Review of award-winning short films in 2011

After getting 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 now publish an annual review of the past year’s award-winners in our online magazine. By analysing the prize-winners listed over the year in our “Awards” section, we are able to quantify this subjective impression using objective figures. Now it’s time to take a look back at the year 2011.

Listing the winners invariably results in a kind of Hit Parade of film. This kind of ranking can of course not be used to evaluate the films’ artistic quality, but it does provide 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 genres or themes come to light. Furthermore, the ranking reveals how prizes are distributed amongst the film production countries.


Basis for the evaluation

All honours and awards were analysed that were mentioned in the “Awards” section on during 2011. Slightly over 1,200 films were cited this past year. But of course we do not publish all prizes and awards conferred on short films everywhere in the world.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. We do however report on national film awards such as the German Short Film Award or the Goyas in Spain.

We usually list only the grand prizes. Only in the case of a few of the larger festivals do we also include 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 and Sundance.

Overall, prize-winners at some 250 festivals or competitions were compiled in 2011 – 33 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 75 different countries. This is an increase over prior years. Of note in particular is the stronger presence of films from the Arab world. The most awards by far were bestowed in 2011 on films made in Germany (165), France (127), the USA (103), Spain (68), the United Kingdom (67), Italy (57) and Poland (56). These figures and the order of the countries represented changed little from the previous year. The only noticeable development is that over the past few years films from the UK have been receiving ever fewer prizes. Of the just over 1,200 awards reported in the magazine, more than half were conferred on films from the above-named countries.

Among the smaller countries – in terms of either population or short film production – 2011 was a good year in particular for Poland and Sweden (56 and 46 awards respectively). There were also once again countries whose statistics improved due to a single, extremely successful film – such as Romania with the films APELE TAC and COLIVIA.

Similar effects can however also be seen in countries with a high film production volume. In Italy the enduring popularity of BIG BANG BIG BOOM (blu) and RITA (Antonio Piazza & Fabio Grassadonia) have already had a positive effect on the country’s statistics for the second festival year in a row. And the number of awards for Germany rose markedly on the coattails of, for example, the hit animated film THE EXTERNAL WORLD by Irish filmmaker David O’Reilly, which counts as a German production. To cite another example, were it not for BABY by Daniel Mulloy and THE EAGLEMAN STAG by Michael Please (Royal College of Art), the UK would be further down in the rankings.

The prominence of certain countries amongst the prize-winners reflects not only their short film production volume, but also of course the number of festivals in the respective region. As films have better chances of winning awards on their home turf, more festivals in a particular country means more wins for national productions. Examples of this phenomenon are Germany, France, Spain and Brazil.

Of equal interest are the numbers indicating films’ success abroad. Here the following picture takes shape: the greatest acclaim in foreign climes was reaped in 2011 by films from Germany (74 awards), the UK (54), Poland (45), France (42) and Sweden (38). The United Kingdom took the lead here for years, and British films are still popular abroad, but festival kudos are sinking along with production volume. This is most likely the result of changes in the country’s film promotion policies.

Amongst the countries without a pronounced short film festival structure, Romania, Canada and Argentina are notable for their disproportionate success abroad. The triumphant Romanian films have already been named above; however, some of them were actually international co-productions.
In Canada the productions of the National Film Board enjoy an especially high level of worldwide acclaim. And in Argentina the success of the stop-motion animation LUMINARIS by Juan Pablo Zaramella helped the country to climb to a high ranking amongst the most celebrated production countries.

Success at home vs. recognition abroad

As in prior years, films from Brazil and the USA pocketed substantially more awards at home than abroad in 2011. But Austria and France were also notable for heaping more honours their domestic productions than these enjoyed elsewhere.
Conversely, films from the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK and Sweden were more successful on foreign shores.

The least favourable balance between domestic and foreign prize-winners could be found in 2011 in Portugal. And in Italy as well, more awards were bestowed on foreign productions than those made at home.

Of the major filmmaking countries, Germany and Spain in particular produced works whose success was basically the same at home and abroad. This was the case even though both countries boast a high density of festivals where a correspondingly large number of short film awards are presented.

Germany’s favourite production countries

In Germany, the most decorated films in 2011 came from the United Kingdom (10 awards/ in 2010: 12), France (7 awards / 2010: 9) and Italy (6 / 1), followed by films from Belgium, the Netherlands and the USA. A long-term trend can be observed here.

International orientation of jury decisions

Amongst the countries presenting the most awards for short film, there was hardly any difference in terms of international orientation. In Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the USA more than half of the winners in each case were foreign films. The widest range of award-winning foreign works was witnessed in Germany (37 different countries) and France (33). This international outlook is increasingly taking hold in other countries as well.

