Back to IndieWire

Palm Springs International ShortFest: The Road to Hollywood, Oscar

Palm Springs International ShortFest: The Road to Hollywood, Oscar

After taking part in an engaging trade media panel for some of the 400 or so shorts filmmakers who flocked to the 2011 Palm Springs International ShortFest, I not only walked away with a stack of screeners, but when I returned to the Ace Hotel in the baking heat for a cool dip, realized with horror that many of the same filmmakers were lounging in the pool.

Palm Springs ShortFest is not only North America’s biggest shorts fest and market, but qualifies shorts for consideration for the Oscars each year (80 have been nominated over 16 years). Attendance and submissions were up for the Fest this year, reports fest director Darryl Macdonald. That’s because the market for shorts is improving and may prove to be more than just a stepping stone to a Hollywood career.

At the panel, the short filmmakers were anxious to learn how to get attention from the trades. We told them to put up good websites and Facebook pages, crammed with strong visuals and trailers, offer us good art and embeddable clips, and tell a good story on Twitter and elsewhere. Controversy, a dramatic narrative and a hook for local media is a good start. Pitch your most obvious audience. Editors and writers are overloaded with a barrage of email and pitches. How to cut through the clutter? The same way journalists do–with a strong catchy headline and a compelling narrative. Filmmakers have to be resourceful marketers and social networkers now.

The Hollywood Reporter’s Gregg Kilday covered Jay Kamen’s musical, Not Your Time, because Amy Pascal and other Hollywood insiders play themselves in it (she steals the film from Jason Alexander). Variety’s Pat Saperstein admitted that she’s more likely to cover shorts starring celebrities. (This year’s selection features Melissa Leo, Jessica Chastain, Colin Firth, Keira Knightley, Hailee Steinfeld, Julia Stiles, Selma Blair, Jess Weixler, and Kirsten Dunst, as well as feature directors from Ireland’s Terry George to Neil Labute). Australia threw a party to celebrate their record 32 shorts in the fest. The Wrap’s Steve Pond looks at shorts because he’s trying to stay ahead of who will wind up on the short lists at Oscar time.

Filmmakers are seeking to build exposure via sites such as Shortsshowcase and legal BitTorrent site vodo. You can check out and vote your fave of ten shorts playing at this year’s first-ever online film fest.

At one of moderator John Anderson’s other panels, several agents aroused some hostility in the room when they admitted that they don’t usually come to these festivals to see emerging filmmakers before they get discovered. They wait for the buzz to come back to LA or NY, for winners to be announced. Then they check out the strongest contenders. This year’s Palm Springs winners include Bahiya & Mahmoud, Best of Festival Award; UMOJA: No Men Allowed, Panavision Grand Jury Award; and Cannes entry Tsuyako‘s Mitsuyo Miyazaki, Future Filmmaker Award.

One of four first recipients of NYU’s new MBA/MFA degree, Jacob Robinson, produced twelve shorts in the last year and a half; Now Here showed at PSISF. “Curation and marketing are the biggest issues,” Robinson says. How will shorts filmmakers cater to different platforms like the iPad, with ideal lengths for different formats? “People enjoy watching, but they don’t know how to do it, or where,” he says. “Ted Hope has a brand: Ted Hope Selects, or Steven Spielberg could do it.”

The trick with shorts going forward is how to monetize them, says Robinson. Places like Cinetic and IndieFlix aggregate shorts but take so many that while they are building a library, how does anyone know what to watch? (IndieFlix’s Scilla Andreen, for one, is promoting interactive games such as “Film Festival in a Box,” which asks viewers to vote their favorite shorts.) Clearly, things are looking up on the shorts front as mobile apps are on the move, hungry for content.

The 2011 Palm Springs International ShortFest award winners are:


BEST OF FESTIVAL AWARD – $2,000 cash and Software Package courtesy of The Showbiz Café & Store; Ultimate Stock Footage Collection courtesy of FootageFilm; Post Production award courtesy of Greenhouse Studios; and Final Cut Pro courtesy of Apple. The winner of this award is eligible to submit their film to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Oscar consideration.
Bahiya & Mahmoud (Jordan/USA), Zaid Abu Hamdan
Aging couple Bahiya and Mahmoud have fallen into a reliable routine of bickering and making one another miserable until the morning that Mahmoud wakes and finds Bahiya gone.

PANAVISION GRAND JURY AWARD – Panavision Camera Package valued at $60,000.
UMOJA: No Men Allowed (Australia), Elizabeth Tadic
Fed up with being abused by the men in their village, a group of tribal Samburu women in Northern Kenya create their own successful community where no men are allowed. But will the jealous men they left behind leave them in peace?

FUTURE FILMMAKER AWARD – $2,000 cash and Pipeline Filmmaker prize courtesy of Film Source LA, Smart Post Sound, Rushes and The Pipeline. Mitsuyo Miyazaki, Tsuyako (Japan/USA)
In Japan, 1952, Tsuyako tries to live the life that has been set out for her—husband, children, work at the factory and care for her family. Yet when her friend arrives from Tokyo, Tsuyako finds herself entranced by the dream of a different life.

JURY SPECIAL CITATION – The jury presented a special citation for Excellence in Filmic Storytelling to Nullarbor (Australia), co-director and writer Patrick Sarell and co-director Alistair Lockhart.
The Eyre Highway through Australia’s Nullarbor Plain has the longest stretch of straight road in the world—perfect for passing that slow motorist alongside you. When two cars meet in this desolate landscape, will it be the tortoise or the hare who wins the day?

dik (Australia), Christopher Stollery
When a young boy draws a picture of what appears to be him rubbing his best friend’s ‘dik’, his parents are thrown into paroxysms of guilt and self doubt, accusing each other of all manner of sexual peccadilloes.

