A review of award-winning short films in 2016 – and a small evaluation

Timecode © Juanjo Gimenez

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 worldwide, we began publishing here an annual review of the prior year’s award-winners. 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 2016.


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. Ultimately these are market data. The accumulation of awards cannot really be interpreted as an indication of objective judgements on quality.


An overview like this also 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 mentioned in the “Awards” section on shortfilm.de during 2016. Nearly 1,600 films were mentioned in the past year. But of course we did not publish 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 or the Césars in France.


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 reported in 2016 on the jury decisions in 275 festivals or competitions – 59 of them taking place in Germany. Due to our own geographical location, German as well as European festivals and competitions are over-represented. However, countries producing short films that are scattered across all continents and regions of the world are also included.



Strong production countries


The 2016 award-winners came from 88 different countries. In 2015, 84 countries produced winning short films, and in 2014, a total of 95. Of the awards listed on the website, the most by far were conferred in 2016 on films made in Germany (196), France (167), the USA (100), the UK (95), Spain (79) and Canada (48). Co-productions are not included in these figures.


The countries at the top of the list and also the number of prizes have changed little in recent years – only their order. France and the USA swapped places compared to 2015. Poland lost its 6th-place ranking to Canada. New is that the Netherlands was a strong contender (in 7th place). Of the total awards presented, somewhat more than half were received by films from one of the top ten countries.


Among the smaller countries – in terms of population – 2016 was a successful year in particular for films from Switzerland, Poland, Belgium and Norway. Sometimes, individual standout films serve to catapult a country up the list for a short time. The Netherlands, for example, made the top ten in 2016 because the film 9 DAYS – FROM MY WINDOW IN ALEPPO by Issa Touma, Thomas Vroege and Floor van de Muelen reaped great acclaim worldwide. CIPKA by Renata Gasiorowska was a great success for Poland.


Similar effects can however also be seen in countries with a higher film production volume. One example is EDMOND by Nina Gantz, which drove up the British success statistics.


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, Spain and the USA, countries with a large number of short film festivals at which domestic films are going to have better chances than foreign rivals.


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 enjoyed in 2016 by films from France (96 awards), the UK (65), Germany (58), the Netherlands (40), Canada (38) and the USA (34). Compared to 2015, films from France were once again the most successful internationally. German and US films did not do nearly as well as the previous year (91 and 75 foreign awards respectively).


Among the countries that do not offer a line-up of short film festivals as strong as the ones in Germany, France and Spain, the Netherlands and, as before, Canada are once again notable for boasting a disproportionate success rate. In Canada, films produced by the National Film Board, such as the animated film VAYSHA L’AVEUGLE (Blind Vaysha) by Marc Bertrand, as well as independent productions like the short fiction film VIADUC (Overpass) by Patrice Laliberté received kudos worldwide. The Netherlands owed its successful short-film year in 2016 mainly to 9 DAYS – FROM MY WINDOW IN ALEPPO.



Success at home vs. recognition abroad


In prior years, films from Spain and the USA won substantially more awards at home than abroad. In 2016, by contrast, there were no major discrepancies between domestic and foreign success, with the exception of countries without their own short film festivals – for example Russia. Apart from Portugal, only films from Germany won more prizes on their home ground than elsewhere in 2016. Germany is however a special case in our statistics, because our website registers many awards at even its smaller festivals with little international participation. According to our figures, German short films received 138 awards at home in 2016 (2015: 182) and 58 abroad (2015: 91).


Conversely, films from Switzerland (29:14) and Canada (38:10) were much more successful outside their own country. Countries without a real short film festival scene that nonetheless produce films that are exceptionally successful abroad represent another special case. These include the Netherlands (40 prizes abroad), Russia (33) and Chile (12).



Germany’s favourite production countries


In Germany, the most decorated films in 2016 came from France (19 awards), the UK (16), Poland (10), Switzerland and the Netherlands (9 each).

This continues a long-term trend, but for the second time, French films were more popular in Germany than British ones in 2016. By contrast, films from the USA declined markedly in popularity compared to previous years (3 awards).



Preferences in other countries


French films received the most foreign awards in Germany (19), Spain and Japan (9 each ) and Italy (9).


