Review of award-winning short films in 2012 – a brief appraisal


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 years 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 2012.

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 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 films 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 2012. Slightly over 1,400 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 But of course we do not publish all prizes and awards conferred on short films everywhere in the world.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 events are not included. We do however report on national film awards such as the German Short Film Award and the BAFTA Awards in the UK.

We usually list only grand prizes, but for a few of the larger festivals 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, we report on the jury decisions for some 300 festivals or competitions around 50 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

The award-winners listed on these pages in 2012 came from 85 different countries.
This is an increase over prior years. New are in particular films from the Arab world and from smaller Latin American countries. The most awards by far were bestowed in 2012 on films made in Germany (203), France (138), the USA (117), Spain (84), the UK (110), Belgium (58) and Switzerland (58). Among the first five countries, the ranking and number of winners changed little from the previous year. The only noticeable development is that, while the number of prizes received by films from the UK had been dropping over the past few years, the country is now recapturing its former status. The countries in sixth and seventh place, which were held last year by Italy and Poland, are new. Of the total awards presented, over half were received by films from one of the above-named seven countries.

Among the smaller countries in terms of either population or short film production 2012 was a successful year in particular for Belgium, Switzerland and Poland. Belgium won twice as many awards as in previous years, all thanks to a single title: the Belgian-French-Dutch co-production OH WILLY…, which alone took 27 awards.

Similar effects can also be seen in countries with a high film production volume. The success of UNA HISTORIA PARA LOS MODLIN (Sergio Oksman) was a boon for Spain. And Grzegorz Jaroszuk put Poland in the spotlight with FROZEN STORIES.

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 domestic productions. Examples of this phenomenon are Germany, France, the USA and Spain.

Likewise of interest are the numbers indicating films popularity abroad. Here the following picture takes shape: the greatest acclaim in foreign climes was reaped in 2012 by films from France (77 awards), the UK (71), Germany (61), the USA (54) and Belgium (50). Films from these countries won at least half of their awards abroad, except for Germany, which was unable in 2012 to repeat its international awards sweep from previous years. France and the USA by contrast enjoyed substantially more success abroad than before.

Amongst the countries that do not boast an active line-up of short film festivals like the ones in Germany, France and Spain, a disproportionate success rate was enjoyed by Poland and Canada. In Canada, films produced by the National Film Board as well as independent productions were greeted by worldwide acclaim. In Poland, productions from the Lodz Film School are especially strong contenders.


Success at home vs. recognition abroad

In prior years, films from Brazil and the USA pocketed substantially more awards at home than abroad. This was still the case in 2012, but the gap is closing. Austria and France are also countries where domestic productions tend to reap more glory at home than abroad. But this situation changed in 2012. With the exception of countries without their own short film festivals or film awards, there is in general no major discrepancy anymore between domestic and foreign success. Only German short films brought in disproportionately more prizes on their home ground in 2012 than they have in a long time (142).

Conversely, films from the Netherlands, Belgium, Russia and Estonia in particular achieved greater recognition on foreign shores than at home.

The least favourable balance between domestic and foreign prize-winners was experienced once again by the Portuguese in 2012. And in Italy as well, many more awards were bestowed on foreign films than on those made at home.

Of the major filmmaking countries, France, Spain, and for the first time the USA, produced works whose success was basically the same at home and abroad. This was the case even though all three countries boast a high density of festivals and accordingly better chances for films to win awards in their own country.


Germany’s favourite production countries

In Germany, the most decorated films in 2012 came from the UK (13 awards), France (10), Poland (9), Spain (9) and Switzerland (8). A long-term trend can be observed here in the case of the UK and France. By contrast, the popularity of films from Belgium, the Netherlands and the USA at German festivals declined in 2012. German films for their part enjoyed the greatest success in the USA, Spain and France.


Production country preferences elsewhere

French films received most of their foreign awards in Germany (10), Spain (9) and Italy (6). British films were big winners in Germany (13 awards), the USA (11) and France (7). Films from the USA received kudos in a wide variety of countries, but the most awards of all in Germany, France and Canada (6 each). Spanish films won the most foreign prizes in Germany (9) and France (4).
Films from the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden received the most awards in France (9), Italy (5) and the USA (5).


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 France, Spain, Italy and (just barely) the USA, more than half of the winners in each case were foreign films. This mirrors last years results. Only in Germany were more prizes awarded this year for the first time to domestic productions.