Runner-up – Tsuyako (Japan/USA), Mitsuyo Miyazaki


Johnny & Lyman: A Life Together (USA), Paul Detwiler, Michael Chen
Having met on the beach in Santa Monica in 1945, Johnny and Lyman have been partners for more than 60 years. In 2008, they joined 18,000 other gay and lesbian couples in America in applying for a marriage license. This is their story.

Runner-up – The Unforgettable Hampton Family (USA), Julie Cohen

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (USA), William Joyce, Brandon Oldenburg
A gorgeously rendered allegory about the curative effects of story, this animated tale concerns a man who has built his whole life around his love of books.

Runner-up – Danny & Annie (USA), Dave Isay, Tim Rauch

New this year, the Palm Springs International ShortFest debuted the ShortFest Online Film Festival. Ten films were chosen to represent the festival online to receive the ShortFest Online Audience Award. The film will be available to screen online for the next three months.
Stephany + Me (USA), Peter Shanel
Ben has no luck at love until he meets a woman in the most unexpected place – a massage parlor!


All first place winners in these categories received a cash award of $2,000. First place winners in the Animation and Live Action categories become eligible for Academy Awards consideration. Second Place recipients received a $500 cash prize.

First Place ($2,000) – Cat and Mice (Kattenkwaad) (Netherlands), Nova Van Dijk
A young thief, who steals local cats then returns them for reward money, suspects his brutish neighbor of kidnapping a local girl, but finds that appearances can be dangerously deceptive.

Second Place ($500) – Nowhere Elsewhere (Au Milieu de Nulle Part Ailleurs) (Canada), Annick Blanc

Jury Special Citation – Pass the Salt, Please (USA) for Best Onscreen Pairing

First Place ($2,000) – The Hours’ Home (A Casa das Horas) (Brazil), Heraldo Cavalcanti
While the employees of a phone sales company think they’ve hooked a sucker in the form of a lonely little old lady who’s interested in their sales pitch, they soon learn that she can work the phone even better than they do…

Second Place ($500) – The Shore (UK), Terry George

First Place ($2,000) – The Lost Town of Switez (Poland/Canada), Kamil Polak
A spectacularly animated story about a traveler whose journey is diverted when his carriage driver falls asleep. An epic tale across wild lands and towns that glimmer like jewels, about a man who becomes a hero.

Second Place ($500) – Interregnum (Canada), Nick Fox-Gieg

Jury Special Citation – The Cord-Woman (La Femme Á Cordes) (France) for Best Sound Design

First Place ($2,000) – 75 Watts (Canada), John Cullen
A young man’s body betrays him on a daily basis, until he picks up the one thing that can calm his mind and enliven his spirit.

Second Place ($500) – Collaboration Horizontale (Ireland), Ciaran Cassidy

All first place winners in these categories will receive a software package courtesy of The Showbiz Café & Store. All student filmmakers in Festival competition are eligible for these awards.

First Place – The Promised Land (Israel), Vanessa Knutsen
An Israeli woman gives shelter to an illegal Nigerian émigré and her son in this moving story about family and fealty.

Second Place – Kiss (Australia), Alex Murawski

First Place – Bekas (Sweden/Iraq), Karzan Kader
Winner in the Best Foreign Film category at the 2011 Student Academy Awards. Two brothers living on the streets in Kurdistan hatch a daring plan to get to American—which they are pretty sure lies just across the border.

Second Place – Negative (Israel), Yoav Hornung

First Place – The Birds Upstairs (USA), Christopher Cinq-Mars Jarvis
Exquisite animation exposes a couple’s despair when, after years of trying, they at last have a child who, to their dismay, doesn’t look anything like them. A beautifully disturbing examination of familial expectations.

Second Place – Heavy Heads (Denmark), Helena Frank

First Place – Goodbye Mandima (Kwa Heri Mandima) (Switzerland), Robert-Jan Lacombe
Robert-Jan Lacombe’s moving remembrance of the wrenching moment when his family boarded a plane and left behind the vivid world of the rural African village that shaped his childhood.

Second Place – Wajeh (Israel/Palestinian Territories), Murad Nassar

Taj Musco (cinematographer), Eh Jeung (South Korea)
The bond of two sisters gets in the way as that fine line between lust and love gets blurred.

The Alexis Award for Best Emerging Student Filmmaker went to Eh Jeung (South Korea), directed by Taj Musco. The recipient will receive Final Cut Pro courtesy of Apple. The Alexis Award is selected by the Festival’s programming team and was created in honor of Alexis Echavarria, a young filmmaker, whose talent as a budding filmmaker and gift for inspiring excellence among his fellow students were cut short suddenly in 2005 at age 16.

Bridging the Borders Award presented by Cinema Without Borders went to Bekas (Sweden/Iraq), directed by Karzan Kader. The winner will receive a HP professional mobile workstation, EliteBook 8760w; prize and promotional support provided by HP. Runner-up was The Promised Land (Israel), directed by Vanessa Knutsen. The winner will receive Adobe Premiere Pro CS 5.5.

Allison Anders (Director – Border Radio, Gas Food Lodging, Mi Vida Loca), Effie T. Brown (Producer – Real Women Have Curves, Rocket Science) and Kirsten Smith (Producer/Writer – Legally Blonde, 10 Things I Hate About You, The House Bunny) served on the ShortFest jury.
# # #

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox