselves, we can really imagine the heartfelt work that went into your effort. So, we want to help you share this important milestone with your friends and colleagues. You can announce “I’m a social justice filmmaker” with one of these specially designed badges, created just for creative filmmakers like you. Simply copy and paste the code next to the badge of your liking, and you’ll be able to display your accomplishment, loud and proud!  Thank you again for your social justice film…together, our storytelling matters. You’re making a ripple!

Copy and paste the following code:

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Copy and paste the following code:

<a href=”” target=”_blank”><img src=”” border=”0″ alt=”CMF Social Justice Filmmaker”></a>



Copy and paste the following code:

<a href=”” target=”_blank”><img src=”” border=”0″ alt=”CMF Social Justice Filmmaker”></a>


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