The 2021 Palm Springs International ShortFest announced its juried award winners on Sunday night. Awards and cash prizes worth $25,000 including five Academy Award qualifying awards were presented to the winners selected from the 295 shorts films featured in the official selection.
The winners of the following awards may be eligible to submit their shorts to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Oscar consideration. Synopses are courtesy of the festival.
Greater Palm Springs CVB Best of the Festival Award
Winner: “Unforgivable” (El Salvador), Directed by Marlén Viñayo. A ruthless hitman for the 18th Street gang serves his sentence inside an evangelical Salvadoran prison, where he is guilty not only of his crimes, but of an unforgivable sin under God and gang: being gay.
Special Mention: “Palma” (France), Directed by Alexe Poukine. Jeanne is taking her 6-year-old daughter away for the weekend to Majorca. While everything is going down the drain, Jeanne’s only concern is to photograph Kiki, the class mascot.
Best Animated Short
Winner: “Step into the River” (China/France), Directed by Weijia Ma. Lu and Wei are two young girls living in a village nestled on the banks of a river that bears many tragic stories in this surreal and stunning exploration of China’s one-child policy.
Special Mention: “Navozande, the Musician” (France), Directed by Reza Riahi. At the time of the attack of the Mongols, a young musician and the love of his life were separated from each other. Fifty years later, the musician is summoned to perform at the castle of the Mongols where his beloved is being held.
Best Documentary Short
Winner: “Queen of Basketball” (USA), Directed by Ben Proudfoot. Three consecutive college championships. The Olympics. The NBA. Lusia Harris is arguably the greatest American female basketball player of all time. But when will history honor her legend?
Special Mention: “The Interview” (USA), Directed by Jon Miller and Zach Russo. For incarcerated people serving life sentences in the state of New York, the parole board is their only hope of release. But how do you convince a group of strangers that you are more than the worst thing you ever did?
Best Live-Action Short Over 15 Minutes
Winner: “The Criminals” (France/Romania/Turkey), Directed by Serhat Karaaslan. Late in the evening in a small Turkish town, a young couple are trying to find a hotel room to spend the night together, but they face rejection from every hotel for not having the required marriage certificate. Once they believe they’ve devised the perfect scheme, the situation gets out of hand.
Special Mention: “The Girls Who Burn the Night” (Saudi Arabia), Directed by Sara Mesfer. While helping their mother prepare for a party, a denied request brings two young Saudi sisters to their boiling point.
Best Live-Action Short 15 Minutes and Under
Winner: “The Mohel” (Canada), Directed by Charles Wahl. After celebrating the birth of their first son, James and his converted Jewish wife Lola fly a mohel out to perform the circumcision. Family expectations and financial strain force James to confront the transactional nature of religion, and the realities of maintaining old traditions in a modern world.
Special Mentions: “Aly” (France), Directed by Thomas Wood. In Paris, Aly, a young asylum seeker from Guinea, is invited to a party. On his way, the reality of his situation catches up with him.
“The Long Goodbye” (UK), Directed by Aneil Karia. A sobering and powerful watch, The Long Goodbye imagines a dystopian near future and sees actor Riz Ahmed unpack his feelings towards his country.
Student Short Awards:
Student Animated Short Winner: “Love is Just a Death Away” (Czech Republic), Directed by Bára Anna Stejskalová. Amid the debris of a perilous landfill, hopeful creatures yearn for an amorous connection.
Special Mention: “Misery Loves Company” (South Korea/USA), Directed by Sasha Lee. One night, Seolgi is lying on a grass field with friends. A shooting star falls, and dark and intrusive thoughts hit her. Her melancholy blooms into bright and colorful “flower people,” dancing around wishing for a meteorite to end the world.
Student Documentary Short Winner: “The Void Inside” (Germany/Iran), Directed by Julian Dieterich. After getting caught in a fight, Vahid needs to sell one of his kidneys to avoid a long prison sentence. While waiting for a buyer, a wish for a better life starts to grow within him.
Special Mention: “Joychild” (USA), Directed by Aurora Brachman. A young child tells their mother “I’m not a girl” for the first time.
