Guidelines for Shortstacks 2020

About Shortstacks

Shortstacks is an initiative of the State Library of NSW to encourage creative interpretation of the Library’s diverse collection through the medium of short film.

The State Library of NSW holds over six million collection items deep in the stacks under our building, including objects, paintings, maps, photographs, drawings, letters, journals and ephemera. We have selected five of these objects to come out of the stacks and into a short film.

The competition aims to support established, emerging and even first-time filmmakers of all ages to develop an appreciation of the filmmaking process and to learn more about the Library’s collection.

Shortstacks aims to ignite creativity and will consider films in all genres — fictional, documentary, animation or experimental, eg timelapse, hyperlapse and drone. Entrants can shoot their films on any device including mobile phones.

There are two categories:

  1. $15,000 General Prize: open to filmmakers 18 years and over at the time of entries closing
  2. $5000 Youth Prize: open to filmmakers 17 years and younger at the time of entries closing

Key dates 

Important notice:

The Library has decided to postpone the Shortstacks Short Film 2020 competition to 2021. The Call for Entries will open in late January 2021.

If you have already submitted your work, your film will be eligible for the competition when it resumes.

If you are part-way through filming your project, we encourage you to continue to work on it for submission. The Library’s collection items selected to inspire your short films will remain the same.

We thank you for your support of the Library.

Collection items

Each short film produced for Shortstacks must reference one or more of the following five items from the State Library’s collection.

These items will be on public display for select time periods during the call for entries at the State Library of NSW. They are also available to view on the Library’s website. Entrants are encouraged to visit the Library to view the items for inspiration. Please note that the items are on display but cannot be handled.

If further information about the items is required, Entrants can contact:

Maggie Patton
Manager, Research & Discovery
[email protected]

Bird whistles, c 1960
View collection item detail

Bird whistles, c 1960
by Henry Grace

Henry Grace (1884–1966) was a passionate bird watcher and listener. After retiring from his job as an electrician, Grace spent hours in the Royal National Park recording bird calls using his own ‘bird-code’ notation based on Morse code and shorthand. Working from his shed in Jannali, Grace then invented intricate bird whistles made from metal tubing, wire and rubber bands, on which he could then play each individual bird call.

Grace spent days out in the bush with his camping gear loaded on his old pushbike. He could imitate around 60 native bird calls with his whistles, often so well that he fooled the birds themselves. When his hearing deteriorated with age, Grace constructed metal ear trumpets in order to be able to hear his beloved birdsong.

He delighted in listening to the dawn chorus — it ‘only lasted 20 minutes, but it was always one of the greatest pleasures of my life’.

E M Curr’s Australian Comparative Vocabulary, 1881
View collection item detail

E M Curr’s Australian Comparative Vocabulary, 1881
by Edward Curr

The Australian Comparative Vocabulary was compiled during the 1870s and completed in 1881, by squatter, author and public servant Edward Micklethwaite Curr. At 9.45 metres long, this gargantuan accordion-fold document is the longest known manuscript in the Library.

The manuscript contains more than 7,000 Aboriginal words gathered from 160 different places throughout Australia. It was Curr's attempt to document the more than 250 Indigenous Australian languages, including around 800 dialectal varieties, that were spoken when Europeans arrived in 1788.

As a young man, Curr was one of the first white squatters along the Goulburn River. He set up Tongala Station in 1841, near present-day Echuca. He later wrote extensively about the local Bangerang people in his 1886 memoir Recollections of Squatting in Victoria, then called Port Phillip (1841–1851).

Message in a bottle, 10 December 1919
View collection item detail

Message in a bottle, 10 December 1919
by Sir Ross Macpherson Smith

In 1919 the Commonwealth Government announced a prize of £10,000 for the first Australian to fly from England to Australia. Ross and Keith Smith, flying a Vickers Vimy, claimed the prize when they landed in Darwin, NT, after nearly 136 hours flying time over 28 days.

On the final and most dangerous leg of the flight, 180 miles off the coast of Port Darwin on 10 December 1919, they sighted the HMAS Sydney, a tiny speck in the Timor Sea below them. The ship was positioned to guide their course onto Port Darwin in case of need.

The brothers, who had no radio on board, decided to drop a 'message in a bottle' to the captain of the ship below, letting him know all was going well. Using string and a hastily made parachute they dropped the bottle which landed in the sea near the ship. The pencil message read:

The Air
Vickers Vimy
The Commander, H.M.A.S.
Very glad to see you. Many thanks for looking after us. Going strong.
Keith Smith
Ross Smith
Sgt. J. Bennett
Sgt. W. H. Shiers

Collection Day, 2011
View collection item detail

Collection Day, 2011
by John Bokor

Collection Day depicts Organs Road in Bulli, New South Wales, about halfway up the steep street looking east, down the hill towards the ocean on a Wednesday morning after the rubbish has been collected. The yellow bins indicate it was a day for recycling collection and the red bins normal household garbage. The bins, with lids flung open, capture the everyday aspect of suburban recycling practice. This loose and lively suburban street scene celebrates the commonplace.