The year’s most successful films internationally

As in past years, the most successful film of 2011 was once again animated: THE EXTERNAL WORLD by David O’Reilly. This German production by a young Irish filmmaker was already among the Top Ten in 2010. This makes it all the more surprising that it received the most awards by far in 2011. THE EXTERNAL WORLD swept up no less than 21 of the prizes registered in our magazine. David O’Reilly originally rose to fame with PLEASE SAY SOMETHING, which in 2009 was also a top award-winner.

In second place for awards and honours is the Romanian fiction short APELE TAC (Silent River) by Anca Miruna Lazarescu. This half-hour film about two men who try to flee the country during the Ceaucescu era is a German co-production and, since its premiere at the Berlinale, has been shown at dozens of festivals large and small.

Third in the ranking is BABY by Daniel Mulloy. The British production is a short fiction film about stereotypical expectations, telling the story of a Bosnian immigrant woman who by chance witnesses a mugging in the street and is then followed home by the young black thief. Mulloy is currently shooting a new short film in Pristina with his Kosovar female lead and is also planning his first feature-length film. He had already attracted international acclaim previously with his short films DAD and SISTER.

Several films with the same number of awards (7) share fourth place:

  • L’ACCORDEUR by Olivier Treiner. In this fiction short, a frustrated piano tuner pretends to be blind in order to worm his way into the lives and homes of his clients. This is the second short film by the French director and screenwriter.
  • Filmed in the black-and-white mode of the 1920s, the Spanish short fiction film LA GRAN CARRERA by Kote Camacho is about greedy gamblers at the horse races.
  • The stop-motion pixelated film LUMINARIS by Juan Pablo Zaramella from Argentina is a love story about two workers who escape their dreary workaday lives in a light bulb factory. Zaramella has already made a name for himself in Argentina with his claymation films
  • The Dutch fiction film SUIKER (Sugar) by Jeroen Annokkeé is a romantic tragicomedy full of erotic allusions about neighbours in an apartment house.

Several films are also tied for fifth place in the number of awards received: BIG BANG BIG BOOM by blu, the fiction short SMí… BARN, STORE ORD (Little Children, Big Words) by Lisa James Larsson (S), and the British animated film THE EAGLEMAN STAG.

With the exception of the great distance between THE EXTERNAL WORLD and rest of the winners, which were able to collect a maximum of eight awards, the prizes were scattered more widely in festival year 2011.

As in previous years, Oscar nominees and winners did not play much of a role in the awards and prizes listed in this magazine. Only the German fiction short RAJU by Max Zähle, which won bronze in the foreign category at the Student Academy Awards and is nominated for the 2012 Oscars, also received an appreciable number of prizes at the festivals tracked by the magazine – half of them in the USA!

Unlike last year, when the top-ranked films were all animated, the winners in 2011 were mostly fiction films. Comparing films that received more than 3 prizes, 15 of the 37 were fiction, 14 animation, 5 documentary and only 3 works that could be described as experimental.

The high number of awards for animated films can surely be attributed to the existence of many specialized animation festivals. The other genres are at a disadvantage in this respect, as nearly all the other festivals are not genre-specific and hence also accept animation for their competitions. Conspicuous is the meagre number of honours for documentaries and experimental films at the top of the prize pyramid; these genres rarely manage to accumulate several awards.

German films

Apart from the outlier THE EXTERNAL WORLD, the field of German prize-winners was quite diverse in festival year 2011. After RAJU, four films were tied for third place: the documentary DIE FRAU DES FOTOGRAFEN by Philip Widmann & Karsten Krause (HFBK Hamburg), the animated film LOOM from the Filmakademie Ludwigsburg (Jan Bitzer & Iljia Brunk & Csaba Letay), the comedy NUN SEHEN SIE FOLGENDES by Erik Schmitt and Stephan Müller, and the fiction film VIKI FICKI by actress Natalie Spinelli.

Apart from four films with three awards apiece and eleven further films with two awards each, the remaining nearly 90 German films that were cited on in 2011 each received one prize.

Audience awards – a broad range and differentiated votes

In contrast with past years, the prizes awarded by audiences in 2011 did not correspond as closely with the votes of expert juries. The most audience awards were collected in 2011 by the films L’ACCORDEUR, APELE TAC and the Spanish animated short VICENTA by Sam Orti.

One perhaps surprising finding: THE EXTERNAL WORLD only received two audience awards at the festivals followed by our magazine.

