History

The Rochester International Film Festival, the world’s oldest continuously-held short film festival, has been produced each year since 1959 by Movies on a Shoestring, Inc. Each festival includes a wide variety of narrative films, documentaries, and animations submitted by independent filmmakers from all parts of the world.

All filmmakers are invited to submit entries for consideration. Each film selected for the festival is awarded our distinctive Shoestring Trophy. Since films are made to be seen, we offer appreciative, movie-wise audiences to view your work at the Dryden Theatre, George Eastman House International Museum of Film and Photography in Rochester, NY.

Movies on a Shoestring Inc.was founded in 1959 by a group of Rochester-area movie enthusiasts to provide a venue for independent filmmakers to present their cinematic creations. The name was a double entendre: most amateur filmmakers shot on 8 mm back then, and the narrowness of the stock led it to call it “the shoestring gauge.”

We held our first public exhibition at the Rochester Public Library. It consisted of 16 films made by people from the Rochester area. During the second year a film from Toronto, Ontario, Canada was included, and in a modest sense Movies on a Shoestring became an international festival. That was also the year we moved the show to the Dryden Theatre through the courtesy of George Eastman House. Three hundred people attended the performance.

1964 was our first truly international year. We received films from all over the United States as well as five foreign countries. This international activity prompted us in 1965 to identify our shows as the Rochester International Movie Film Festival and to become a charter member of the International Association of Amateur Film Festivals, a world-wide organization dedicated to establishing standards and consistency among festivals of this type.

By 1971 Movies on a Shoestring had firmly established itself among the world’s leading amateur festivals, so we modified our name to the Rochester International Amateur Film Festival. In 1983 we accepted our first video entries. The worldwide growth of film schools and of the film industry in general has led to a great increase in the number of professional quality short films being produced and competing for spots in our festival, so in 1996 we dropped the word “amateur” from our name and became The Rochester International Film Festival.

To provide independent filmmakers even greater public exposure, beginning in 1972, selected films from each year’s festival, based on audience surveys taken at each show, have been assembled into a traveling show called The Best of the Fest. We have made it possible to loan the traveling show, free of charge, to organizations around the state.

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