It was painted in late 2010 and then reworked in early 2011. It is painted in oils on marine grade plywood over the top of a painting from 2007 of a factory building in Marrickville, with the title ‘Ming On Trading’ (the name of the building). The first painting was scraped flat with a razor blade and the painting of Organs Road was done over the top. 

Landscape and still-life artist John Bokor grew up in Sydney, living and painting in Marrickville from 2002 until 2007. He now lives in Bulli, New South Wales. Bokor has won several art prizes including the NSW Parliament Plein Air Painting Prize and Eutick Memorial Still Life Award.

Hand-coloured woodcut showing various sea monsters, 1550
View collection item detail

Hand-coloured woodcut showing various sea monsters, 1550
by Sebastian Münster

This hand-coloured woodcut shows various sea monsters, taken from the 1550 German edition of Sebastian Münster’s Cosmographia. A gathering of hypothetical sea creatures are depicted in the woodcut. A giant lobster is drawn entrapping a doomed sailor in its claws. Another shows a massive serpent entwined around a galleon. A galleon is drawn attempting to outrun a tusked, twin-spouted serpent, by throwing their cargo overboard, while one sailor aims a musket. 

Tales of sea monsters terrified early sailors and explorers. Accounts of these creatures also inspired cartographers and mapmakers, who used images of these fabled monsters to decorate their maps, indicating unexplored areas or dangerous oceans.

Judging criteria

The short films that best capture the chosen collection item(s), and are considered the most engaging, imaginative and innovative in content and delivery, will be deemed the winners. In selecting the winner, the judges will consider:

  • relevance to collection item(s)/theme
  • creative innovation
  • audience engagement
  • narration/plot
  • application of technology including audio, cinematography, editing and composition
  • budgetary constraints are not part of Shortstacks judging criteria.

In submitting an entry all entrants expressly waive any alleged right or remedy, whether with respect to any intellectual property right, moral right or grievance as to the application of the judging criteria, and undertake to accept the decision of the Shortstacks Committee as final.

Entry fee

An entry fee of AU$40 (incl. GST) is payable for the $15,000 General Prize.

There is no entry fee for the $5000 Youth Prize.

Eligibility criteria

All Entrants must be living Australian citizens or persons holding permanent resident status in Australia. Entrants can be from anywhere in Australia, not just NSW.

Entrants to the Youth Prize category must include a signed parental consent form as part of their online nomination.

Youth Prize Entrants must also include a form of identification with their entry and can select from:

  • a copy of their birth certificate;
  • passport;
  • driver’s license; or
  • proof of age card.

All non-English content is required to have English subtitles. Films may have no dialogue at all.

If Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditional knowledge, customs or languages are used in the film, the creator of the film must publish and reproduce the piece with the participation and permission of the traditional owners of the stories depicted. The traditional owners should also be acknowledged in the artistic work and in any subsequent promotional material and/or media engagement.

Any works including voices and/or images of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are deceased should include a sensitivity notice at the beginning of the film. However, every community is different and it is your responsibility to understand grieving practices and preferences of the community you are working with. The standard approach we suggest is to include the following statement at the start of your film:

SENSITIVITY NOTICE: This film contains images and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are deceased.

If an Entrant dies or ceases to hold permanent resident status after his or her work has been submitted, the judges will not consider his or her work for a prize. If, however, the judges recommend an award to an eligible Entrant and that Entrant dies before the prize is presented the State Library may, at its discretion, pay the prize money to the Entrant’s estate.

All entries must consist of original work by the Entrant(s).

All films must have been made specifically for Shortstacks 2020.

Films submitted can be made by more than one person.

The film must reference, either visually or verbally, one (or more) of the State Library of NSW collection items outlined above.

Any interpretation of the collection item(s) will be accepted, provided it is referenced in any manner visually or verbally.

The film’s first public screening must be at Shortstacks 2020. That is, the film cannot have previously been seen by any member of the public, whether in a screening open to the public for a fee or otherwise, or any other person other than those involved in the production and post production of the film prior to it being submitted as an entry to Shortstacks 2020.

The film should be no longer than six minutes, including titles and credits.

Credits must list the collection item(s) and reference the State Library of NSW.

Works may be entered by the creator or an agent.

