If you’re one of the filmmakers who supplied some 5,600 submissions to the 2019 Palm Springs International Shortfest, the stakes were high. Not only because Shortfest offers the only short-film market in North America; or, because 369 of those films were selected for juried screenings to an audience of more than 700 over June 18-23.
Those functions matter, but as the world’s biggest short-film festival, Shortfest also draws talent agents, production executives, and producers who are keenly aware that, beyond identifying early talent, short-form content holds tremendous value in the current market. Yes, the Sundance Film Festival is still the best way to get films seen by Hollywood — but in a world that’s (re)discovering the virtues of short-form content, there’s something sexy about an event entirely devoted to its celebration.
While short films have always provided fodder for features, today they’re more likely to fuel web or TV series. There is far more opportunity for financing and finding an audience via television and emerging digital platforms than the ever-narrower indie film market.
This is the short filmmaker’s fantasy: Fox Searchlight acquired Guy Nattiv’s short “Skin,” which went on to win the Oscar in 2019; it swiftly morphed into a different A24 feature starring Jamie Bell. Filmmakers Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”), Gillian Robespierre (“Obvious Child”), Paul Davis (“The Body”), and Jim Cummings (“Thunder Road”) also grew their breakout features from shorts. At Palm Springs, Best Student documentary winner Miriam Guttmann’s “Seeds of Deceit” is already being turned into a series.
With new players like Netflix, Apple, Amazon, and soon, Quibi TV, there’s opportunity, and competition, for talent. “We are never done at Hulu looking for new shows that will stand out from the pack with an original voice,” said development executive Dan DeNicola on the television panel.
“There’s an appetite to hear new stories and new perspectives, something we’ve never heard before,” said Dave Binegar, manager of original programming at Showtime. “There’s pressure to break through with shows that are noisier. We are seeing more shows like ‘Pose,’ told through a point of view that has been under-represented, be embraced by audiences and critics. Expanded demand should create more opportunities for everyone.”
However, there’s a small irony in all of this opportunity: While executives crave originality, programmers say that — “Skin” aside — those often are not the films that will attract Oscar consideration. Although Palm Springs Shortfest is an Oscar-qualifying festival, some of the participants on the Meet the Programmers panel said they make a point of not limiting their selections the kinds of films that tend garner Oscar nominations.
However, as soon as The Cleveland Film Festival shorts programmer Paul Sloop saw “Skin,” he declared that it would win the Oscar that year–and instantly booked it into his festival. “It ticked all the boxes,” he said, as did another Oscar-nominated title he loved, “Period. End of Sentence.”
SXSW programmer Claudette Godfrey noted that the shorts and animation branches tend to pick shorts “for the broadest possible audience. Very white, very straight. ‘Get into Sundance and have someone pay you a million and win an Oscar:’ That doesn’t happen to most people. If you do, great, but you’re in a small club.”
There’s no shortage of applicants. SXSW’s shorts submissions climb by 7%-10% every year. Peak short submissions for Outfest were 850 — until they reached 1,300 last year. Statistically, you’ve got a better chance with documentary or animation; most people make narrative fiction shorts. However, the first hurdle is seizing the programmers’ attention. “It’s always that intangible feeling, the magic that makes the best films resonate with people,” said Godfrey. “It’s more about authenticity and a director’s voice.”
This year, Best of the Festival went to Bogdan Muresanu’s “The Christmas Gift,” about a son’s letter to Santa that turns his father’s evening into an unexpected thriller. “Guaxuma” and “King Wah (I Think I Love You)” also landed top jury awards, and Marshall Curry’s “The Neighbors’ Window” took home the live-action audience award.
See full list of Shortfest Festival winners below.
AUDIENCE AWARDS — Winner received a $250 cash prize. Awarded to the film which scored the highest on ballots submitted by the audience in its respected category.
BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT – “The Neighbors’ Window” (USA), Director Marshall Curry
BEST ANIMATED SHORT — “Between the Shadows” (Portugal/France), Director Mónica Santos, Alice Guimarães
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT — “Lowland Kids” (USA), Director Sandra Winther
BEST STUDENT SHORT — “Tree #3” (USA), Director Omer Ben-Shachar
BEST OF FESTIVAL AWARD — Winner received $5,000 cash prize courtesy of the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau. Awarded by the International Jury to a student or non-student short. The winner of this award may be eligible to submit their short to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Oscar® consideration.
