Review of award-winning short films in 2015 – a brief appraisal

SADAKAT (FIDELITY) by Ilker Çatak © Hamburg Media School GmbH

After getting the impression at some point that just a handful of short films scoop up the lion’s share of awards and honours each year all over the world, we began publishing an annual review of the past year’s award-winners. Analysing the winners listed over the year in our “Awards” section enables us to quantify this subjective impression using objective figures. Now it’s time to take a look back at the year 2015.


Listing the winners invariably results in a kind of Hit Parade of film. This kind of ranking can of course not be used to draw conclusions as to the films’ artistic quality, but it does provide a measure of their popularity as gauged by the votes of expert juries and viewing audiences. Ultimately these are market data, for the accumulation of awards cannot really be equated with objective judgements on quality.


An overview like this inevitably yields some indirect findings, regarding for example the production volume in the various countries. In particular, the evaluation measures the success of short film production in a specific country compared to others.



Basis for the evaluation


All honours and awards were analysed that were registered for the “Awards” section on during 2015. This accounts for just over 1,700 mentions this past year. But of course we did not record all prizes and awards conferred on short films everywhere in the world.


Only the major short film festivals with international competitions are reported. Events with an exclusively national or regional focus are not included. We do however report on national film awards such as the German Short Film Award and the Césars in France.


We usually register 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, jury decisions in around 300 festivals and competitions – 52 of them based in Germany – are included. Due to our own geographical location, European as well as German festivals and competitions are over-represented. However, countries producing short films in all continents and regions of the world are also included.


Strong production countries


The 2015 award-winners came from 84 different countries. This means there was less diversity than in previous years (2014: 95 countries, 2013: 102). The most awards by far were bestowed in 2015 on films made in Germany (254), the USA (142), France (137), the UK (108), Spain (82) and Poland (64). Co-productions are not included in these figures.


The countries at the top of the list and the number of prizes have changed little in recent years – except for their order. France and the USA swapped places compared to 2014. Belgium (now ranked 8) lost its place to Poland. New in 2015 was the resurgence of Brazil (in 7th place) and the further decline of Italy (in 14th place). Of the total awards presented, nearly half were again received by films from the top-ranking countries, in this case the six listed above (approx. 850).


Among the smaller countries – in terms of population – 2015 was a successful year for short films in particular from Belgium, Poland and Switzerland. One-off effects sometimes serve to catapult a country up the list for a short time. The Netherlands, for example, was among the top ten in 2015 due to two very popular films (A SINGLE LIFE and IF MAMA AIN’T HAPPY, NOBODY’S HAPPY). For a similar reason, Russia – not a small country, but one without a major short film scene – also joined the top ten last year for the first time. This can be attributed to the resounding success of the cartoon WE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT COSMOS by Konstantin Bronzit.


Similar effects can however also be seen in countries with a higher film production volume. This is the case for example with the UK thanks to THE BIGGER PICTURE by Daisy Jacobs, and also Switzerland with DISCIPLINE by Christophe M. Saber (13 of 47 awards for Swiss productions).


The prominence of certain countries among the prize-winners reflects not only their short film production volume, but also of course the number of festivals there. As films have better chances of winning awards on their home turf, more festivals in a particular country mean more wins for domestic productions. Examples of this phenomenon are Germany, France and the USA, countries with a large number of short film festivals. Italy is the only exception, a country where many short film festivals are held, but few wins were recorded in 2015.


Likewise of interest are the numbers indicating films’ success abroad. Here the following picture takes shape (when co-productions are also counted): the greatest acclaim in foreign climes was reaped in 2015 by films from France (96 awards), Germany (91), the UK (73), Spain (45), the USA (75), Switzerland (49) and Poland (47). This is almost the same sequence as in 2015. Only Germany and the UK have swapped places, and Belgium and Canada ceded their ranking to Spain and Switzerland.


Among the countries that do not boast an active line-up of short film festivals, Poland and Canada were once again notable in 2015 for a disproportionate success rate. In Canada, films produced by the National Film Board as well as independent productions again reaped kudos worldwide, for example the short fiction film HOLE by Martin Edralin. And in Poland, film-school productions are especially strong contenders – this time not only from Lodz, but also from Warsaw. The success of Swiss films (49 prizes in 2015) can probably likewise be attributed to a good overall short film structure.