Where an agent enters work on behalf of the creator, the agent must have obtained permission from the creator and must provide their contact details on the entry form. By submitting the work, the agent acknowledges that they have obtained permission from the creator, and written evidence of such permission can be provided upon request by the Committee or State Library.

Entries into the Youth Prize may be submitted on behalf of an educational institution or youth organisation or independently by the entrant(s).

Only one entry per person or per institution can be submitted.

Films produced by TV stations or professional film production companies are ineligible. Professional filmmakers are, however, eligible to submit their own work. A professional film production company means an organisation or partnership, or other entity whose work primarily focuses on the production of audiovisual documents (not limited to film, television and videos) for the purposes of creating revenue.

State Library of NSW staff members, Members of the Library Council of NSW and Foundation Board are not eligible to enter Shortstacks.

The Shortstacks Committee reserves the right to alter the regulations and/or terms and conditions in extenuating circumstances.

Shortstacks aspires to provide the best quality projection possible but will not be held liable for any failure in the technical quality of the projection, nor will fees be refunded in any such case.

Films entered into the Youth Prize should have a maximum classification of PG. Refer to Entries may not depict violence, smoking, alcohol or drug abuse. The film must not be offensive or have objectionable content. The use of coarse language, adult themes and sexual references is not allowed.

The decision as to what content is deemed appropriate or meets any of the Eligibility Criteria rests with the Shortstacks Committee and their decision is final. Any entry deemed inappropriate or to not meet any of the Eligibility Criteria by the Committee will be withdrawn from the competition and neither the entrant nor any other person connected with the entry, including an agent, shall be entitled to a refund of any fee paid for the entry, or cost, expense, royalty or any other amount involved in the creation and submission of the film.

The Entrant is responsible for all fees and other charges related to creation of the film and its entry into Shortstacks. The Library accepts no liability for costs or as a result of any decision of an entry made by an entrant into Shortstacks.

The Shortstacks Committee will evaluate in its sole discretion whether the film submitted meets all Eligibility Criteria as outlined above.

How to enter

Read the Shortstacks Guidelines, including the Privacy Notice, and ensure compliance with all eligibility criteria.

Submit your film via FilmFreeway by 5 pm, Thursday, 2 April 2020. You can find more information on how to submit your entry in our Entry Guide.

As part of your submission you will need to:

  • pay the entry fee by credit card (if entering the General Prize)
  • upload your film (refer below for technical specifications)
  • upload three still images of the film
  • provide a one paragraph synopsis of the film
  • upload a photograph and short biography for each Entrant
  • upload a signed parental consent form and proof of age identification for entries to the Youth Prize.

For any questions regarding eligibility, contact:

Senior Project Officer, Awards, State Library of NSW
(02) 9273 1582 or
(02) 9273 1605 or
[email protected] 

Uploading the film

Entrants to Shortstacks are required to submit their film via FilmFreeway. You will be required to set up an account.

Ensure the film is private when it is uploaded — password protected. Retain the password for your online submission form.

The film must be submitted according to the following specifications:

  • To enable conversion to YouTube for judging, the entry can be provided in the following formats: MOV, MPEG4, AVI
  • Video files must be a maximum of 10GB in size, or be linked from YouTube or Vimeo.
  • Standard resolution: 1920 wide x 1080 high pixels.
  • Aspect ratio: 16:9.
  • Audio: Stereo, sample rate 48khz (128 kbps).
  • Codec: Most file formats are accepted for submission, but H264-MPEG-4 or Apple Pro Res 422 files are very common.
  • File size: Initial upload size is limited to 10GB. Full broadcast quality must be available upon request.

If your film is selected as a finalist and to be preserved in the State Library collection, you will be required to provide an uncompressed version of your film at the highest resolution available on a portable hard drive.

Your personal information

The Entrant means a person, persons or organisation and any person connected or involved in the preparation of an entry into the prize, including any agent who submits an entry to Shortstacks 2020 by complying the entry instructions set out herein and paying the entry fee (if applicable).

The Entrant agrees to the following:

  • The State Library has the right to use the Entrant’s name and photo for publicity purposes in relation to Shortstacks 2020.
  • All personal information collected, such as the Entrant’s name, address, telephone number, email address and age, is solely for the purpose of administering the Shortstacks competition and will not be used for any other purpose without your consent. By providing this information, all Entrants consent to it being used by the State Library for the stated purposes.

The Entrant agrees that:

  • upon submission, the Entrant and all persons associated with the making, production and submission of the film grant Shortstacks an exclusive, royalty-free licence to use any of the content from the Entrant’s submission for promotional purposes, including but not limited to the State Library website, via media outlets, newsletters, advertising and social media (Exclusive Licence);

    • the Exclusive Licence will terminate upon the cessation of the Shortstacks festival in June 2020.