The widest range of countries represented by foreign award-winners was witnessed in Germany (33 different countries) and France (30), followed by Spain and Italy (26 each). This international outlook is increasingly taking hold in other countries as well.


The year’s most successful films internationally

As in past years, the top film of 2012 was once again animated: OH WILLY… by Emma de Swaef & Marc James Roels. The Belgian-Dutch-French co-production is a stop-motion animated film with characters hand-made from wool and textiles. It tells the story of shy 50-year-old Willy, who visits his dying mother in a nudist camp. In his confusion and sadness, he flees from the camp after her death and finds comfort and maternal protection out in the wild in the form of a large, hairy animal. Packing an emotional charge, but unfolding calmly and without dialogue, the film explores the vagaries of human existence and our yearning for security and the innocence of childhood.

OH WILLY… managed to accumulate a record number of awards in just one year’s time. We recorded 27 prizes for OH WILLY… in 2012“ considerably more than the record-holders achieved in previous years (THE EXTERNAL WORLD and SINNA MANN) and more than twice as many as the second-place film in 2012.

The film garnered its first Grand Prize in April 2012 at the Holland Animation Film Festival. It then went on to collect honours primarily at other festivals for animated film. An analysis of the festivals that do not show exclusively animated film is still in progress, but already started in February 2012 with the short film festival in Clermont-Ferrand.

In second place for awards and honours is the Spanish documentary UNA HISTORIA PARA LOS MODLIN (A Story for the Modlins) by Brazilian filmmaker Sergio Oksman. Based on photos found lying in the street, the film reconstructs the story of the Modlin family: after appearing in Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY, the actor Elmer Modlin vanished along with his wife and son. The photos found 30 years later document how the family cloistered itself in a dark apartment and lived for decades in isolation. The half-hour film alternates between documentary and staged narrative. Like earlier films by Sergio Oksman, for example NOTES ON THE OTHER, which deals with Hemingway doubles, UNA HISTORIA challenges the assumption that fiction films are strictly fictional and documentaries always tell the truth.

UNA HISTORIA PARA LOS MODLIN is one of the few documentaries to have won a significant number of awards in recent years at short film festivals (11). The film received its first prize in May 2012 at the Festival Documenta Madrid, but it had previously been shown at Sundance, Sydney and Clermont-Ferrand.

In third place are several films with the same number of awards (8):

  • The cartoon KUHINA (Swarming) about a child who discovers life “insects” in a dead bird, by Joni Männistö (FIN), was made at the Turku Arts Academy. KUHINA achieved acclaim almost exclusively at animation short film festivals, but also received multiple awards at student film festivals that we do not keep track of in our magazine. The film won its first major award at the Anima Festival in Brussels.
  • The fiction film OPOWIESCI Z CHLODNI (Frozen Stories) is Grzegorz Jaroszukâ’s final exam work at the Polish film school PWSFTviT in Lodz. With sarcasm and icy humour he relates the story of a young woman and a young man who are voted the worst employees at their workplace “a supermarket“ and set out to start a new life by taking part in a contest on a TV sitcom. FROZEN STORIES received its first honour from a major short film festival at Clermont-Ferrand, and at a fiction film festival in Locarno in 2011.

THE CENTRIFUGE BRAIN PROJECT by Till Nowak (D) is a fake documentary about scientific experiments in brain research to determine the effect of centrifuges such as the carousels found at fairs. The film took first prize in Germany at Exground 2011 in Wiesbaden and then in January 2012 at Filmwinter in Stuttgart. Since then, it has been touring the world, collecting dozens of audience awards and honourable mentions, including in Oberhausen. Till Nowak originally rose to international fame with his animated film DELIVERY (2005).

Several films with the same number of awards (7) also share fourth place: the fiction short I HAVE A BOAT by Nathan Nill (D), the animated film IT’S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY by Don Hertzfeldt (USA), the fiction film KILLING THE CHICKENS TO SCARE THE MONKEYS by Jens Assur (S), the cartoon TRAMVAJ (Tram) by the Czech artist Michaela Pavlatova (F) and the short documentary WIR STERBEN by Josephine Links (D).

With the exception of the great discrepancy between OH WILLY… and the next-most-successful films, the prizes were scattered more widely in festival year 2012 than in previous years. In fifth and sixth place are films with nine and eleven awards respectively.

As in previous years, there were not many Oscar nominees among the winners of the honours and festival prizes listed in this magazine. Only the US fiction short CURFEW (6 awards in 2012) by Shawn Christensen is nominated for an Oscar. The film won its first award in Europe at Clermont-Ferrand.