Success at home vs. recognition abroad


In prior years, films from Brazil and the USA won substantially more awards at home than abroad. This has changed with regard to the USA, for which the ratio of awards was balanced in 2015. With the exception of countries without their own short film festivals, there was no major discrepancy this past year between domestic and foreign success. Apart from Brazil, only films from Germany won more prizes at home than abroad in 2015. Germany is however a special case in our statistics, because we register many of the awards at even its smaller festivals. German short films received 182 awards at home in 2015 (2014: 151) and 91 abroad (2014: 79).


Conversely, films from the Netherlands (50 foreign and 5 domestic awards), Switzerland (49:3) and Canada (27:7) achieved significantly greater recognition on foreign shores than at home. In Portugal, where domestic productions once rarely received a prize, more films enjoyed success at home in 2015 (29:14).


Countries without a real short film festival scene but which nonetheless produce films that reap exceptional success abroad represent a special case. These include Russia (38 prizes abroad), Mexico (14), Chile (13), Colombia (13), Croatia (13), Iran and Israel (12 each).


Of the major production countries, Belgium, Spain and Austria in particular produced short films that were successful to the same degree at home and abroad. This was the case even though all three countries offer many opportunities for domestic films to be recognised.


Germany’s favourite production countries


In Germany, the most decorated films in 2015 came from France (16 awards), the UK (13), Switzerland (9), the USA (8), the Netherlands and Spain (8 each). This continues a long-term trend, but for the first time French films were more popular in Germany than British ones. By contrast, films from the USA declined somewhat in favour compared to previous years.


Preferences in other countries


French films were granted the most foreign awards in Germany (16), Italy (11), the USA (9) and Spain (7).


British films continued to perform particularly well in Germany (13 awards), the USA (12) and France (10). Notable is that German films conversely did not find much favour in the UK (1 award).


Films from the USA enjoyed a good run across a broad range of countries, but mostly in the UK (9) and Germany (8).


Spanish films won the most foreign prizes in Germany (8) and France (5).


Films from the South American countries were most highly acclaimed on their own continent, followed by festivals in Germany and Spain.


And productions from the Nordic countries did the best abroad in Germany (22), France (19) and the USA (9).


On these pages, 58 different films from Germany, including co-productions, registered 99 prizes abroad in 2015. The success of German films worldwide was surpassed only by France: 82 French films received 106 awards outside France in 2015. German films for their part enjoyed the greatest success in the USA, France, Spain and Austria.


International orientation of jury decisions


Among the countries presenting the most awards for short film, there were hardly any changes last year in terms of international orientation. In France, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal and Poland, more than half of the winners in 2015 were foreign films. In Germany, significantly less than half of all awards were bestowed on foreign films in 2015, although this result is also owing to more extensive data collection (including more festivals with low international participation). What can be said, however, is that even fewer prizes went to foreign films than in previous years.

Apart from Germany, more prizes were also awarded this past year to domestic than to foreign productions in Brazil, Belgium and the UK. In the USA, the ratio of awards was balanced for the first time.


The largest range of countries represented among the winners can be found in Germany (40 different countries!) and France (38), followed by the USA (33), Spain (25) and Italy (18). This is almost the same order as the previous year, with only Spain and Italy switching places.


The year’s most successful films internationally


Going against the trend of previous years, the top short film of 2015 was not an animated film but a fictional treatment of a current topic, namely DISCIPLINE by Christophe M. Saber. In the twelve-minute Swiss film, the punishment of a little girl in a small shop run by Egyptians unleashes a fiery multilingual dispute between and among the customers and staff. The film deals with questions of child-raising, racism and value judgments in a multicultural environment.

Standbild aus DISCIPLINE

DISCIPLINE by Christophe M. Saber © Box Productions

We registered thirteen awards for DISCIPLINE in 2015. But the film already embarked on its career at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014 and was noted in that year’s statistics with six awards. Featured at more than 180 festivals, according to the producers, DISCIPLINE is one of the most successful short films of recent years.


In second place in the 2015 ranking, with twelve awards, is the American animated film WORLD OF TOMORROW by Don Hertzfeldt. In the digitally produced animated film, a little girl makes contact with her clone from the future. The journey in time via a virtual computer cosmos forms the springboard for touching on universal questions facing humanity such as the finite nature of our lives, bio-ethics and transhumanism.

WORLD OF TOMORROW received its first prize at the Sundance Festival, and then at all renowned animation film festivals, and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2016.


