Review of award-winning short films in 2008 – a brief appraisal


Prompted by the impression that just a handful of short films scoop up the lion’s share of awards and honours all over the world each year, we published here at about the same time last year a look back at 2007’s award-winners. By analysing the winning films listed in our “Awards” section, we were then able to quantify this subjective impression using objective figures.

It seemed like a good idea to repeat this undertaking in early 2009 and put together a review of the past year.

Analysing the winners inevitably results in a kind of Short Film Hit Parade. This ranking can of course not be used to evaluate the artistic quality of films, but only to measure their popularity based on the votes of expert juries and viewing audiences.

Indirectly, we can also discern from such an overview how and where a film’s festival career gets off the ground. Trends in preferences for certain film genres or themes become evident. Furthermore, the ranking provides insights into the distribution of prizes between the various countries where the films are produced.


Basis for the evaluation

All honours and awards mentioned in the “Awards” section on during 2008 were analysed. More than 1,000 films were listed in the past year. Compared to the previous year, when some 800 awards were cited, we have considerably extended the scope of our reporting. But of course we did not publish all prizes and awards conferred everywhere in the world.

Only the major short film festivals with international competitions are registered regularly in our “Awards” column. Exclusively national or regional competitions are not included. National film awards such as the German Short Film Award or the Goyas in Spain were tracked, however.

We usually list only the grand prizes, but for a few of the larger festivals we also include honourable mentions. Only short film festivals are taken into account, except for major international feature film festivals with a short film competition – such as Cannes, Berlin or Sundance.

Overall, award-winners at some 180 festivals or competitions were compiled in 2008 – 16 of them based in Germany. Because of our own geographic location, European honours are slightly over-represented. However, all continents and regions of the world are included.


Strong production countries

As a matter of fact, the award-winners listed on these pages came from more than 70 different countries. The most accolades by far were bestowed in 2008 on films made in France (119), the USA (102), the United Kingdom (89) and Spain (59). Within this group, more films from France were honoured this year than last, while the UK had to surrender its first-place ranking. German films received 121 awards, putting them at the top of the list. Of the just over 1,000 prizes registered, almost half were conferred on films from the above-named countries, which are also among those with the largest short-film production volumes.

Of the countries with smaller populations and short film production figures, Belgium and Sweden enjoyed an especially successful year for short film in 2008. Rumania was also well represented but, unlike in 2007, when LAMPA CU CACIULA by Radu Jude won the most prizes worldwide, the country’s success in 2008 was shared by several films. A phenomenon comparable to Rumania’s standing in 2007 could be seen in 2008 with the worldwide triumph of SMíFUGLAR (Two Birds) by Ríºnar Ríºnarsson, which put Iceland in the spotlight as short film nation.

The prizewinners’ countries of origin reflect not only their short-film production volume, but also the number of festivals in the respective region. As homegrown films have better chances of winning awards in their own country, the ranking of decorated films according to origin also depends on the density of festivals on the ground.

More revealing therefore are the numbers indicating how much success films enjoyed abroad. Here the following picture takes shape: the greatest acclaim in foreign climes was reaped by films from France (95), the UK (72) and Germany (67).

Among the countries that do not have their own short film festival structure, Rumania, Russia and Iceland enjoyed disproportionate success abroad, which – as already mentioned – rests in part on the kudos heaped upon individual titles.


A prophet in one’s own country or a home game?

That a prophet has no honour in his own country is a common way of describing a well-known phenomenon. But the opposite is often true when it comes to handing out film prizes: many films score high points (only) on their home field. Interestingly enough, tendencies vary between countries here. For example, films made in the USA, Brazil and Spain reaped considerably more rewards at home than far afield. A similar trend was seen in 2007. The only difference is that the third- and fourth-ranked countries traded places. Last year, Australia was in Brazil’s place, which can be attributed to the remarkable career of CHAINSAW (Dennis Tupicoff) in 2008, gaining ground for Australian film. The strongest spread for both years could be witnessed in the case of the American films: 76 awards in their own country versus only 27 abroad for 2008.

Conversely, films from France, the UK and Austria had an easier time outside their own borders. Especially noticeable was the inverse relation of foreign and domestic prizes in the UK, presumably due to the weaker infrastructure in that country, with a relatively limited number of festivals and short film award programmes.

German films by contrast enjoyed a similar level of success at home and abroad – although in Germany a wide range of competitions and festivals offer plenty of opportunities to gain recognition domestically. German events awarded more than 120 short film prizes over the year – a number topped only by the number of honours conferred in the USA (followed by France and Spain).