“The Christmas Gift” (Romania/Spain), Directed by Bogdan Muresanu
A few days after Ceausescu’s bloody repression in Timisoara, a father’s quiet evening turns to panic as he finds out that his son has mailed a letter to Santa that includes something for him — his wish to see Ceausescu dead.
BEST INTERNATIONAL SHORT — Winner received a $2,000 cash prize. Awarded by the International Jury to the best student or non-student short produced outside of North America.
“Guaxuma” (Brazil/France), Director Nara Normande
Grains of sand in motion capture happy childhood memories on the beach of a special friendship.
BEST NORTH AMERICAN SHORT — Winner received $1,000. Awarded by the International Jury to the best student or non-student short produced in North America.
“King Wah (I Think I Love You)” (USA), Director Horatio Baltz
A disgruntled delivery man, a woman with chronic déjà vu, Pat Sajak, and a slow dance in a Chinese takeout restaurant.
BEST U.S. SHORT – Winner received camera package courtesy of Panavision, valued at $60,000. Awarded by the International Jury to the best student or non-student short produced in the U.S.
“Manila is Full of Men Named Boy” (USA/Philippines), Director Andrew Stephen Lee
Manila, July 7, 2009. As Michael Jackson’s televised funeral plays throughout the country despite terrorist attacks in the south, an estranged son, to impress his father, purchases a child who can drink and smoke
For the following awards all first-place winners 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 (Awarded by the Animation Jury)
“Dani” (USA), Director Lizzy Hogenson
A 30-year-old woman, feeling obligated to wear a brave face, delivers her grim breast cancer prognosis to her mother over a simple phone call.
“Caterpillarplasty” (Canada), Director David Barlow-Krelina
In an advanced technological society where the caterpillar has special significance, the people desire metamorphosis.
BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT OVER 15 MINUTES (Awarded by the International Jury)
“Summer Hit” (Germany), Director Berthold Wahjudi
Laia from Spain and Emil from Iceland are enjoying their semester abroad in Munich. While Laia feels perfectly fine just having sex with Emil, his profession of deeper feelings puts her on the defensive.
BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT 15 MINUTES AND UNDER (Awarded by the International Jury)
“Youth” (Egypt/USA), Director Farida Zahran
A teenage girl takes a step toward adulthood in contemporary Cairo.
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT (Awarded by the Documentary Jury)
“Inferno” (Australia/Mexico), Director Patrick Fileti
An explosive portrait of the lives of artisans and their families in the lead up to the festival of San Juan de Dios, when blazing revelry engulfs the town of Tultepec, Mexico, famous for its pyrotechnics industry.
“Brother, Move On” (Switzerland/India), Director Antshi von Moos
A taxi service “for women by women” offers a small step towards gender equality in Delhi.
STUDENT COMPETITION AWARDS — All first-place winners in these categories received a $500 cash prize.
BEST STUDENT ANIMATED SHORT (Awarded by the Animation Jury)
“Nosis” (Germany), Director Vincenz Neuhaus
When a boy with an exceptionally long nose accidentally falls into a cake, his life changes in unforeseen ways and drives him to re-explore life no matter the dark consequences.
“Wild Love (France), Directors Paul Autric, Quentin Camus, Léa Georges, Maryka Laudet, Zoé Sottiaux, Corentin Yvergniaux
While on a romantic getaway, Alan and Beverly cause a fatal accident. This crime won’t remain unpunished…
BEST STUDENT LIVE-ACTION SHORT OVER 15 MINUTES (Awarded by the Student Jury)
“A Little Break” (France), Director Louise Groult
Accompanying her cousin on a camping trip to coastal Normandy, 16-year-old Charlotte discovers that the path to romantic fulfillment can be painful for a young woman in an insensitive world.
“What Do You Know About the Water and the Moon” (China), Director Jian Luo
During an abortion, instead of aborting the fetus, a girl gives birth to a live jellyfish.