A major difference between the choices made by audiences and juries could always be found up to now in the range of films recognized, which tended to be much wider for the juries, while audiences kept voting for the same films. Things were different in 2011: 100 audience awards were distributed amongst no less than 86 different films.

It’s lonely at the top again: award concentration in 2011

When we looked back over the year 2008, we already noticed that the distribution pyramid for film prizes tended to taper off considerably toward the top. Then, in 2009, only 15 films were able to amass more than four awards each. The pattern continued in festival year 2010, when 54 films (out of 870 award-winners) swept up nearly one-quarter of all prizes.

In 2011, we recorded slightly in excess of 1,200 awards, which were distributed amongst 884 films. Of these, 718 received only one award each and 18 films won more than four prizes. Therefore, although the pyramid has grown somewhat flatter, a relatively small “top group” of 37 films with more than three awards each still reaped nearly one-fifth (224) of all honours.

Consensus festivals and trendsetters

Surveying the top films (with more than four awards) and the intersecting set of festivals at which they received awards, we concluded in 2009 that many of the award-winners had been honoured simultaneously at a relatively small group of festivals This tendency was not as pronounced in 2011. At quite a few festivals, however, at least two awards went to members of the common set of most successful films: Alcala de Henares, Clermont-Ferrand, Dresden, FIKE íˆvora, Interfilm Berlin and Vienna Independent Shorts.

Most of the films that later became hits premiered at the following festivals: Annecy, Cannes, Clermont-Ferrand, Sundance and Venice. And Filmfest Dresden hosted the most German premieres of international films that would go on in 2011 to collect more kudos.

Short film awards at prestigious feature film festivals 

It used to be that short films played only a supporting role at festivals dedicated primarily to feature-length film. But things have changed. Ever since most big festivals started giving short film its own competitions instead of treating it merely as a lead-in, they have also grown more willing to experiment in their choices. Participation in feature film festivals and the awards conferred there are therefore exerting an increasing impact on the short film scene, though not necessarily influencing jury decisions.

  • Sundance (01/2011): Of eight short film award-winners at the Sundance Festival, THE EXTERNAL WORLD by David O’Reilly and POZA ZASIEGIEM (Out of Reach) by Jakub Stozek went on to enjoy further acclaim. The latter was honoured at the documentary film festivals Flahertiana in Perm and It’s all True in Sí£o Paulo.
  • Rotterdam (02/2011): Of the two winners of Tiger Awards (02/2011), STARDUST by Nicolas Provost received still more prizes that same year in Tampere, at the Tabor Festival in Zabok and at Vienna Independent Shorts.
  • Berlinale (02/2011): Of the thirteen short film prize-winners in all categories at the Berlinale, three films subsequently pocketed awards at other festivals as well. The EFA Short Film Nominee í…TERFÖDELSEN (The Unliving) was also a success in Sitges and at the Chicago International Film Festival. An honourable mention from the youth film competition 14plus, GET REAL! by Evert de Beijer (NL), also won an award at the International Animated Film Festival in Geneva. Winner of the Berlin Special Award of the Deutsches Kinderhilfswerk, ARD AL ABTAL (Land of the Heroes) by Sahim Omar Kalifa, received additional honours at the Reggio Short Film Contest, Hong Kong Independent Short Film Festival and the International Film Festival in Dubai.
  • Cannes (05/2011): Of eight award-winners in Cannes, only two films had a chance to win at subsequent short film festivals (DIMANCHES, Valéry Rosier + DRARI, Kamal Lazraq).
  • Locarno (08/2011): Of six short film awards conferred at the festival in Locarno, OPOWIESCI Z CHLODNI (Frozen Stories) from Poland won prizes at the International Festival of Film Schools in Munich and the AFI Fest in Los Angeles. Also enjoying further success was the German film RAUSCHGIFT by Peter Baranowski, at Signes de Nuit Paris and Kansk Moscow.
  • Venice (09/2011): The Venice Film Festival took place in September, perhaps too late to have an effect that same year. At the 2010 festival, THE EXTERNAL WORLD by David O’Reilly and COMING ATTRACTIONS by Peter Tscherkassky received awards. The latter then went on to gain recognition at the Gijon festival (2010) and at Vienna Independent Shorts (2011).

These big festivals generally demand a world premiere for eligibility – or at least a national or European debut. Short films shown there are hence just embarking on their festival career. What the awards statistics don’t show is that many films that later receive awards at short film festivals originally premiered at just these major festivals. As we can see, however, winning an award at a big festival seldom heralds future success – in particular at short film festivals.

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