Review of award-winning short films in 2009 – a brief appraisal

Prompted by the impression that just a handful of short films scoop up the lion’s share of awards and honours each year all over the world, we published here two years ago a review of the previous year’s award-winners. By analysing the prizewinners listed over the year in our “Awards” section, we were able to quantify this subjective impression using objective figures. We will now attempt to repeat the same procedure in a review of short film awards in 2009.

Analysing the winners inevitably results in a kind of Hit Parade for film. This kind of ranking can of course not be used to evaluate films’ artistic quality, but provides information on their popularity as measured by 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 come to light. Furthermore, the ranking provides insights into the distribution of prizes between the various countries in which films are produced.

Basis for the evaluation
All honours and awards were analysed that were mentioned in the “Awards” section on during 2009. Nearly 1,000 films were cited in the past year. 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 featured 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 recorded, however.

We usually only list the grand prizes. Only in the case of a few of the larger festivals do we also include the honourable mentions. As a rule, 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, prizewinners at some 190 festivals or competitions were compiled in 2009 – 20 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 awards by far were bestowed in 2009 on films made in France (107 prizes), Germany (102), the United Kingdom (88), the USA (85) and Spain (45). These figures were little changed from those of the prior year. Germany and France traded places at the top of the list, and it was only Spain that received significantly fewer awards than before. Of the just over 1,000 prizes recorded, almost half were conferred on films from the above-named countries, which also happen to boast the largest short-film production volumes.

Among the countries with smaller populations and a more modest scale of short film production, 2009 was a banner year in particular for Sweden and Israel (34 and 25 awards respectively). There were also countries whose statistics improved due to a single, extremely successful film – such as Rumania and Iceland in previous years. This year, Italy rose in the ranking thanks to the hit film MUTO.

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

More interesting therefore are the numbers indicating the degree of success films enjoyed abroad. Here the following picture takes shape: enjoying the most acclaim abroad in 2009 were films from the United Kingdom (75), France (55) and Germany (53), which more or less reflects the distribution of awards overall, i.e. including the prizes in the films’ own country of origin. In this regard, films from the USA and Spain are an exception, as they received their honours primarily in their own country. Conversely, Sweden is out of the ordinary: of the 34 awards for Swedish films, only 4 were bestowed at home, which can surely be attributed to the relatively low number of short film festivals there.

Amongst the countries without a pronounced short film festival structure, Israel and Iceland are notable for their disproportionate success abroad. This trend was already seen in 2008. In the case of Iceland, this achievement was based on just a few films, while a whole series of Israeli productions enjoyed international acclaim.

Success at home vs. recognition abroad
The fact that a film is a hit in its own country does not necessarily mean that it will receive similar kudos abroad. And this factor does not depend only on the number of short film festivals in the respective country. It might also be, however, that the juries in some countries are not comprised of international members and thus display a predilection for domestic productions. This is true at any rate for audience awards.

As in prior years, films from Brazil and the USA, as well as from Spain, pocketed substantially more awards at home than abroad in 2009. Conversely, films from the United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia and Austria enjoyed greater popularity on foreign shores.

Of the major production countries, Germany and France brought forth works whose success was basically the same at home and abroad. This was so even though both countries boast a high density of festivals where the majority of the world’s short film prizes are presented.

Germany’s favourite production countries
In Germany the most decorated films in 2009 came from the United Kingdom (11 awards), France (9) and the Netherlands (7), followed by films from the USA, Belgium and Austria (5 each). Here as well, a long-term trend can be observed.

International orientation of jury decisions

Amongst the three countries where by far the most short film awards are conferred there was hardly any difference in terms of international orientation. In Germany, France and the USA more than 100 prizes were “˜distributed’ among films from over 25 countries. This kind of opening up to foreign productions could be observed in 2009 in the USA and particularly in Spain. There, a much greater number of foreign films were recognized than in past years. This international outlook is increasingly taking hold in other countries as well.

The year’s most successful films internationally
In 2009 SKHIZEIN by Jérémy Clapin was cited most often on, taking home 17 awards in all. SKHIZEIN portrays the trials and tribulations of the title character, who, after a meteorite hits the earth, finds himself shifted 91 cm from the rest of the world, and thus so-to-speak literally off kilter and alone in his own cosmos. Co-produced by ARTE, the French animated film was already listed here a year ago in second place among the most widely commended films. The blog for the film says that SKHIZEIN has been distinguished more than 60 times, from its first award in Cannes in 2008 up to the end of 2009 … and the film’s festival career isn’t over yet!

In second place in 2009 was the Italian animated film MUTO by Blu. This work as well was already on the list of the ten most successful films in 2008. MUTO is the debut work by graffiti artist and illustrator Blu, who previously caused a sensation with his monumental wall paintings. The film is basically a documentary about a variation on these murals, animated through photographed overpaintings. MUTO enjoyed great popularity on the Internet even before embarking on its festival career. YouTube alone logged over six million call-ups. As the film’s author has placed its license under free disposal under Creative Commons, and the film is available for free download on its website, MUTO probably holds the title of most-viewed short film over the past few years.

In third place is a 2009 production, which has a good chance of expanding on its success in 2010: WAGAH by Supriyo Sen (India) and Najaf Bilgrami (Pakistan). The documentary about a border station between Pakistan and India received production funding thanks to a nomination for the Berlin Today Award presented by the Berlinale Talent Campus. As a German production, it was eligible for nomination for the 2009 German Short Film Award and received the Gold Award last November in the category of documentaries up to 30 minutes in length.