In 2011, the winners listed in our magazine were mainly short fiction films, and the year before animated films only. In 2012 the top-ranked films for the first time exhibited a balanced mix of genres.

Comparing films that received more than three prizes, 18 of the 35 were fiction, 15 animation and only two documentary films. The high number of awards for animated films can surely be attributed to the existence of so 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 the complete lack of experimental films at the top of the prize pyramid.

Note: We report elsewhere on the fortunes of artists’ film and video in 2012, which usually does not play much of a role at short film festivals. See:


German films

Apart from THE CENTRIFUGE BRAIN PROJECT with eight awards and WIR STERBEN and I HAVE A BOAT with seven each, the field of German prize-winners was quite diverse in festival year 2012. FLAMINGO PRIDE with four prizes was followed by several films with three awards: DIE SCHAUKEL DES SARGMACHERS, GEFALLEN, KELLERKIND, KURSDORF, MÄDCHENABEND, NUN SEHEN SIE FOLGENDES, SECHSTER SINN, DRITTES AUGE, ZWEITES GESICHT, SOUNDING GLASS, VERONIKA and ZING.

The remainder of the nearly 150 German films cited as award-winners on in 2012 won only one or two awards each.


Audience awards – a broad range and differentiated vote

A total of just under 130 audience awards were listed in the magazine. The most popular films in 2012 were OH WILLY… and CURFEW (nominated for an Oscar in the USA); followed by THE CENTRIFUGE BRAIN PROJECT, A MORNING STROLL (animated film by Grant Orchard, UK) and RHINOS (fiction film by Shimmy Marcue, Ireland). The German films with the most audience awards received them almost exclusively at German festivals – with the exception of CENTRIFUGE.

A major difference between the audience favourites and those of expert 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 titles. Things were already different in 2011, though, and 2012 only confirmed the trend, with 127 audience awards distributed amongst no less than 113 different films.


It’s still lonely at the top: award concentration in 2012

When we looked back over the year 2008, we noted 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, with 54 films (out of 870 award-winners) sweeping 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 won more than four prizes.

Therefore, although the pyramid has grown somewhat flatter, a relatively small group of 35 “peak performers” with more than three awards each still reaped nearly one-sixth (224) of all honours. By contrast, 876 films received only one award each, 112 films two and 43 films won three awards.


Consensus festivals and trendsetters

Surveying the top films (with more than three awards each) and the intersecting set of festivals at which they were recognized, 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 2012. At quite a few festivals, however, at least two awards went to members of the common set of most successful films: Clermont-Ferrand, Anima Brussels, Annecy and Sydney.

Most of the films that later became hits premiered at the following festivals: Clermont Ferrand (by a wide margin), Cannes, Locarno and Sundance. And the majority of the internationally acclaimed films in 2012 had their German premieres at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, the Berlinale or the Hamburg International Short Film Festival.


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 in the last few years. Ever since most of the 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.

  • Berlinale (02/2012): Of the 11 shorts that won prizes here, only two subsequently pocketed awards at short film festivals: THE GREAT RABBIT by Atsushi Wada (J) and RAFA by João Salaviza (P).
  • Cannes (05/2012): Of eight award-winners in Cannes, three films afterward had a chance to win further prizes at subsequent short film festivals: SESSIZ-BE DENG (Silent) by L. Rezan Yesilbas (Turkey), THE CURSE by Fyzal Boulifa (UK/Morocco) and UN DIMANCHE MATIN by Damien Manivel (F). The Turkish Palme d’Or winner went on to win additional awards at Vila do Conde, Dubai, Prizren, Melbourne and Grimstad.
  • Locarno (08/2012): Of eight short film awards conferred at the festival in Locarno, the Pardino d’Oro winner, THE MASS OF MEN by Gabriel Gauchet (UK), subsequently took four additional prizes. One prize-winner at last year’s Locarno festival, OPOWIESCI Z CHLODNI (Frozen Stories) was one of this year’s top success stories.
  • Rotterdam (02/2012): None of the winners at Rotterdam was later honoured at a short film festival.
  • Sundance (01/2012): Of six award-winning shorts at the Sundance Festival, only A MORNING STROLL collected further prizes.
  • Venice (09/2012): The Venice Film Festival took place in September, perhaps too late to generate an effect the same year. None of the Orrizonte winners went on to receive a prize at a short film festival in 2012.

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