Background, Judging Criteria, Winners, Badges

The Elfenworks Foundation, in partnership with Campus MovieFest (CMF), invites students to become social justice filmmakers (or game developers) by participating in the annual Campus MovieFest Elfenworks Social Justice Hope 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. See below for details!

Filmmakers 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 currently attend any US college or university may submit their short movies online. Winners are selected in consultation with the Elfenworks Foundation, based on criteria including  hope, salience, skill, and impact. Winners are announced each June at the CMF International Grand Finale, often by celebrity stars.


How It Works  

Winning films are…  SALIENT * EXCELLENT * COMPELLING.  

Our winners go beyond raising awareness about an important issue that is deeply important in today’s landscape. That’s salience. They demonstrate great technique in all aspects of filmmaking. That’s excellence. And they are compelling. They are somehow so memorable that we can’t brush them aside. They have a chance at changing hearts and minds on the very issue they address. They bring out something better in us. They show us the hope – often by pointing out a path forward, or giving us a glimmer of inspiration. Winning films are non-partisan, and do not proselytize in a religious sense. Winning films have a good chance of standing 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.   

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(s) may air on Virgin America airlines! 

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: salience, excellence, compelling message, hope, and overall impact. Games are judged on these aspects as well as graphics and implementation. 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), Thomas E. Ackerman (2017) and others.  


  • Q Why do you keep asking for more? Don’t you have enough submissions after all these years?
  • A 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.  Stumped? Watch our whole YouTube playlist of all our winners and honorary mentions so far. It’ll take less than two hours, and you’ll be glad you did! 
  • Q Am I limited to a documentary format?
  • A You are free to make any genre you like, as long as you believe the result will be to move us towards more hope in a social justice area you care about. We love creativity, so go for it!  We’ve had sci-fi, historical re-enactments, music videos… the sky’s the limit! Consider the various possible categories of Honorable Mention:

Categories of Honorable Mention:

Winners and runners-up are all salient, excellent and compelling. In addition, they may feature one or more of these aspects:

  • HOPE – 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. 
  • RIPPLE-MAKERS – Bring home the story of people/groups who, unwilling to be overcome by the problem, tackle it, doing something to create positive change. This has been our most popular topic: the heroes in your community, or how to be a hero in your own story.
  • CALL TO ACTION – Get viewers on their feet and involved in doing something positive.
  • MESSAGE – A strong social justice message, perhaps opening eyes in some important way.
  • ARTISTIC/OTHER – 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. 

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. Over the years, students have shown keen interest in some topics and very little interest in others. That doesn’t matter. To win in our category, find a way to move hearts and minds. Remember, sometimes a whisper works better than a shout. Hollywood pros often embed such messages in hero stories, creating classics that both inspire and educate. For reference, consider The Pursuit of Happyness, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, and Stand and Deliver.  All the winners so far are on our Student Voices playlist. Many chose topics close to their hearts, and it shows: 

Social Justice Filmmaker Badges

Let the world know your greatness. 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 that you’re a social justice filmmaker, a storyteller for the greater good, with a specially designed badge, created just for you by us!  Here’s the most popular. Others are on our Badge Page. 

Copy and paste the following code:

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