The most popular production countries for German award-givers

The films that achieved the greatest success in Germany in 2008 came from France (9 awards), the United Kingdom (6), Austria (5) and, with 4 awards each, Belgium and Russia. France and the UK changed places at the head of the pack. By contrast with 2007, films from the USA did much more poorly in Germany (just 1 award).

Internationalism of jury decisions according to country

In 2007 Germany was the country that bestowed awards on productions from the largest number of foreign nations: 32 in all. In 2008, France was in the lead, recognizing films from 29 different countries – followed by Germany (prizewinners from 27 countries), Spain (25) and the USA (26). Noticeable is the way the USA – the country offering the most awards and honours for short films – opened itself up to the rest of the world in 2008. The year before, foreign films had almost zero chance of winning in the USA!


The most successful films on the international stage in 2008

Of the award-winning films cited on, AUF DER STRECKE (On the Line) was the most highly acclaimed internationally, with twelve major awards. Adding prizes not mentioned on, this film has already been honoured on over 40 occasions (see also:

In second place is the Icelandic film SMíFUGLAR (Two Birds) by Ríºnar Ríºnarsson with 10 important awards – including at festivals in Almerí­a, Edinburgh, Brest, Cork and St. Petersburg.

Third in line is SKHIZEIN by Jérémy Clapin (F) with seven prizes bestowed e.g. in Annecy, Uppsala, Bristol, Rio and Leipzig. SKHIZEIN received its first award at an international festival in Cannes at the Semaine de la Critique with the – fitting – distinction “Prix découverte”.

Further down the list come several films with six awards each: C’EST DIMANCHE!, DEN LILLE DOCKPOJKEN, MADAME TUTLI-PUTLI and MUTO by Blu.

  • C’EST DIMANCHE! (It’s Sunday) by Samir Guesmi (F) started by winning an audience award at Clermont-Ferrand and has since then collected accolades in France and Spain, but has hardly even been screened at international festivals outside this Latin cultural area.
  • Following its premier in Gothenburg, DEN LILLE DOCKPOJKEN (The Tale of Little Puppetboy) by Johannes Nyholm first scooped up audience and jury prizes at the short film festival in Hamburg.
  • MADAME TUTLI-PUTLI by Chris Lavis & Maciek Szczerbowski from Canada achieved the broadest range of short-film kudos in 2008. It won an Oscar and was a hit at such diverse festivals as the Flickerfest in Australia, Tampere in Finland, Hiroshima and the Ars Electronica in Linz. The animated film already premiered abroad in 2007, where it was awarded the Grand Prix of the Semaine de la Critique at Cannes. If one adds the other prizes from the previous year to the balance (including in Montréal, Toronto, Palm Springs), it counts as one of the most successful films of the past few years.
  • The unusual animated mural MUTO by Blu (I) is by contrast perhaps just embarking on its festival career. In less than three months the film has amassed six international awards – for example at the short film festivals in Toronto, Uppsala and Espinho. But MUTO is not really new. Long before it was discovered by film festivals, it was already seen on the Internet by millions of viewers!

Still relatively fresh and therefore perhaps not to be found among the “Top 10″ award winners until 2009 is LOVE YOU MORE by Sam Taylor-Wood. It already had its premiere in May 2008 (Cannes), but the short film’s festival career has only just begun. Strangely enough, this film, produced by Anthony Minghella, was given a “promotion award” at the short film festival in Winterthur! The filmmaker Sam Taylor-Wood, a well-known British artist, was already recognized ten years ago at the Venice Biennale with the prize for the Most Promising Artist, and was nominated in 1997/98 for the Turner Prize, the most prestigious British award for up-and-coming artists. This was however her first short fiction film – after two music videos …

Still chalking up successes at festivals in 2008 were LAMPA CU CACIULA by Radu Jude and SOFT by Simon Ellis, which collected the most short film prizes in 2007.


German films

The most successful German short film by far during the 2008 festival year was AUF DER STRECKE by Reto Caffi. This short fiction film, which was produced for the Swiss filmmaker by the Cologne Academy of Media Arts, has already been shown at over 100 festivals and received 13 of the awards mentioned on These include the Student Oscar (Honorary Foreign Film) and a nomination for the German Short Film Award, as well as the Swiss Film Award in the short film category. But what really caused a small sensation was the Grand Prix in Clermont-Ferrand, because German short films have encountered just as many difficulties there in past years as German feature-length films do in Cannes! AUF DER STRECKE was also the year’s most successful film in Germany in 2008.