Best Student International Short
Winner: “Her Dance” (Israel), Directed by Bar Cohen. Estranged from her family, Aya shows up uninvited to her sister’s wedding Shabbat night. Her presence threatens to reveal family secrets and lies.
Best Student U.S. Short
Winner: “El Clásico” (Mexico), Directed by Joel Vázquez Cárdenas. The tumultuous journey of two friends on their way to a soccer stadium hands them a new perspective of their friendship, their morals and Mexico City.
Special Mention: “Fourth of July” (USA), Directed by Major Dorfman. A young mother struggles to parent her two rambunctious boys over the course of one hot summer day.
Special Jury Awards:
Best International Short Winner: “Howling” (Belgium), Directed by Laura Van Haecke. Together with her mother and her half-sister, nine-year-old Bo moves to the countryside. Slightly bored in the new environment of fields and farms, the sisters look forward to the weekend when their fathers come to pick them up. Bo’s father, however, doesn’t show up time and time again.
Best U.S. Short Winner: “Inheritance” (USA), Directed by Annalise Lockhart. A Black family in rural Vermont attempts to live a life of solitude and cope with the ghosts living on their property.
Special Mention: “Please Hold” (USA), Directed by KD Dávila. In the near future, a young working-class Latino is wrongfully arrested. Realizing he has no means of recourse in the fully automated and privatized justice system, he attempts to reach a human who can set things right.
Best Comedy Short Winner: “Break In” (USA), Directed by Alyssa Lerner. What’s more embarrassing than writing erotic fiction about your crush? Writing erotic fiction about your crush and then accidentally texting it to her. When this very thing happens to Nousha she enlists the help of her best friend Oliver, and they set out on a mission to delete the text. By any means necessary.
Special Mention: “Snowy” (USA), Directed by Kaitlyn Schwalje, Alex Wolf Lewis. Snowy the turtle has lived an isolated life in the family basement for the past 10+ years with minimal sunlight and no companionship other than that of his primary caretaker, Uncle Larry. In an effort to improve their pet turtle’s life, the family asks—is Snowy happy?
Best LGBT+ Short Winner: “Eggshells” (Bulgaria), Directed by Slava Doytcheva. After her girlfriend chooses to spend Easter with family, Nevena dyes two red eggs and heads off to visit her own estranged father.
Special Mention: “F1-100” (USA/Malaysia), Directed by Emory Chao Johnson. Art, animation, archival footage and digital video are interwoven in this transnational meditation through time and space of an international art student carrying a heavy burden.
Best Midnight Short Winner: “Night Bus” (Taiwan), Directed by Joe Hsieh. Aboard a late-night commuter bus, a stolen necklace sets off a macabre chain of events involving a jealous husband and a vengeful monkey.
Special Mention: “Night of the Living Dicks” (Finland/Denmark), Directed by Ilja Rautsi. Venla is fed up with getting dick pics when she finds a pair of glasses that reveal the true nature of people and which men are real dicks. As the dick monsters realize they’ve been exposed to Venla in ways they didn’t intend, they come after her and Venla must confront an explosive nightmare of genitals and gender roles.
Mozaik Bridging the Borders Award Winner: “A Broken House” (USA/Lebanon), Directed by Jimmy Goldblum. A Syrian architect and artist stuck in the U.S. on a single-entry visa eases his homesickness by sculpting life-like renditions of the home he left behind.
Special Mentions: “On My Way” (Belgium), Directed by Sonam Larcin. The unexpected arrival of a Nigerian migrant in the Belgian countryside shakes up the fragile daily life of two men living a secret relationship.
“Bambirak” (Germany/USA), Directed by Zamarin Wahdat. When 8-year-old Kati stows away in her father’s truck, Faruk must juggle his responsibilities as a single dad while holding down his first job in a new country.
Local Jury Award Winner: “Dying in Your Mother’s Arms” (USA), Directed by John Beder. If losing a child to an illness is one of the worst things that can happen to a family, Dr. Nadia Tremonti has made it her mission to make it better. It’s not easy, but as a pediatric palliative care physician, she works to ensure that terminally ill children receive quality end-of-life care.
Special Mention: “Don vs Lightning” (UK), Directed by Big Red Button. All Don wants is a quiet life in the Scottish Highlands. Unfortunately the universe has other plans.