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Here’s the Oscar-Qualifying Palm Springs International ShortFest 2017 Award Winners

For short filmmakers, winning festival prizes is the holy grail on the road to Oscar recognition.

This year, some 500 filmmakers from 60 countries braved record temperatures to attend the 23rd annual Palm Springs International ShortFest (June 20-26), the largest short film festival and only short film market in North America. PSISF hosted 338 fiction and documentary shorts, 46 World Premieres, 12 International Premieres, 42 North American Premieres and 16 U.S. Premieres.

And more than 4,200 of the festival submissions were available in the Film Market for industry attendees to view online. Check out the complete lineup here.

Designated by AMPAS, BAFTA, and BIFA as an award-qualifying festival, and accredited by the International Short Film Conference, the festival gives its competition filmmakers a chance to secure $20,000 in cash prizes in 21 categories. The Panavision Best North American Short Award winner gets the use of a camera package valued at $60,000. Only the first-place winners in five categories are eligible to vie for an Academy Award nomination. Over 22 years, the Festival has presented 101 films that have gone on to earn Oscar nods.

This year’s ShortFest jurors were David Ansen (Palm Springs International Film Festival Lead Programmer), Lindsey Bahr (Associated Press), Kate Bosworth (actress/producer), Ian Durkin (Vimeo), Sam Lansky (culture editor at Time Magazine), and Heidi Zwicker (Sundance programmer).

Among the jury awards, Swiss refugee story “Facing Mecca” won two awards including Best of the Festival (which makes it eligible for Oscar submission); “The Head Vanishes” and “Dekalb Elementary” also won top jury awards. American Laura Checkoway’s heart-tugger “Edith + Eddie,” about ninety-something interracial newlyweds who are caught in the middle of a family feud, won Best Documentary short.

Among the many weekend panels, I participated in a depressing discussion moderated by Festival Director Lili Rodriguez about film journalism, where it was clear that reaching as wide an audience as possible by covering mainstream populist movies was the order of the day for such outlets as Time and A.P., while much of the editorial content in trade publications such as Variety and Screen International is influenced by industry advertising. Meanwhile, local film curation by knowledgeable film experts is going the way of the dinosaur. What will step in to replace them? Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes is not the answer.

On the business side, there is far more opportunity for financing and finding an audience via television and emerging digital platforms than the ever-narrower indie film market, which is flooded with aspiring short and feature filmmakers from all over the world hoping to get a foothold in the relatively large and seemingly robust American entertainment industry. But as the Hollywood studios are more focused on big-budget action tentpoles, they are more out of reach for most aspirants than ever.

It’s still possible to raise production funds via foreign financing, equity investors, and crowd sourcing. But getting your work seen and appraised is a tall order. Self-releasing is one option. And festival shorts are one way to get attention with a popular hit. Breakout filmmakers Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”) and Gillian Robespierre (“Obvious Child”) grew their features from shorts. While the agencies use festivals like Palm Springs to cull talent — mostly the ones who win awards and go on to Oscar nominations — the gulf between emerging indies and sustained careers in film has never been greater.

"The Nation Holds Its Breath"

“The Nation Holds Its Breath”

Among the shorts shown this year were the four winners out of 5,000 submissions of the third season of The Weinstein Co.’s Lexus Short Films contest, which are also available online and at Amazon Prime (I recommend Kev Cahill’s skilled dramedy “The Nation Holds Its Breath”). Season 4 submissions are under way via Withoutabox.com.

Robin Wright’s short “Dark of Night”

Other standouts at the festival include Robin Wright’s expertly mordant black-and-white first short “The Dark of Night,” which debuted at Cannes and stars Leslie Bibb and Sam Rockwell; the BBC 3 series “Five by Five,” starring Idris Elba; British writer-director Nick Frew’s hilarious 1999 Christmas-in-L.A. movie, “Perfect Roast Potatoes,” starring Catherine Tate; and widescreen comedy “Super Sex,” from writer-director Matthew Modine, starring Kevin Nealon, Edward Asner, Elizabeth Perkins, and Efren Ramirez. Modine told a packed house at Palm Springs’ Camelot Theatre that it was inspired by a joke by Eli Wallach.

See the full list of the 2017 Palm Springs International ShortFest award winners below:

JURY AWARDS

BEST OF FESTIVAL AWARD – Winner received $5,000 cash prize courtesy of the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau. The winner of this award may be eligible to submit their film to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Oscar® consideration.

Facing Mecca (Switzerland), Jan-Eric Mack

Pensioner Roli comes to Fareed’s assistance when the Syrian refugee is faced with a bewildering forest of Swiss bureaucracy before he can bury his Muslim wife.

GRAND JURY AWARD – Winner received a $2,000 cash prize.

The Head Vanishes (France/Canada), Franck Dion

Jacqueline, no longer quite in her right mind, still goes on her annual summer trip. This year, she’s followed by some woman who claims to be her daughter.

“The Head Vanishes”

PANAVISION BEST NORTH AMERICAN SHORT – The use of a camera package valued at $60,000 courtesy of Panavision.

