Send us your short documentary ideas – here’s where to start!

Global Short Docs Forum is open to proposals from anyone, anywhere in the world. We are looking for short documentary projects under 30 mins, in production or post-production, with existing footage.

We have a special interest in films that have a social, political or cultural narrative, take a solutions journalism approach or give us a new perspective on the changes we want to see in the world. We encourage new narratives and underreported stories, and we are especially looking for stories from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Middle East or the Post-Soviet States.

Find out what we’re looking for, and for guidance on how to develop your proposal, with tips from our team and speakers at the Pitching Lab as part of GSDF Labs


1. What is your film about: Make it accessible

Have a clear story with a clear subject matter. What is the one core issue that you’re looking at? How does this issue resonate with a global audience? 

We are looking for character driven stories that are nuanced and creative, and we have a special interest in films that challenge stereotypes and give us a new perspective.


“When we think about a worldwide audience, the most important thing is that it’s a story where people can maybe see themselves or see people that are in their orbit, and feel a connection to it. You can go very specific with a storyline and character and location. It can be very intimate and specific to that place, but also still have a universality to it.”

Lesley Birchard, CBC Docs, Executive in Charge of Production


2. Think about the scale: Keep it ‘short’

When developing your proposal, think about the scale of the project, make sure it’s really a ‘short’ documentary. Don’t forget – less is more. 


“In a short documentary, you have fewer people: your main protagonist, and then maybe a few more people that that person interacts with. You also need fewer issues that you are actually addressing in your film.

What is the thing that you are looking at in this film? What is the subject matter? You have to be very clear as you are putting your proposal together, what the main subject is that you’re looking at and what very small number of issues attached to that you will have time to look at.” 

Dominique Young, Executive Producer


3. Who are your characters: Are they on board? 

Tell us about your main character(s), why they are the best people to tell this story, and how they bring it to life. 

Show that you have an existing connection to the contacts you need, and that you obtained their agreement to take part.


“It’s very important that you know your character and you can assure your commissioning editor that you have full access to their story. I have to make sure that I’m able to get clearance with my subject that they are allowing me to film them, before I submit their story for funding or a potential co-production.” 

Baby Ruth Villarama, Filmmaker


4. Films that show rather than tell: Focus on actuality

A good media piece tackles an important issue through a strong story – through characters doing things, actions unfolding on screen, with a beginning, a middle and an end. 

Tell us what will be covered in your story and how you will cover it, rather than going into too much detail of why it’s important to tell this story.


“When we are talking about films, we are looking at action, not just interviews, and what happens in the film. I always think that if you can turn the sound down and still understand what the story is, then that’s good.” 

Flora Gregory, Executive Producer


5. Sample footage: A glimpse into your film

What could you show us about your characters, the story, and your vision for the film?

Most commissioners ask to see a trailer or a teaser before they commission a piece, especially by emerging filmmakers. The sample footage gives reassurance that there is access, and gives us an idea on the documentary approach. 

If you are still in early stages, this footage can even be obtained remotely through a video call or phone footage. Through the Forum we work with filmmakers to develop their trailer ahead of the meetings, so there is more time to put together your final pitch.


“A pitch trailer is a necessary requirement these days. Because there are a lot of submissions, the decision makers can more or less meet your character through videos. It doesn’t have to be long, it could be a sample footage or a scene. You can show the look of the place, the community that their character is moving around, and establish the main issue. Where will this film go? What kind of sensibility do you have as a filmmaker?”

Baby Ruth Villarama, Filmmaker


6. Featuring people solving problems? We can’t wait to learn more.

We love stories of people solving social problems. Stories that show us what works, what doesn’t, with evidence and context. 

Solutions oriented storytelling provides a framework to change existing narratives by focusing on what’s being done to respond to the problem, instead of repeating what the problems are. This is an important approach particularly in the areas of health, education, climate, science and technology, where sharing information and ideas could have a tangible impact.


Want to learn more about the solutions approach? Watch one of our trainings


Are you working on a short documentary? We want to hear from you! The Global Short Docs Forum 2023 is currently open for applications, and will bring together filmmakers from all over the world to attend an intensive online training programme, and one to one pitch meetings. Find out more and apply here.

If you have questions before sending in an application, register for the Live Q&A on 5 December 2022 at 1pm GMT.