WE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT COSMOS is in third place, another animation film. In a simple cartoon drawing style, Konstantin Bronzit (RU) tells the story of two friends who do everything to realize their shared dream of flying in space. Just within reach of their goal, however, their friendship is threatened by the fact that the rocket only has room for one.

WE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT COSMOS got its start in 2014 at the Hiroshima Animation Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2016. The producer is the St. Petersburg studio Melnitsa.


In fourth and fifth place, with 11 awards each, are two (but not exclusively) German fiction films: ALLES WIRD GUT and SADAKAT (FIDELITY).

ALLES WIRD GUT by Patrick Vollrath deals with a girl who gets caught in the crossfire of the power battles between her divorced parents. The fiction film garnered its first grand prize at the Max Ophüls Film Festival. After receiving the bronze Student Oscar and being nominated for the Academy Award in the Live Action category in 2016, the Austrians also had something to celebrate, because ALLES WIRD GUT is the final project of a German student at the Vienna Film Academy.


SADAKAT (FIDELITY) by the German-Turkish director Ilker Çatak likewise received a prize at the Max Ophüls Festival, as well as a Student Oscar in gold and an Academy Award nomination in 2016. The short fiction film is about the inner conflicts that arise in a family that protects a political activist on the run from the police in Istanbul.


The German film ALIENATION and the Finnish-Danish production KUUNTELE (Listen) are in next place with ten awards each.

The docu-animation film ALIENATION is based on interviews with young people about their experience of puberty. The work of Laura Lehmus – a Finnish graduate of the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne – is a phenomenon to the extent that it received all ten prizes we registered here in Germany – including a German Short Film Award in gold, a Max Ophüls Award and prizes at the festivals in Oberhausen and Dresden.


KUUNTELE (Listen) by the Finnish-Iranian director Hamy Ramezan and British-Zambian co-director Rungano Nyoni has a decidedly multinational background. The short film tells of an Arabic-speaking woman wearing a burqa who seeks refuge from her violent husband at a Danish police station but is warned by the interpreter of the consequences of filing a report with the police. The film was launched already in 2014 in Cannes.


Launched in 2014 and still successful in 2015


A few films that got their start in 2014 continued to enjoy successful festival careers in 2015. At the top of the ranking for 2014 and 2015 is the British animated film THE BIGGER PICTURE by Daisy Jacobs, which received distinctions including the British Film Award (BAFTA) and an Oscar nomination in 2015.


The other films that went on to achieve further wins include SINFONIA NO. 42 by Réka Bucsi (H), which was in fourth place in 2014 with 10 prizes. Another example is the short documentary SHIPWRECK by Morgan Knibbe (NL), which was recognised in Locarno in 2014 with a Pardino d’argento and went on to receive seven further awards in 2015. Susann Maria Hempel’s SIEBEN MAL AM TAG … also won additional awards in 2015, including in Clermont-Ferrand, Barcelona and Sapporo.


German films


Nine German films and co-productions were among the nearly 30 films sweeping up more than four awards in 2015. Apart from the previously mentioned SADAKAT and ALIENATION, these were: THE CHICKEN by Una Gunjak (8 awards), DISSONANCE by Till Nowak (7), ERLEDIGUNG EINER SACHE by Dustin Loose (6), ROADTRIP by Xaver “Xylophon” Böhm (6), HERMAN THE GERMAN by Michael Binz (5) and THE PRESENT by Jacob Frey (5). The two latter films won all of their prizes in Germany.



Audience awards


A total of over 169 audience awards were registered. The most popular shorts in 2015 were the animated films WORLD OF TOMORROW by Don Hertzfeldt (USA) and ROADTRIP by Xaver “Xylophon” Böhm (D) and the fiction films HERMAN THE GERMAN by Michael BINZ (D) and GUY MOQUET (F) by Demis Herenger. In this analysis, only two jury awards were registered for HERMAN THE GERMAN (at the Filmschoolfest Munich) in comparison with its profusion of audience awards. No further major discrepancies between the votes of the audience and the expert juries could be identified. Audience awards were also bestowed on almost all of the top ten films selected by the juries, but the 169 audience awards were as a whole dispersed widely between no less than 145 different films.



The careers of short films awarded 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. For most of the major festivals, however, the short form is in the meantime no longer just a lead-in but is accorded its own competitions, with the stipulation that the entries shown must be premieres. As short films are primarily shown only at festivals, we might ask to what extent this eligibility requirement keeps them from being screened elsewhere or else excludes them from enjoying a festival career.