“DeKalb Elementary”

Dekalb Elementary (USA), Reed Van Dyk

Inspired by an actual 911 call placed during a school shooting incident in Atlanta, Georgia.

Next page: Best Non-Student Competition and Documentary Short awards

NON-STUDENT COMPETITION AWARDS

All first place winners in the non-student categories received a cash award of $2,000 and may be eligible to submit their film to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Oscar® consideration.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT

The Head Vanishes (France/Canada), Franck Dion

Jacqueline, no longer quite in her right mind, still goes on her annual summer trip. This year, she’s followed by some woman who claims to be her daughter.

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT OVER 15 MINUTES
Retouch (Iran), Kaveh Mazaheri

Maryam’s husband does weightlifting at home. When a weight falls on his throat and puts him near death, Maryam makes a decision.

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT 15 MINUTES AND UNDER

Great Choice (USA), Robin Comisar

A woman gets stuck in a Red Lobster commercial.

“Edith + Eddie”

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT

Edith + Eddie (USA), Laura Checkoway

Ninety-something Edith and Eddie are America’s oldest interracial newlyweds, whose unusual and idyllic love story is disrupted by a family feud that threatens to tear them apart.

AUDIENCE AWARDS

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT

Red Light (Bulgaria/Croatia), Toma Waszarow

A bus stops at a village’s only intersection, where the traffic light is stuck on red. The driver refuses to move forward

BEST ANIMATION SHORT

Coin Operated (USA), Nicholas Arioli

Seventy years pass in the life of one naïve explorer.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT

Kayayo (Norway), Mari Bakke Riise

Elementary-school-age Bamunu works as a kayayo (a living shopping cart) at the markets in Accra thousands of miles from her village.

SHORTFEST ONLINE AUDIENCE AWARD

Lost Face (Australia/Canada), Sean Meehan

Based on a classic story by Jack London set in mid-1800s Alaska, a man makes a deal with a native chief in hopes to save his life.

STUDENT COMPETITION AWARDS

FUTURE FILMMAKER AWARD – Winner received a $2,000 cash prize.

Where You Found Refuge (France), Guillaume Legrand

After Didier finds his daughter living in a cult, he decides to bring her home by force.

Special Mention: Fry Day (USA), Laura Moss

An adolescent girl comes of age against the backdrop of serial killer Ted Bundy’s execution in 1989.

All first place winners in these categories received a $500 cash prize.

BEST STUDENT ANIMATION

Sog (Germany), Jonatan Schwenk

After a flood, the fish are stuck in trees, in danger of drying out. They scream sharply, disturbing the inhabitants of a nearby cave.

BEST STUDENT LIVE ACTION SHORT OVER 15 MINUTES

Facing Mecca (Switzerland), Jan-Eric Mack

Pensioner Roli comes to Fareed’s assistance when the Syrian refugee is faced with a bewildering forest of Swiss bureaucracy before he can bury his Muslim wife.

BEST STUDENT LIVE ACTION SHORT 15 MINUTES AND UNDER

Iron Hands (USA/China), Johnson Cheng

A 12-year old girl tries out for the traditionally all-boys’ Chinese youth Olympic weightlifting team. And makes an unlikely connection with the weightlifting gym’s reclusive groundskeeper.

BEST STUDENT DOCUMENTARY SHORT

Searching for Wives (Singapore), Zuki Juno Tobgye

Male migrant workers from South India living in Singapore send photos back home in the hope of finding suitable and willing marriage partners.

Special Jury Mention: I Made You, I Kill You (Romania/France), Alexandru Petru Badelita
In a remarkable cinematic diary, by turns touching and disturbing, Badelita looks back at his traumatic childhood growing up in rural Romania.

SHORTFEST ONLINE AUDIENCE AWARD

Lost Face (Australia/Canada), Sean Meehan
Based on a classic story by Jack London set in mid-1800s Alaska, a man makes a deal with a native chief in hopes to save his life.

ALEXIS AWARD FOR BEST EMERGING STUDENT FILMMAKER – The Alexis Award is selected by the Festival’s programming team and was created in honor of Alexis Echavarria, whose talent as a budding filmmaker and gift for inspiring excellence among his fellow students were cut short suddenly in 2005 at age 16. The recipient received Final Cut Pro X courtesy of Apple.

Chebet (Kenya/USA), Tony Koros

A pregnant woman in the Kenyan highlands decides to take drastic action when she finds her husband passed out in front of their house yet again.

HP BRIDGING THE BORDERS AWARD PRESENTED BY CINEMA WITHOUT BORDERS – The award goes to a film that is most successful in bringing and connecting the people of our world closer together. The winner received an HP ZBook 17 Mobile Workstation valued at $3,000.

Pantheon (France), Ange-Régis Hounkpatin

Son of a Beninese immigrant, cut off from his roots, Solomon is about to donate his deceased father’s Voodoo costume to a museum when a young street-dancer reminds him of the ancestral soul.

YOUTH JURY AWARD – The winner received a $500 cash prize.

Everybody Else is Taken (New Zealand), Jessica Grace Smith

Meet Mika, a girl who refuses to let her gender define her place in one of the harshest environments on Earth–the play-ground.

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