BEST STUDENT LIVE-ACTION SHORT 15 MINUTES AND UNDER (Awarded by the Student Jury)
“Night Swim” (USA), Director Victoria Rivera
Three teenage girls break into a closed-off pool on a hot summer night, but when unwanted guests show up, their friendship is tested and one of them is left behind.
“Sir Thomas” (Israel), Director Raanan Fogel, Michael Amir
A young man finally gets to go home with the girl he has a crush on. Unfortunately, Sir Thomas does not seem to want to cooperate.
BEST STUDENT DOCUMENTARY SHORT (Awarded by the Documentary Jury)
“Seeds of Deceit” (Netherlands), Director Miriam Guttmann
In a shocking breach of trust and ethics, famed Dutch fertility doctor Jan Karbaat inseminated dozens of unsuspecting patients with his own sperm. Seeds of Deceit considers the resulting anger, sadness and curiosity through the testimony of two mothers and their children.
VIMEO STAFF PICK AWARD – Selected by Vimeo curators. Films featured in competition are eligible for the award, which includes a $2,500 cash prize.
“The Culture” (Norway), Director Ernst De Geer
It’s the opening night at the concert house where Arvid works. When his sister steals the spotlight and a resulting confrontation with an important man builds, Arvid’s worst side is revealed.
BRIDGING THE BORDERS AWARD PRESENTED BY CINEMA WITHOUT BORDERS – Winner received a $2,500 courtesy of Go Energistics. Awarded by the Cinema Without Borders jury to the short that is most successful in bridging and connecting the people of our world closer together.
“Ahmed’s Song” (France), Director Foued Mansour
One day Ahmed, employed at the public baths and nearing retirement, encounters Mike, a teenager adrift. Inside the bathhouse walls, in a place on the verge of disappearing, a strange relationship will develop between these two fractured souls.
“Green” (USA), Director Suzanne Andrews Correa
An undocumented Turkish pedicab driver unwittingly draws police attention, endangering his brother, his community and himself.
FUTURE FILMMAKER AWARD – Winner received a $1,000 cash prize. Honors a non-student filmmaker whose work demonstrates that they are poised to take a significant next step in their career.
“sometimes, i think about dying” (USA), Director Stefanie Abel Horowitz
Fran is thinking about dying, but a man in the office might want to date her.
“Magnetic Harvest” (France), Director Marine Levéel
Mickaël, a pig farmer in rural France, finds his search for an amorous connection interrupted by the sudden return of the charming and youthful Paul.
BEST EMERGING STUDENT FILMMAKER – Winner received a $1,000 cash prize. Awarded by the ShortFest programmers. Honors a student filmmaker whose work and vision point to a bright, prospective career in cinema.
“Stone Age” (Switzerland), Director Lou Rambert Preiss
In a vast stone quarry, an explosion reveals an object from the past.
“Truck Slut” (USA), Director Ryan Craver
A lonely, gay 13-year-old reflects on his complicated love for his volatile sister, the night she humiliated him, and her disappearance from their small, Southern town.
YOUTH JURY AWARDS – Awarded by ShortFest youth juries composed of local students interested in cinema and the arts. Each winner received a $250 cash prize. The Kids’ Choice jury is composed of students aged 8-13 and the Young Cineastes jury is composed of students aged 14-17.
KIDS’ CHOICE (Ages 13 and under)
“All In Good Time” (Ireland), Director Bonnie Dempsey
A comic fantasy about two children, one in 1918, the other in 2018, who magically communicate across time through messages in a bottle and help solve each other’s problems.
“Goldie” (USA), Director Emily Brundige
A giant girl feels out of scale in her colorful little town, only to realize she takes up just the right amount of space.
YOUNG CINEASTES (Ages 14-17)
“Ale y Yose” (USA), Director Erin Semine Kökdil
Two undocumented friends struggle with the reality of an unknown future, reimagining what it means to be a teenage girl in the U.S.
“Something About Alex” (Netherlands), Director Reinout Hellenthal
A 14-year-old boy develops a close friendship with his older sister’s boyfriend, and must confront the depth of his feelings when the couple announces that they will be moving away.
LOCAL JURY AWARD (tie)
“Couper Was Here” (USA), Director Nicole Foley
“The Clinic” (USA), Director Elivia Shaw