  • their name, biography and photograph may be used for promotional purposes;

  • the Entrant is not permitted to screen their film in a public setting or make their film available to be viewed by the public by any means, including on the internet, television and any other medium that may allow viewing of their submission, until after the Exclusive Licence granted by the filmmaker to Shortstacks terminates;  

    • Public, for the purposes of this clause, means any individuals or members of community as a whole. 

    • Public Setting means any public space or open area or private property where members of the Public are invited to attend.

  • a selection of shortlisted films will be considered for acquisition by the Library. The Library is committed to making our collection as accessible, open, connected and usable as possible. The Shortstacks films acquired will be preserved and made available to the public for research and reference;

    • Any creator of the shortlisted films agrees to provide to the State Library non-exclusive, royalty-free world-wide rights in perpetuity to the shortlisted films after the screening date and upon termination of Shortstacks 2020. Any requests for copies of any entry for any reason from persons other than the Entrant will not be provided without the express written consent of the Entrant.

  • they provide permission for the State Library to tour their works in perpetuity on a royalty-free basis if the State Library chooses to tour shortlisted films through the Public Library Network, NSW;  

  • the State Library grants to each Entrant a non-exclusive licence for use of the nominated items from the State Library collection listed above for the purposes of producing a film for Shortstacks 2020 only and for no other purpose; 

  • permission has been granted to use material from the State Library collection in the production of the short film (other than the items listed above), in accordance with the associated permissions for each item. Further information on Copyright and the State Library collection is available at;  

  • the permission and consent has been obtained from all persons featuring or appearing in or connected with the making of the film and/or from any person who has or claims to have intellectual property rights in the short film for the submission of the entry and its use in accordance with these terms;  

  • all copyright, moral rights and rights of personality for all content used in the submitted film, including audio, visuals and actors, have been coordinated and written evidence of such permissions can be provided upon request by the Committee or the State Library;

    • to provide written evidence of such permissions on request;

    • failure to obtain the relevant permissions will result in the removal of the Entrant and its submission from consideration in the competition;

    • the State Library takes no responsibility for any failure by the Entrant or any person connected with the entry to obtain the necessary permissions.  

  • Entrants warrant that their films, and any content contained in their films, do not infringe the intellectual property rights or rights of any other person or third party;

  • the Entrant indemnifies the State Library and the Committee and its members for any claim for any loss, expenses or damage, cost (including legal costs) arising out of or in relation to the use of or access to the entry or submissions in Shortstacks 2020 or the breach of any of the conditions of entry included herein;  

  • the film and its copyright will remain the property of the filmmaker and they provide to the State Library, a royalty-free licence to screen their entry on an uncapped basis and to make copies, either in part or full, for marketing purposes; and  

  • if a film is selected for acquisition into the Library collection, the Entrant grants for viewing by the general public.

The judging process

The finalists will be selected by the Shortstacks Committee made up of staff from the State Library of NSW.  

Winners of the Shortstacks General and Youth Prizes will be selected by a Judging Panel of industry professionals such as actors, directors, writers, producers and others. Members of the Judging Panel are published on the State Library of NSW website.

The Shortstacks Committee and Judging Panel may disqualify a film if they have reason to believe it does not comply with the Eligibility Criteria.

The decision of the Shortstacks Committee and Judging Panel is final and not subject to any appeal for reconsideration.

The Judging Panel will determine a shortlist of five films in each category. These will be screened at an event at the State Library of NSW in June 2020. The winner in each category will be announced at this event.

Each shortlisted film will receive three complimentary tickets to the awards presentation (including schools and organisations).

Privacy notice

Personal information collected by the State Library of NSW is treated in accordance with the State Library of NSW Privacy Management Plan and is governed by the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 and related regulations. Information provided on the application form will only be used for purposes related to the award, which may include advertising or promoting Shortstacks and award presentation events. Unless expressly requested, images of individuals present at award presentation events may be used for promotional purposes. Nominations for an award must only be submitted with the creator’s consent and knowledge of the Privacy Notice. Please visit or email [email protected] for further information.


The Entrant acknowledges and warrants that all details in the Entry Form submitted by the Entrant are true and correct and the Filmmaker indemnifies the State Library and the Committee and all its members from and against any and all claims and demands made against the State Library, its assignees or licensees and any other third party arising out of the warranties made above in relation to its submission to Shortstacks 2020. Any submission to Shortstacks 2020 for consideration illustrates to the State Library that the Entrant possesses the right and authority to accept the Terms and Conditions above and to grant the indemnities, rights and permissions contained therein.

Contact details

Senior Project Officer, Awards
[email protected]
(02) 9273 1582 or (02) 9273 1605