Ever since 2008 we have published an annual review of the short film prizes awarded the previous year. Now it’s time to take a look back at the year 2019.
Listing the winners invariably results in a kind of Hit Parade of shorts. This sort of ranking naturally does not form a basis for judging the films’ artistic quality, but it does indicate their popularity as measured by the votes of expert juries and viewing audiences. Ultimately these are market data stemming from the prevailing mood and subjective quality judgements.
The data collected not only reveals the success of individual films but also provides information on the role played by their countries of origin, the various festival locations and the popularity of different film genres. It becomes evident, for example, that short film production in some countries is more successful than in others, while cultural affinities can be traced between certain nations.
For some time now, I have also been observing a trend for just a handful of short films worldwide to win the lion’s share of awards and distinctions. This is a demonstrable fact, but it is impossible to know for sure whether these achievements are really indicative of the quality of those films or whether the decision-makers perhaps find themselves in a kind of echo chamber or filter bubble that influences their choices.
Basis for the evaluation
All honours and awards were analysed that were mentioned in the “Awards” section on shortfilm.de during 2019. This accounts for just over 1,700 citations. We naturally cannot publish all prizes and awards conferred on short films everywhere in the world.
Only reputable short film festivals with international competitions are registered here. 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 Oscars in the USA. In 2019, the website reported on events in 58 countries.
We usually list only the main prizes, but for the larger festivals we also include honourable mentions. As a rule, only short film festivals are taken into account, with the exception of major international feature film festivals with a short film competition – such as Cannes, Berlin, Locarno and Sundance.
Overall, we reported in 2019 on the jury decisions in 291 festivals and competitions – 61 of them in Germany. Due to our own geographical location, our reporting skews toward German as well as European festivals and competitions. But the short films cited come from all continents and regions of the world.
Strong production countries
Of the awards published on our website in 2019, the most by far went to films made in Germany (201 awards), France (148), the USA (145), the UK (91) and Spain (73). Co-productions are not included in these figures.
The countries at the top of the list and the share of prizes they win have remained remarkably consistent in recent years – and since 2016 even the order has stayed the same. In terms of absolute numbers, though, it is notable that, after years of declining figures, German films have experienced something of a comeback of late (187 winners in 2018). Of the total awards reported on the website, around half went to films from only nine countries.
Among the smaller countries population-wise 2019 was a banner year in particular for shorts from Poland and Belgium. Standout films occasionally catapult a country upward in the list for a brief time. In 2019, for example, worldwide wins by ZOMBIES by Baloji (B/DR Congo), NUIT CHÉRIE by Lia Bertels and CE MAGNIFIQUE GÂTEAU! (This Magnificent Cake!) by Emma de Swaef & Marc James Roels put Belgium in the top ten.
In Poland, three films – ACID RAIN, MILOSC BEZWARUNKOWA (Unconditional Love) and NIE MASZ DYSTANSU (You Are Overreacting) – swept up a large share of the awards for domestic 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, the USA, France and Spain, countries with a large number of short film festivals at which home-grown films normally have better chances of success than foreign rivals.
Likewise of interest are the figures indicating films’ success abroad. Ignoring co-productions, the following picture emerges: films from France (99 awards), the UK (59), Germany (50) and the USA (40) did best in foreign climes in 2019. As in 2018, French films once again led the pack, while Belgian and Polish films did better abroad than they had in previous years.
Looking at the countries that do not have a thriving short film festival scene comparable to those in France, Germany and Spain, it is noteworthy that films from the UK enjoyed disproportionate success abroad in 2019.
Success at home vs. recognition abroad
Following a pattern established in prior years, films from Brazil, Italy and Spain won substantially more awards at home than abroad in 2019.
This goes for Germany as well, which is however a special case in our statistics because our website lists the awards even at its smaller festivals with little international participation. German short films received 151 awards at home in 2019 (2018: 134) and showed a decline abroad, with 50 prizes (2018: 53; 2015: 91). If co-productions are counted, however, the number rises to 74 foreign awards.
The countries without a real short film festival scene, whose films thus receive awards almost exclusively abroad, include Russia, Romania and Iran.
Germany’s favourite production countries
The foreign shorts taking home the most prizes from Germany in 2019 were made in Austria (19 awards) and France (11). Films from the European countries the Netherlands (8), the UK (8) and Switzerland (6) also continued to impress juries in Germany, although the UK lagged behind its success of previous years somewhat. US films, on the other hand, saw a bit of a resurgence (5 awards compared to 2 the previous year). New in the race, with six prizes, were short films from Belgium.
Preferences in other countries
French films received the most foreign awards in 2019 in the USA (14), Germany (11), Spain (9) and Poland (7). Their current acclaim in the USA compared to before is striking.
