The fourth annual Open Mind Film Festival for high school students is accepting submissions of short films (5 minutes or less) on the topic of mental health. Previous films have addressed bullying, isolation, anxiety, social media, eating disorders, gender identity and more.

The Open Mind Film Festival is presented by The Friends of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. The Friends is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of people living with mental health issues.

James Lafferty will be the host this year. James is an actor, director and producer best known for his role on the popular television series One Tree Hill. Lafferty has also directed episodes of One Tree Hill, The Royals, and All American. Most recently, he reunited with One Tree Hill co-star, Stephen Colletti, to create Everyone is Doing Great, an independent comedy series, with season 2 to be released in late 2023 or early 2024.

The Open Mind Film Festival is open to high school students throughout the United States. We invite students to join the important conversation on mental health by submitting short films that highlight your experiences and tell us your unique story.

Please email us at to ask any questions.

The Film Festival is scheduled for Sunday, April 21, 2024. Selected films will be screened at The James Bridges Theatre on the UCLA campus.

First Prize: $1,000
Second Prize: $600
Friends Choice Award: $400

Winners will be selected by a panel of judges which will include:

Zach Gottlieb, a wellness activist, speaker, and the creator of Talk With Zach, a Gen Z movement and community that aims to change the culture around emotional health. He is a high school senior in Los Angeles, has spoken in many media forums, and has been published in the LA Times, New York Times and more. Learn more at

Peter Roth, a television producer, who served as chairman and chief executive officer of Warner Brothers Television Studios from 1999 to 2021. Peter is the force behind iconic television shows including The West Wing, The Big Bang Theory, Gilmore Girls, Two And A Half Men, Gossip Girl, Supernatural, The Flash and many more. Roth currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Peabody Awards, the Los Angeles Board of Governors of The Paley Center for Media, and the Hall of Fame Selection Committee for the Television Academy.

Susan Ruskin is an accomplished film producer and has served as the Dean and Executive Vice President of the American Film Institute since 2019. Previously, she served as Dean of the School of Filmmaking at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

Meera Varma, a mental health activist, writer, and TEDx speaker. She is currently a dual-degree graduate student at UCLA, studying Public Health and Social Welfare. Post graduation, Meera intends to enter the field of mental health policy. Her activism has been recognized by Oprah, President Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, among other notable figures in the field of mental health.

Winston Verdult, an award winning filmmaker and a previous winner of The Open Mind Film Festival. In the fall of 2023, he will attend the Kanbar Institute of Film & Television at NYU Tisch. In February of 2023 Verdult attended National YoungArts week as a film finalist and in May he was named a semifinalist in the US Presidential Art Scholars program.

-Eligibility: Open to all students (grades 9-12) currently enrolled in high school in the United States. There is no fee for submitting a film.

-Length of Film: 5 minutes or less.

-We accept all forms of film including narratives, documentaries, animations, music videos, and public service announcements.

-Each film must be submitted with a FilmFreeway submission information form.

-We will be accepting films until March 22, 2023. All qualified films will be viewed by a panel of judges.

-Please feel free to include a film poster using the tools available on FilmFreeway. This is not a required part of your submission.

-Finalists agree to have their films shown at the Open Mind Film Festival and to have their content used in promotional materials for the festival.

-Finalist filmmakers will be asked to submit a Vimeo version of their film and to submit a very brief recorded video introduction to their film.

-We are interested in the ideas and concerns of young filmmakers and are open to all content, however films which are excessively violent or sexually exploitive will likely not be selected.

-By submitting a film to the Open Mind Film Festival, the filmmaker(s) acknowledges, represents and affirms that he/she has:

*obtained consent from any and all other persons or entities who have ownership rights, licenses or interests (including without limitation, intellectual property rights, rights of publicity, distribution licenses, etc.) in the film, and

* obtained and otherwise cleared any and all rights to all materials included in such film (including, without limitation, with respect to all music included in the film, all copyrighted works and trademarked content used in the film, all participants featured in the film, etc).

-By participating in this festival you agree to follow the CDC Covid-19 safety guidelines and precautions.

Overall Rating
  • Benjamin Hays

    It was a great experience and was a fun way to express our messages to the world about mental health. The hosts were friendly and enthusiastic as well.

    May 2023
    Response from festival:

    Thank you! We loved having your film included in the festival!!

  • Winston Verdult

    Amazing festival that promotes a space for high schoolers to share their experiences with mental health. I am so grateful to have been selected for Open Mind’s Festival!

    May 2022
    Response from festival:

    Thank you Winston. We were very happy to include Desired Reality!

  • Danielle Mannion

    This festival was extremely professional and powerful! This organization cares about students and that came accross in every communication from the staff. We are so grateful to have this real world application for our student's film.

    May 2022
    Response from festival:

    Thank you Danielle, We were so pleased to include Life Support! We hope to see more films from your students for our Open Mind 2023.

  • Erin Kokdil

    This film festival was incredibly well run. The communication was consistent and clear. We appreciate the fact that a participant from our Youth Media Academy was able to share her film and that conversations surrounding mental health are being destigmatized.

    May 2021
    Response from festival:

    Thank you Erin..We hope the Youth Media Academy will submit films for the 2022 Festival as well.