Berlinale (02/2015): The winners of the Golden Bear, HOSANNA by Na Young-kil (South Korea) and the Silver Bear, BAD AT DANCING by Joanne Arnow, received no further prizes in 2015. PLANET SIGMA by Momoko Seto (Audi Short Film Award) was recognised elsewhere twice. And the Teddy Award winner, SAN CRISTOBAL (Omar Z. Hidalgo, Chile), received one other award. Only the Berlin EFA nominee DISSONANCE by Till Nowak (D) went on to achieve great acclaim after the Berlinale.


Cannes (05/2015): Of seven winners in the various categories, two films subsequently received further prizes: The film tied for third place in the Cinéfondation competition, THE RETURN OF ERKIN by Maria Guskova (RU), was honoured at festivals in Russia, Poland and South Korea, and the Palm d’Or winner, WAVES ’98 by Ely Dagher (Lib/Qatar), received a prize at the Reel Shorts Festival in Chicago following Cannes.

One Cannes participant from the previous year, KUUNTELE (Listen), did go on – with a long delay – to reap success in 2015. It is hard to understand on the other hand why the Colombian-British production LEIDI by Simon Mesa Soto (Palme d’Or in May 2014) won no further awards at short film festivals that year, but reappeared on the scene in 2015 to pocket five additional prizes.


Locarno (08/2015): Apart from the prize-winners in the Swiss competition, only one international film awarded in Locarno afterward received further distinctions. That film was the Pardino d’argento winner LA IMPRESION DE UNA GUERRA by Camilo Restrepo (F/Col), which also won one award each in Bilbao (ES) and Recife (BR).

Locarno likewise had its ‘late bloomer’: SHIPWRECK by Morgan Knibbe (NL), winner of the Pardino d’argento in 2014, received seven further awards at short film festivals in 2015.


Rotterdam (02/2015): Of the three Tiger Award winners, only THINGS by Ben Rivers (UK) went on to receive two awards (in Ann Arbor and Prizren) and LA FIÈVRE by Safia Banhaim (F) an additional prize at EMAF Osnabrück. The Tigers of 2014 were not heard from again in 2015 …


Sundance (01/2015): The winners at Sundance were blessed with greater success. Three of them subsequently walked off with prizes at short film festivals: the Grand Jury Prize winner WORLD OF TOMORROW by Don Hertzfeldt, OH LUCY! by Atsuko Hirayanagi and THE FACE OF UKRAINE: CASTING OKSANA BAIUL by Kitty Green.


Venice (09/2015): Only the EFA nominee E.T.E.R.N.I.T by Giovanni Aloi (F) received one more award (in Milan). One could argue that the festival year after Venice is too short, but the two Orrizonti prize-winners of the previous year did not receive any further awards at festivals in 2015 either.


Award concentration – it’s lonely at the top again in 2015


We already noticed in our first annual awards review (in 2008) that the distribution pyramid for short film prizes tended to taper off considerably toward the top. In 2009, only 15 films were able to amass more than 4 awards each. The pattern continued in festival year 2010, when 54 films swept up nearly one quarter of all the prizes. In 2011, only 18 films received more than four awards. And in 2012 there were 30 films that pocketed more than four prizes each. In 2013, a “top tier” of 42 titles together accumulated more than 253 awards (18 of them more than four prizes each). The top-ranked 53 titles in 2014 accounted for a total of 295 of all awards that year (26 of them taking more than four) and 956 films received only one award each.


In 2015, as in the previous year, 26 films received more than four awards each, accumulating more than 200 of the 1,720 prizes registered in total for the year. The tip of the pyramid thus broadened slightly. However, over 12% of all awards still went to only slightly more than 2% of all award-winning films. And 980 of more than 1,200 films had to suffice themselves in 2014 with only one award each. Unfortunately, it seems that the viral attention accorded to only a few short films worldwide and the resulting jury and audience focus are here to stay!


Reinhard W. Wolf


Disclaimer;-) After we post these annual statistics online, we sometimes receive letters from filmmakers telling us that they have received more awards than the ones mentioned here. This is surely true if one takes into account all competitions and festivals taking place worldwide, including smaller regional events. The selection of festivals evaluated here is however limited in terms of quality and quantity. The criteria are openly disclosed in the introduction above. These are the same festivals that are listed in the monthly Festival Calendar on the website. If any important short film festivals are missing there, we would definitely like to know about it!


see also: Review 2015