Continuing a trend observed since 2013, British films were particularly strong in Germany (11 awards), the USA (10) and France (5). Conversely, German films have not found much favour in the UK for the past several years (except for one award in 2019 for the children’s film CAT LAKE CITY by Antje Heyn at the London International Animation Festival).
Shorts from the USA, besides winning raves at home (105 awards!), were also recognized across a broad range of other countries in 2019, particularly Germany (9), Canada (6) and the UK (5).
Spanish short films scooped up most of their foreign prizes in Germany and the USA (5), Italy (3) and France (2) – compared with 42 wins at home.
Films from the South American countries in turn did best on their own continent and otherwise gained appreciable recognition only in Spain. Only the animated film GUAXUMA by Nara Normande (BR/F) received awards worldwide (6 outside Brazil).
Outside their home soil, productions from the Nordic countries reaped the greatest acclaim in Germany (13 awards), France (6) and the USA (8). The most successful short film abroad was UNTITLED (BURNED RUBBER ON ASPHALT, 2018) by Tinja Ruusuvuori (FIN).
German films for their part won a number of awards in 2019 in the USA (7), France and Poland (5) as well as Austria (4).
International orientation of jury decisions
In those countries where more than 20 short film awards are presented annually, Poland, Switzerland, Portugal, Italy and Austria were those presenting the highest share to foreign films in 2019 (in each case more than 70% of the awards). In Germany, just over half of all prizes were given to foreign productions (50.33%).
By contrast, the following countries showered more awards on domestic than foreign shorts: Brazil, Australia, the UK, Norway and Belgium. In the USA, the scales tipped in 2019 in favour of foreign films.
The widest range of countries represented amongst the winners in competitions and at festivals can be found in Germany (43 different countries) and France (32), followed by Portugal (25) and Spain (24).
In total, the 2019 award-winners came from 86 different countries. The tendency toward greater internationalization witnessed over the last 10 years is thus stagnating. In 2017 and 2016, the winning short films came from 88 different countries and in 2015 from 84.
The year’s most successful short films internationally
The most decorated short of 2019 was the Canadian fiction film BROTHERHOOD by the Tunisian-born filmmaker Meryam Joobeur – a classic drama featuring a prodigal son, an ISIS fighter who returns from Syria in the company of a young woman to join his father, a tradition-bound shepherd, and his two brothers in Tunisia. The film is a co-production by Midi La Nuit (Montréal), Cinetelefilms (Tunisia) and others with the support of the Doha Film Institute. The makers of BROTHERHOOD report that it has received more than 70 awards (mostly in competitions that we do not cover on our website). A feature-length version is in progress.
Incidentally, Midi La Nuit also produced FAUVE by Jérémy Comte, which was the top winner the year before and is still in fourth place in our ranking for 2019.
In second place is the Romanian-Spanish fiction short CADOUL DE CRACIUN (The Christmas Gift) by Bogdan Muresanu. This family comedy/drama revolves around a little boy’s letter to “Father Frost” – the communist version of Santa Claus – during the final phase of the Ceausescu regime. Because the letter’s content could be understood as critical of the regime, the boy’s father is terrified of the repercussions.
In third place is the US fiction film SKIN by Guy Nattiv, which tells of the escalation of violence against African Americans in the white racist milieu. The film served as calling card for the eponymous feature film about a dropout from the white supremacist scene (SKIN, USA 2019).
Tied for fourth place are two puppet animation films: DCERA (DAUGHTER) by Daria Kashcheeva (CZ), which recounts in flashbacks the tale of a girl whose father fails to show her any love or empathy, and MÉMORABLE by Bruno Collet (F), where the consequences of Alzheimer’s disease are seen from the point of view of an affected painter.
Sharing the next ten places with an equal number of awards are the animated film ACID RAIN by Tomek Popakul (PL); the experimental documentary ALL INCLUSIVE by Corina Schwingruber Ilić (CH); the fiction film BEAUTIFUL LOSER by Maxime Roy (F), of which a feature-length version is also in the works (LES HÉROÏQUES); the animated documentary GUAXAMA by Nara Normandie (F/BR); the fiction short HÖRST DU, MUTTER? (Are You Listening, Mother?) by Tuna Kaptan (D); the French-Canadian animated film PHYSIQUE DE LA TRISTESSE (The Physics of Sorrow) by Theodore Ushev; the animated documentary EGG by Martina Scarpelli (F/DK); and the fiction film FAUVE by Jérémy Comte (CAN). The latter two headed the ranking in 2018.