Likewise still relatively new is the short fiction film THE GROUND BENEATH by René Hernandez from Australia, in fourth place. This fiction film tells of a young man forced to deal with a violent father, and is in the meantime being shown to school classes in several countries.

Fifth on the list is an “˜old friend’: SMíFUGLAR (Two Birds) by Ríºnar Ríºnarsson, which was already in second place last year and in total received almost as many prizes as SKHIZEIN. This northern European film – produced by an Icelandic student at the Danske Filmskole (Copenhagen) – enjoyed the greatest acclaim in the Latin countries of Europe.

There is a tie for the next place between several films, each with the same amount of awards: BERNADETTE by Duncan Campbell (UK), NEXT FLOOR by Denis Villeneuve (CAN), PHOTOGRAPH OF JESUS by Laurie Hill (UK) and PLEASE SAY SOMETHING by David O’Reilly (D/Ireland).

The most successful film in 2008, AUF DER STRECKE (On the Line), did not receive any additional major festival awards in 2009, but was nominated for the short film Oscar. The 2009 Oscar winner in the category of short film (live action), SPIELZEUGLAND (Toyland), on the other hand, did not receive any additional prizes in 2009 that were registered on our website. The same goes, incidentally, for the current Oscar winners and nominations in the other short film categories, documentary (short subject) and short film (animated), titles that are not much in evidence elsewhere on the awards front. This is probably due to the fact that the selection procedure at the Academy Awards and those eligible to vote are far removed from the international short film scene.

German films

The German film that attracted the most international acclaim by far in the 2009 festival year was WAGAH by Supriyo Sen & Najaf Bilgrami. In Germany itself, it was in third place after SKHIZEIN and MUTO. The second most lauded German film was likewise not made by a German director: PLEASE SAY SOMETHING by Irish filmmaker David O’Reilly. The Berlin-based filmmaker created this computer-generated animation depicting episodes in the married life of a mouse and a cat all alone on his home desktop.

Third on the roster, with three awards apiece, are the films DER CONNY IHR PONY by Robert Pohle & Martin Hentze and GERMANIA WURST by Volker Schlecht. Both are animations. DER CONNY IHR PONY is a collage based on a Poetry Slam. GERMANIA WURST is a digital animation created from drawings that recounts 2,000 years of German history in metaphoric images. It was made at the Film & Television Academy in Potsdam.

Another recipient of three awards in 2009, among them a German Short Film Award, was the short fiction film POLAR. Made by a Swiss director at the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne, this work tells of a father-and-son conflict.

Apart from seven films with two awards apiece, the remaining 80 German films that were cited in 2009 on each received one prize.

Audience awards

Even more clearly than in 2008, the votes of the professional juries tended to match those of the audience in 2009. The largest number of audience awards went to SKHIZEIN, MUTO and WAGAH, i.e. the same films in the same order. Only two films, THE GROUND BENEATH and SMíFUGLER, were much more popular with professional juries than with the public, and only one film, LOST AND FOUND, was conversely more of an audience hit than a jury selection.

A major difference between the votes cast by the audience and the juries can be found however in the range of films honoured – this is much wider for the juries, while the public tended to focus on a limited number of works.

Filmgenres: Fiction out ahead again

In 2008 animated short films accumulated the most prizes. In 2009 however, as in 2007, fiction films were favoured for the most part. Documentary and experimental works were able to collect no more than three or in most cases two prizes in 2009. It must be pointed out, though, that some of the animated films could just as well be put in the category of experimental film, while the most successful short fiction films exhibit almost without exception a classical narrative structure. The few films that were able to gather the most awards in 2009 were however animations, as in the previous year.

It’s lonely at the top again: award concentration in 2009

Looking back over the year 2008, we noted that the distribution pyramid for film prizes tended to taper off considerably at the top. Only some 50 out of 800 films received more than two international awards. And the small “frontrunners” that stood out worldwide comprised only 18 films.

In 2009 only 15 films were able to amass more than four awards (up to 17 apiece). This means that 12% of all awards conferred were concentrated on this small group of works. Only 50 of some 750 different titles received more than two awards. But these 50 films accumulated nearly one quarter of all prizes conferred in 2009.

Consensus festivals: jury decisions repeated across different events
Surveying the 15 top films and the intersecting set of festivals at which they received awards, we can see that these same 15 prizewinners were in many cases honoured simultaneously at the festivals in Clermont-Ferrand, Rio de Janeiro, Annecy, Dresden and Hamburg.

Trendsetters and pioneers
Also of interest is where the festival careers of the 15 most popular films began: SKHIZEIN was launched back in 2008 in Cannes; MUTO – already an Internet hit – went on to the Animation Festival in Ottawa; WAGAH started off in Berlin (abroad in Huesca); THE GROUND BENEATH in Prague; SMíFUGLAR in St. Petersburg; BERNADETTE in Rotterdam; NEXT FLOOR in Cannes; PHOTOGRAPH OF JESUS in Tampere; PLEASE SAY SOMETHING in Berlin.

In the next group are the films with five awards: FORBACH started out in Cannes; SLAVAR (Slaves) in San Jose; NORA in Tiburon (abroad in Györ); SLITAGE (Seeds of the Fall) in Cannes; LOST AND FOUND in Palm Springs and LOGORAMA in Cannes.

Astounding here is how important the festivals in Cannes and Berlin have become of late in comparison with the short-film-only festivals. This is one of the few changes to be observed in a long-term study of the short film scene. Otherwise, this analysis of the distribution of awards between films and countries brought to light structures and patterns that are confirmed year after year.

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