How It Works 


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 attend any US college or university may submit their short movies online.  Winners are selected by the Elfenworks Foundation, based on the following criteria:  story, message, cinematography, audio/music/narration, and overall impact. Winners are announced each June at the CMF International Grand Finale, often by celebrity stars.  Since the grand finale moved to Los Angeles in 2011, we’ve been honored to have such wonderful celebs as Elijah Kelley (2015), Jurnee Smollett-Bell (2014), Larry Wilmore (2013), Nate Parker  (2012), and Gabouray Sidibe (2011) as presenters for our Elfenworks/Campus Moviefest Social Justice Award.

A NOTE TO STUDENTS: THANK YOU for making a difference and sharing your work with us. By being a social justice filmmaker, lending your artistic eye and your voice to issues that matter. 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.


There are $15,000 in prizes, including a first prize of $10,000 and $3,500 for a runner-up. Judges may award an additional cash prize for artistic excellence or best message. Some who don’t win cash prizes may also receive an honorable mention, with associated bragging rights. Cash prizes will be distributed by Campus MovieFest. There are also bragging rights: you’ll be an award-winning social justice filmmaker.  And finally, your winning film will air on Virgin America airlines!  

New for the 2016-2017, CMF is also accepting games.  As with film, winning games will be SALIENT * EXCELLENT * COMPELLING.  Bring CMF your best, and you’ll be considered for a possible cash prize. See CMF’s website for details. 


Q Why do you keep asking for more? Don’t you have enough submissions?
A There can never be too many. Imagine the power of an onslaught of student social justice films – lots of ripples, bringing on a great wave of change. Q What topic is best for a submission?
A 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. A better question to ask is, what topic touches YOU? That’s a question only you can answer.  Consider the categories, below.

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. 

Watch all our winners, on our dedicated YouTube playlist, “Student Voices!” 

What is Social Justice?

By social justice issues, we mean societal issues –  that is, issues centering around fairness, hope, involvement, and so on.  The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality’s website, breaks social justice issues into many 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” but, to win, you might want to try to find a way to move hearts and minds, rather than simply to inform. 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!