2019 was not a strong festival year for short film from Germany. While five films made it to the upper ranks in 2018, only HÖRST DU, MUTTER? (Are You Listening, Mother?) placed highly in 2019, a fiction short by Tuna Kaptan (HFF Munich) dealing with repression against a Kurdish mother in Turkey.
In the middle field – in a group of 18 shorts of equal rank – the most successful were LAKE OF HAPPINESS by Aliaksei Paluyan, the animation children’s film NEST by Sonja Rohleder, the experimental film THE DIVINE WAY by Ilaria Di Carlo, and the experimental documentary UMBRA by Florian Fischer & Johannes Krell.
Worthy of note is that Julia Ocker’s animated films AMEISE and ELEFANT likewise did quite well, and that the animated documentary TRACING ADDAI by Esther Niemeier, which was among the top films in 2018, received a major award in Clermont-Ferrand, among other festivals.
A total of 161 audience awards were cited on our website. The opinions of audiences and expert juries diverged even more strongly than in past years. Even so, the audience favourite of 2019, the animated short MÉMORABLE, was also ranked highly by juries.
The great majority of the audience awards were distributed among a surprisingly wide range of films, with 161 prizes going to no fewer than 149 different shorts!
The number of films with a hybrid character makes it difficult nowadays to distinguish between different film categories and genres. But since most festivals still ask filmmakers to choose from the classic categories for their submissions, we only have these data to go on.
So, with the caveat that we are lacking this information for 224 of the 1,700 award-winners registered on our website, an evaluation of the remainder paints a clear picture: 610 awards for fiction films, 389 for animated films and 302 for documentaries. Experimental films, a particularly hard-to-define category, received 137 prizes in 2019. 44 awards went to shorts in the category “other” – most of them music video awards.
Fewer animated films took home awards than in 2018, being supplanted by the other categories, while fiction, as always, clearly came out on top.
Although there are two animated documentary films among the above-listed group of short films with the most awards, there is only one documentary. Seven of the shorts are fiction and one can be described as experimental. With 11 top-ranked titles, animated films are once again represented disproportionately. In other words, the juries preferred animated films and showed less regard for documentary and experimental works.
In 2019, family themes predominated over socio-political issues in the top group of prize-winners, in particular relations between sons and fathers.
In the same group of successful shorts, a conspicuously large number were intended as teasers for feature-length films, some of which are already in production. These shorts all premiered at major festivals with short film competitions (instead of festivals dedicated to short film).
Among the 13 most celebrated films, four were screened at the Annecy Festival (2018, 2019), three in Toronto (2018, 2019), and others at Sundance, in Rotterdam and in Venice. Only one film in this group had its premiere at a short film festival, at Clermont-Ferrand. This is a striking change compared to previous years, when films shown at these major festivals subsequently had a difficult time of it at short film festivals. Incidentally, the same applies to the nominees and winners at the 2019 Oscars (5 films in the top group).
Award accumulation – the result of echo-chambers?
We already noticed back 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, 15 films dominated, with more than four awards each. Starting in 2017, the pyramid flattened out somewhat.
In 2019, 1,019 of a total of 1,262 award-winning films received only a single prize. But 23 swept more than 4 awards each. This means that 1.8% of all winning short films received almost 9% of the prizes. The distribution pyramid was thus somewhat broader at the base compared to 2018, but the peak remained very steep.
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. If any important short film festivals are missing there, please let us know!
We will continue with our policy of not reporting awards from festivals that have only a regional or local reach, or from pseudo or fake festivals that exist solely to generate profits from entry fees and admissions.
Links to some of the films mentioned
complete film on Vimeo
complete film on Filmfreeway
- CADOUL DE CRACIUN (The Christmas Gift)
Production and trailer: https://mailukifilms.com/films/the-christmas-gift/
- DCERA (Daughter)
Trailer and Vimeo-on-Demand: Dcera (Daughter)
complete film on Vimeo
- HÖRST DU, MUTTER?
- PHYSIQUE DE LA TRISTESSE (The Physics of Sorrow)
Production and trailer: www.nfb.ca/film/physics-of-sorrow/
- ALL INCLUSIVE
Trailer on Vimeo
- BEAUTIFUL LOSER
Director’s film website and trailer: https://martinascarpelli.com/egg-2
complete film on Vimeo
complete film on Vimeo
- ACID RAIN
Production and trailer: http://animoon.pl/en/projects/acid-rain-happy-hardcore/
on the index page: BROTHERHOOD © Meryam Joobeur (Midi La Nuit / Cinetelefilms)
on this page: HÖRST DU MUTTER? © Tuna Kaptan (HFF München)
Link to last year’s article: <www.shortfilm.de/rueckblick-auf-die-kurzfilmpreistraeger-2018-eine-kleine-auswertung/>