Likewise on the fast track to success is SPIELZEUGLAND (TOYLAND) by Jochen Alexander Freydank, which was already “˜discovered’ internationally in Montréal in 2007, and won its first international award at the Seminci in Valladolid. SPIELZEUGLAND was one of the few German short films to attract international acclaim in 2008 that was not produced at a film school.
The film has been screened relatively rarely at home in Germany. SPIELZEUGLAND’s festival career can be traced on the website of its production company, Mephisto Film . The high point so far was its nomination for the Short Film Live Action Oscar 2009 – together with AUF DER STRECKE, MANON ON THE ASPHALT, NEW BOY and THE PIG.

The remaining 120 awards and honours that we cited for German short films were distributed amongst more than 90 different titles. That means that few of the films received more than one prize.


Audience awards

The most popular films amongst international audiences in 2008 were more or less the same ones that found favour with juries. Heading up the list of audience hits were: AUF DER STRECKE, DEN LILLE DOCKPOJKEN, SLEEPING BETTY, SKHIZEIN and SPIELZEUGLAND.

Film genres: animation charting a promising course

While in 2007 most prizes went to short fiction, 2008 was a banner year for the animated short. Fiction films were in second place as genre in 2008, while documentaries also had a difficult time of it. Only COSMIC STATION by Bettina Timm (D) received more than two short film awards. Experimental films had another lean year, with the exception of the surprise hit KEMPINSKI by Neil Beloufa (F/Mali), an experimental documentary that collected more than five international awards and was screened at a series of festivals and art exhibitions – most of them outside France.


It’s still lonely at the top: the accumulation of prizes

In our review last year of the awards situation in 2007, we noted that just a few films amass the majority of the awards and honours each year. Of some 700 films mentioned, 600 won only a single award each, while the remaining 100 raked in more than 300 assorted prizes (an average of three per film).

What did the situation look like in 2008? Of some 800 films, almost 670 received only one award, while the remaining 140 accrued a total of more than 400 honours (averaging 2.86 per film). In other words, there was a slightly wider distribution, but a small group of films still accumulated a disproportionate number of awards.

It is significant once again that the distribution pyramid tapers off dramatically toward the top. Only some 50 films received more than two awards each. This small “top flight”, which prevailed worldwide, included 18 films that collected more than four prizes each (for a total of 10% of all prizes).


Consensus festivals: Conformance of jury decisions between organizers

Taking the 18 most successful films as distilled above and examining the overlaps between the festivals that distinguished them, one reaches the following conclusion: most of the 18 prizewinners received an award at the festivals in Annecy, Aspen, Hiroshima (biennial!) Valencia and Uppsala. There were also striking correspondences among the 18 most-decorated films at the festivals in Almerí­a, Clermont-Ferrand, Espinho, Hamburg and Santiago di Compostela.



It is interesting to note where the festival careers of the most successful films got off the ground: AUF DER STRECKE pocketed its first award abroad at Clermont-Ferrand, SMíFUGLAR in St. Petersburg, SKHIZEIN in Cannes (abroad in Uppsala), C’EST DIMANCHE! in Clermont-Ferrand (abroad in Brussels), DEN LILLE DOCKPOJKEN in Hamburg, MADAME TUTLI-PUTLI in Cannes, MUTO in Ottawa, BERNI’S DOLL in Annecy, HOUSE OF SMALL TUBES in Annecy, JOHN AND KAREN in Clermont-Ferrand, KEMPINSKI in Gent, SON in Park City, SPIELZEUGLAND in Valladolid, TÜRELEM in Bilbao, UNDER CONSTRUCTION in Asolo, VALURI (Waves) in Locarno, YOURS TRULY in Aspen and LOVE YOU MORE in Vila do Conde.


Instead of a conclusion: a wild speculation

In this analysis of the distribution of awards between films and countries, the structures and patterns that shine through are confirmed year after year. It is tempting to take these parameters and use them to forecast the future. That’s why, in closing, I would venture to make a playful bet based on these findings: the top winners of the future will include UNDER CONSTRUCTION by Liz Zhenchen (F), OS SAPATOS DE ARISTEU by Luiz René Guerra (BR) and THE DOOR by Juanita Wilson (Ireland). Let’s just wait and see – next year we’ll know for sure!

We must not forget, however, that, although festivals may help films get a leg up, successful films are not made by juries, but by filmmakers :-

Original Page