As in 2013 and 2014, British films were particularly successful in Germany (16 awards), the USA (7) and France (6). Notable is that German films conversely did not find much favour in the UK (1 award).


Films from the USA were recognised across a broad range of countries, but received the highest number of awards in Canada (5) and Germany (4).


Spanish films took home the most foreign prizes from Germany (6) and France (5).


Films from the South American countries in turn received the most prizes on their own continent, and otherwise appreciable recognition only in Spain.


And productions from the Nordic countries did the best abroad in Germany (10 awards), France (10) and the USA (8).


A total of 46 different films from Germany, not including co-productions, pocketed 58 prizes abroad in 2016. The success of German films worldwide was surpassed only by France: 75 French films were awarded outside of France in 2016. German films for their part enjoyed the greatest success in France, Spain, India and Italy.



International orientation of jury decisions


Among the countries presenting the most awards for short film, there were hardly any differences last year in terms of international orientation. In France, the UK, Switzerland and Poland, more than half of the winners in 2016 were foreign films. In Germany, by contrast, significantly less than half of all awards were bestowed on foreign films in 2016, although this result is also skewed by the greater amount of German data collected for our website (including more festivals with low international participation).


Apart from Germany, more prizes were also awarded this past year to domestic than to foreign productions in Spain and the USA.


The widest range of countries represented among the winners can be found in Germany (36 different countries!) and France (35), followed by the USA (35), Spain (24) and Italy (19). This is the exact same sequence as in 2015.


In total, prizes were awarded to films from 83 different countries. The tendency toward greater internationalization witnessed in past years thus stagnated in 2016.



The year’s most successful films internationally


The most successful short film of 2016 by far was the fiction film TIMECODE by Juanjo Giménez from Barcelona. Set in an underground car park, it tells the love story of Luna and Diego, two parking attendants who get to know each other despite working different shifts. The film’s awards include a Golden Palm in Cannes as best short film. The Spanish distributor Marvin & Wayne lists more than 60 festival participations during 2016 alone. In 2017, the film was nominated for a short film Oscar and also the European Film Award.


In second place in the ranking for 2016 is the British animated film EDMOND by Nina Gantz. In this stop-motion black comedy, the eponymous main character lives out his erotic and cannibalistic drives. EDMOND received the jury award for best animated film at the Sundance Festival, among other honours. A production of the National Film and Television School (London), the short was already launched successfully in 2015, when it received the British BAFTA Award.


Another animated short is in third place: BLIND VAYSHA / VAYSHA, L’AVEUGLE. The film by Theodore Ushev from Canada takes place in a village setting and tells a parable about a girl who looks with one eye back to the past and the other into the future. She is however blind to what is happening in the present. She sees the young suitors courting her at once as children and old men. The National Film Board (NFB/ONF) production is based on linocuts, which were also filmed as a 3D version. BLIND VAYSHA received awards including the grand prize in Annecy and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2017.


The next three places on the list are also occupied by animated films. In fourth and fifth place are the two cartoons IN THE DISTANCE by Florian Grolig from Germany and the Spanish film ALIKE by Daniel Martínez Lara and Rafael Cano Méndez. IN THE DISTANCE contemplates how distant wars are perceived –the main character symbolically lives in a secluded tower. The film was released in 2015 and won awards at festivals including DOK Leipzig and Interfilm Berlin, and in 2016 in Clermont-Ferrand. It is distributed by the KurzFilmAgentur Hamburg.

ALIKE is an animated film suitable for children about a father-son relationship in which the father sets his son on the right path in various everyday conflicts. Dispensing with dialogue, the film works with simple symbols of urban life and a soundtrack composed by Oscar Araujo. ALIKE, likewise a production from Barcelona, received the Spanish Goya film award and was chosen in Stuttgart as best short film for children.

BEFORE LOVE by Igor Kovalyov from Russia, an almost twenty-minute-long cartoon, tells of dramas revolving around love, passion, jealousy and revenge. After its premiere at the Holland Animation Festival, it went on to receive awards at Fantoche and the renowned Hiroshima Festival, among others.


The first live-action fiction film in our ranking is BALCONY by Toby Fell-Holden. The British film takes place on the urban outskirts, where racist tensions are rampant, and tells of the relationship between a youth and a new classmate from an Islamic country.


