By Heidi Simmons

Who do you have to be to have an opinion on a film, right? It is one of the great pleasures about movies – anyone can critique a film and share his or her insights with others. It is how movies become a part of our shared culture. The ShortFest opened Tuesday, June 17 and continues through Monday, June 23.

Festival attendees are particularly astute filmgoers and over the seven days, they will have something interesting and intelligent to say about the films they view. And, part of the ShortFest fun, is that the audience gets to select four different ShortFest “Audience Awards.”

The Palm Springs International Short Film Festival & Film Market is not only the largest in North America, but also among the most significant in the world! So, with 320 films from over 50 countries, someone has to be the judge.

“In this Festival, Jury awards are particularly important,” said Darryl Macdonald, Palm Springs International Film Festival Executive Director. “The Jury Award winners in four categories are eligible to submit their films to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Oscar consideration.”

Over the nearly two decades of the ShortFest, 97 films have received Academy Award nominations. The Jury is responsible for selecting the “Best of the Festival Award,” “Best Live Action Short,” (both the ‘Over 15 Minutes’ and ’15 Minutes and Under’ categories) and “Best Animated Short.”

But the Jury’s job doesn’t stop there. They must make decisions in 18 categories, selecting 23 films for winning positions. “The films that win Jury Awards share a total of $115,000 in cash and production prizes,” said Macdonald. Every winner receives the PSISF Crystal award.

So, it is imperative to have a credible Jury to uphold the quality and standards of the film festival, and the Palm Springs ShortFest engages industry professional to determine awards.

“Our jury is entrusted with a vital job–a job they take very seriously and execute with a deep commitment for the films and Filmmakers,” said Festival Director Kathleen McInnis. “It takes hours of deliberations. Every year, the jury conversation is impassioned, intense–and fueled by a true love of the work (plus more than a little chocolate!). I’m always in awe when I see the strength of the jury’s commitment to their process.”

This year, Jury members include Steven Gaydos, Nigel Daly, and Katie Holly. These industry professionals both love film and intimately understand the process of filmmaking.

Steven Gaydos is Vice President and Executive Editor of the show biz publication staple, Variety. He is instrumental in keeping the film industry informed and current regarding every aspect of the film business by providing essential content for those in the entertainment industry.

Gaydos’s responsibilities include overseeing all editorial features, Variety events, creative partnerships, custom publishing and various other film industry related projects.

Besides being involved with hundreds of show biz reports, Gaydos created and directed the “10 to Watch” series, which highlights new talent early in their careers.

Other programs Gaydos directs are “Hollywood’s New Leaders” and “Dealmakers.” He is a member of the Writer’s Guild of America, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and the European Film Academy. Gaydos is also the author of “The Variety Guide to Film Festivals” and “Cannes: 50 Years of Sun, Sex and Celluloid.”

“Short films help us all find the voices that will be contributing to the sustenance and advancement of long-form cinema in the future,” said Gaydos. “I judge each film on its own terms; that is, it can be anything from a found-footage horror riff, to a “Jackass” comedic piece, to a piece of austere poetic “art” cinema.” When Gaydos watches a film he asks, “How did it work to achieve the goals it set out for itself?”

Gaydos said that the real secret of his involvement in the ShortFest is: “Palm Springs has a global reputation as one of the most important short film festivals on the planet. So the level of curation and the quality level of the submissions are really quite extraordinary.” He added that he expects to encounter fresh genius filmmakers and that so far Palm Springs Short Film Fest has never disappointed!

Juror Nigel Daly originally trained as an actor at London’s Court Theatre before leaving to co-found The Laboratory Arts Collective. The Laboratory is about “Creating original experiences for the curious mind.” The organization is an international Arts collective, specializing in global culture and storytelling through theater, film, publishing and events.

“Palm Springs is a wonderful place,” said Daly. “It has its own unique pace and has been the home of some of the greatest artists from the early days of Chaplin to now. Unique is a word that fits Palm Spring and its people.”

In 2005, Daly made the short film “Cat Burglar,” which was represented by the British Council at the Cannes Film Festival. A 35millimeter surreal film, “Cat Burglar” showed in the Palm Springs ShortFest in 2006.

“Short films force the filmmaker to be smart, to tell the story elegantly and above all to be clear with the idea, the message, the dream,” said Daly. “It is a challenge and those films that do it well are little master pieces.”

Daly has acted in and produced both short and feature length films. He is the Chairman of The British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Los Angeles (BAFTA LA) and is the Vice President of Business Affairs for the industry trade periodical Screen International, which posts film news, reviews and reports on awards and festivals from around the world.

“I look out for originality,” said Daly. “After viewing the films it’s always tough, but those that speak to me, that are strong, and leave me thinking are usually the ones I am most passionate about.”

Coming to the ShortFest from Dublin, Ireland, is Juror Katie Holly who co-owns and is Managing Director of Blinder Films. She has produced both short and feature length films that have received several European award nominations.

Holly is a graduate of the European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs (EAVE) program. A worldwide network of partners, EAVE provides professional training opportunities and brings producers from different regions of the world together with the aim of facilitating co-production relationships. The EAVE program “encourages the exchange of knowledge and skills which will strengthen independent production across the world.” Holly is a member of the Irish Film Board.

Of course, Jury members must view all the films and with so much to see they begin prior to the start of the fest. At some point during the ShortFest, Gaydos, Daly and Holly get together and make their important decisions.

“Apart from the official Oscar© consideration status and cash and production prize awards, all winners of Jury and Audience Awards at ShortFest gain enhanced consideration for distribution deals and festival programming worldwide,” said Macdonald. “It definitely adds to their opportunities in other arenas such as distribution, marketing and programming if they win an award.”

Festival Director Kathleen McInnis and her team choose the “Programmers Choice Award,” which is the Alexis Award for Best Emerging Student Filmmaker. And the “Cinema Without Boarders Award” is chosen by a five-person jury picked by

To qualify for the ShortFest, films must have been made since January 1 of the previous year, and because PSISF is an AMPAS – Oscar© qualifying festival, the rules state that short films are defined as 40 minutes or less.

So during this ShortFest, check out the award categories and be your own judge. And while you are at it, view and vote for your favorite online short film as well.

Jurors not only create a credible festival, but also inform viewers of worthy films that might have been otherwise overlooked. Jurors give festival attendees perspective on the winning films.

There is a reason Palm Springs International Shortfest is considered one of the top five events of its kind in the world; from the Film Society to the attending film buffs, everyone loves and has an opinion about movies.