In 2006, Project Twenty1 was founded by current Executive Director, Stephanie Yuhas, an animator, and Matt Conant, a live-action filmmaker. The pair realized that all their friends had stopped being creative, because school had not prepared them for the realities of the industry, and they now had “real jobs” to pay the bills. They decided to cover the main impediments to creativity, which seemed to be 1) inspiration, 2) a deadline, and 3) a forum to get the finished product seen.

To solve these problems, Project Twenty1 launched with our flagship program, the 21-Day Filmmaking Competition, which asked filmmakers to create a film of 10-minutes or less in 3 weeks. Teams would be provided with a Secret Element to be included in all films, and a theatrical exhibition at the close of the 3 weeks. There would also be a Launch Event, in which they could meet team members to work with. Expecting to attract only a few local teams, the staff was shocked when filmmakers signed up in Michigan, Florida, Hawaii, and Japan as well.

At the Launch Event, the community was swarmed with actors, writers, and others who were not yet attached to a team but wanted desperately to be involved. At the screenings, others asked how they could participate next time if they already had a completed film? Out of these requests grew the Philadelphia Film & Animation Festival, through which filmmakers could submit completed projects, to be ranked by community screeners. The top films from this process would be submitted to judges and screen as a part of the festival. All 21-Day Competition films would also screen in this festival, and these two programs have run in tandem since 2008.

In 2009, we ran screenings and networking events throughout Philadelphia under programs Show Us Your Shorts, Shorts & Shots and Cinema Undercover, all accompanied by networking events. The community swelled to several thousand online, and events began regularly packing 300-person-venues on what the venues considered “off-nights.”

In 2010, Project Twenty1 became a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit entity and began building its board of directors. The same year, we added educational workshops to our Festival, and started an internship program, in order to teach filmmakers the behind-the-scenes of the film industry, as well as to aid staff with the day-to-day administration of our year-round programs.

As of 2016, Project Twenty1 now runs the largest filmmaking competition in Philadelphia, and one of the largest animation festivals on the East Coast. Project Twenty1 programs have resulted in the creation of over 300 original short films, and the exhibition of over 1,000 films and animations to over 15,000 attendees. Films screened at PFAF have sold to by Netflix and have received Academy Awards, and 21-Day films have received screenings in 23 states and 11 countries. We have connected over 24,000 emerging media artists to paid opportunities.

Post-festival surveys show that 52% of our community reports receiving paid work in their field for the first time as a result of our programs.