FILMFEST DRESDEN was founded in 1989 before the imminent collapse of the GDR and reunification of Germany. The short film festival focuses on short film in all its facets, and has become one of the most important festivals of its kind throughout Germany. FILMFEST DRESDEN is also one of the best endowed short film festivals in Europe with prizes and awards worth more than €60,000.

The FILMFEST DRESDEN short film festival was first held under the title of FILMFEST SÜD in the spring of 1989. The Filmtheater Olympia cinema, the Kino Reick cinema and the lecture hall at the TU Dresden university provided the venues for the event. With no official permission whatsoever from state bodies, at that time the festival organisers compiled an international programme with more than 30 films. But just before the festival was about to start, a major political dispute occurred and more than half of the films in the programme were censored. By the time the second FILMFEST DRESDEN was held, the historic events that had occurred just a few months later in the autumn of 1989 paved the way for it. At that time in early 1990, the Filminitiative Dresden e.V. association was formed, one of the first ever such associations of its kind in Dresden after the collapse of East Germany, and it has been the organiser of FILMFEST DRESDEN up to the present day.

Since its inception as a forum for banned or rarely screened feature films, FILMFEST DRESDEN has developed into a short film festival with a permanent position on the international circuit. Dresden's long animated film tradition, such as being the location of the former East German DEFA Animation Film Studios, proved to be a key factor in the decision to introduce competition sections for fictional and animated films especially. The festival's International Competition has been held since 1992, and this was followed in 1998 by the establishment of a National Competition for German productions. Since 2004, the Saxon State Ministry for Science and the Fine Arts Promotion Prize worth €20,000 has been awarded in this section. The festival celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2013, with the Minister of State to the Federal Chancellor, Bernd Neumann, acting as the patron of the event.

By now FILMFEST DRESDEN attracts more than 20,000 visitors, including around 500 accredited international guests.

FILMFEST DRESDEN is now listed as an official reference festival by Germany’s main film funding body, the FFA. It is a member of AG Kurzfilm, the federal German short film association, the European Film Academy and the Filmverband Sachsen e.V., the film association in Saxony, as well as being involved in the Netzwerk Kultur Dresden local culture network, the WOD initiative for a cosmopolitan Dresden and the Kulturloge Dresden, which brings culture to low income individuals.

FILMFEST DRESDEN supports having responsible, fair and respectful relations between film festivals and the owners of film rights and has committed itself to complying with the voluntary code of ethics for German festivals.