The other successful films, with approximately the same number of awards, include DIE BADEWANNE by Tim Ellrich (D), KAPUTT by Volker Schlecht und Alexander Lahl (D), AU BRUIT DES CLOCHETTES by Chabname Zariab (F), LE REPAS DOMINICAL by Céline Devaux (F), 9 DAYS – FROM MY WINDOW IN ALEPPO (NL) and CIPKA (Pussy) by Renata Gasiorowska from Poland.



Launched in 2015 and still successful


A few films that got their start in 2015 continued their successful festival career in 2016. Top-ranked in both years were the Russian animated short WE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT KOSMOS by Konstantin Bronzit (RU) and ALIENATION by Laura Lehmus (D).



German films


Five German films and co-productions were among the nearly 30 films winning more than four awards in 2016 (in 2015 there were nine). Apart from the previously mentioned titles IN THE DISTANCE and KAPUTT, they were the German-Austrian production DIE BADEWANNE by Tim Ellrich (6 awards), ALIENATION by Laura Lehmus (5) and FRANKFURTER STR. 99A by Evgenia Gostrer (5). Most of these awards were conferred in Germany.



Audience awards


A total of nearly 160 audience awards were cited on our website. The most popular films in 2016 were the Spanish short TIMECODE by Juanjo Giménez, the German fiction film 90 GRAD NORD by Detsky Graffam and the Russian animated short WE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT KOSMOS by Konstantin Bronzit. The remaining audience awards were distributed among no fewer than 145 different titles. No large discrepancies between the votes of the audience and the expert juries could be identified. Audience awards were bestowed on almost all of the top ten films selected by the juries.



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. At most of the major festivals, however, the short form in the meantime is no longer a lead-in but is accorded its own competitions. This means that the short films shown there must be premieres. As festivals are the primary platform for short films, the question arises as to what extent this eligibility requirement keeps them from being screened elsewhere or else excludes them from enjoying a festival career.


  • Sundance (01/2016): Only the Special Jury Prize winner PEACOCK by Ondřej Hudeček enjoyed further success afterward – at the festival in Palm Springs.


  • Rotterdam (02/2016): Of the 3 winners of Tiger Awards, only ENGRAM OF RETURNING by Daïchi Saïto went on to achieve a further win – in Ann Arbor.


  • Berlinale (02/2016): The winner of the Golden Bear, BALADA DE UM BATRÁQUIO by Leonor Teles, won another prize at Belo Horizonte. The Silver Bear winner, A MAN RETURNED by Mahdi Fleifel, received four further awards in 2016. There were no subsequent wins for JIN ZHI CIA MAO by Chiang Wei Liang (Audi Short Film Award).


  • Cannes (05/2016): The Palm d’Or winner, TIMECODE, had a (very) successful subsequent festival career. But the seven other award-winners at the festival did not.


  • Locarno (08/2016): Apart from the Pardino d’argento winner, CILAOS by Camilo Restrepo, which also received a prize at ZINEBI in Bilbao, the winners in both the international and Swiss competitions came up empty in the further course of the festival season.


  • Venice (09/2016): Neither of the two triumphant short films received any further honours in 2016. One could argue that the festival year after Venice is too short, but the two Orrizonte prize-winners of the previous year did not receive any further festival awards either.



Award concentration – it’s still lonely at the top in 2016


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 managed to amass more than four awards each. The pattern continued in festival year 2010, when 54 films swept up nearly one quarter of all prizes. In 2011, 18 films dominated, with more than four awards each. And in 2012, there were 30 films that pocketed more than four prizes. 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 films 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, 26 films were recognised with more than four awards each, together taking 12% of all of the year’s festival prizes.


As in the previous year, 26 films received more than four awards each in 2016 and thus accumulated more than 160 of the 1,566 prizes registered in total for the year. The winners’ roster thus broadened slightly. But the distribution pyramid remains: over 10% of the awards still went to only 1.6% of all award-winning films. 914 of a total of 1,400 award-winning films received but a single prize in 2016.



Reinhard W. Wolf


Postscript: Disclaimer 😉 After we post these annual statistics online, we sometimes receive letters from filmmakers telling us they have received more awards than the ones mentioned here. This is no doubt correct if one takes into account all competitions and festivals 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. But if any important short film festivals are missing there, please let us know!