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The 18-Second Oscars? The Giphy Film Fest to Award $10,000 to Winning GIF Artisan

Giphy wants to elevate the humble GIF from meme-factory punchlines into… well, works of art.

The GIF search-engine startup has unveiled the Giphy Film Fest to celebrate “micro-film” creators, offering one grand-prize winner a $10,000 cash prize as well as a five-year website-hosting subscription from sponsor Squarespace.

Starting Wednesday (Aug. 15), Giphy is soliciting submissions for original GIFs of 18 seconds or less in five categories. Entries will be judged by a jury of creatives. Finalists will be screened at an invitation-only event Nov. 8 at New York City’s Metrograph theater, followed by the announcement of the grand-prize winner.

But can you really flesh out a narrative arc in a looping GIF that’s no more than 18 seconds?

“You can fully make a horror film or rom-com in 18 seconds,” said Tiffany Vazquez, Giphy’s content development manager for film. “At its core, the Giphy Film Fest is about pushing the boundaries of the GIF format to show that micro-entertainment and short-form content are just as compelling, entertaining and creative as any other visual medium.”

Besides whatever revenue it’s getting from Squarespace for the Giphy Film Fest, the company wants to promote the idea that GIFs are a medium for great storytelling (not just cheap laughs on Twitter). New York-based Giphy bills itself as a producer and distributor of “micro-entertainment content,” with more than 300 million daily active users.

The notion of GIFs as storytelling vehicles extends to Giphy’s advertising strategy, which it launched in earnest this June. The company’s in-house creative agency consults with brands to create GIF-based ads that are emotive and tell a story. Founded in 2013, Giphy has raised $151 million and until now has been in “pre-revenue” mode.

The company also is positioning the Giphy Film Fest as a way to recognize and support creators who lack the time or money to make longer-form projects. “So many filmmakers are out there who don’t have the resources to make a feature-length film, or even a short,” said Vazquez.

Entries for the Giphy Film Fest may be submitted via its website, giphyfilmfest.com, through Sept. 27. It’s open only to U.S. residents 18 and older, who are limited to three unique entries per category. The GIFs can be up to 18 seconds, either with or without sound. The five categories for the contest are: narrative; stop-motion; animated; experimental; and “wild card/other.”

The Giphy Film Fest’s panel of judges include: artist-filmmaker Mukunda Angulo; Alex Bodman, global creative director at Spotify; Brooke Keesling, director, communications and culture at the Animation Guild; Mona Panchal, VP of digital at Topic; comedian-actor-writer Joe Pera; Julia Rothman, co-founder of Women Who Draw; Rajendra Roy, the Celeste Bartos chief curator of film at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

The total number of finalists in each category is TBD, depending on how innovative the submissions are. As for the somewhat arbitrary 18-second limit, Vazquez noted that not everything will be even that long (videos can be as short as a second) and said it’s a multiple of the 6-second format popularized by Vine, which Twitter shuttered two years ago. Indeed, GIFs have emerged as a successor to Vines; Giphy in 2016 launched a tool to convert Vine videos into GIF format.

All entries for the Giphy Film Fest will be judged during the first two weeks of October based on selected judges’ determination of creating the most compelling, entertaining, creative, and professional-grade content. The top-scoring entries from each category will be declared a contest finalist and the highest-ranked entry overall will be declared the contest winner.

The winning GIFer, by the way, will be informed of their win ahead of time but will be announced at the Nov. 8 event.

The Giphy Film Fest will accept entries that have been previously published in the last two years, as long as they’re entirely original work, including audio. The entries must be submitted in video-file format (H.264, Apple ProRes or DNxHD).

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