Ever since 2008 we have published an annual review of the short film prizes awarded the previous year. Now it’s time to look back at the year 2020.
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 sheds light 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
We analysed all awards and prizes that were mentioned in the “Awards” section on shortfilm.de during 2020. This accounts for just over 1,200 mentions – about 400 fewer than the previous year due to the pandemic. 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 2020, the website reported on events in 47 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 2020 on the jury decisions in 198 festivals and competitions – 35 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 posted on our website in 2020, the most by far went to films made in Germany (135 awards), France (128), the USA (91), Spain (55) and the UK (51). International 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 constant in recent years – and even their order stayed the same from 2016 to 2019. In 2020, however, the UK and Spain traded places. In terms of absolute numbers, the only noticeable trend is that the share of German films is slowly declining. Of the total awards reported on the website, around half went to films from only eight countries.
Among the smaller countries population-wise, 2020 was a banner year in particular for shorts from Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Finland. Standout films occasionally catapult a country upward in the list for a brief time. In 2020, for example, the Czech Republic was amongst the top ten for the first time thanks to the award-winning short DAUGHTER (DCERA) by Daria Kashcheeva.
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. This is because films have better chances of winning awards on their home turf, so that more festivals in a particular country means 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 prevail over foreign rivals.
Likewise of interest are the figures indicating films’ success abroad. Ignoring co-productions, the following picture emerges: in 2020 films from France (86 awards), Germany (28), the USA (28) and Canada (25) did best in foreign climes. For the last 10 years, films from France have led the pack internationally, while Canadian films did better in 2020 than in previous years and British films were less successful than before.
Looking at the countries that do not have a thriving short film festival scene comparable to those in to France, Germany and Spain, it is noteworthy that films from Switzerland and Russia enjoyed disproportionate success abroad in 2020.
Success at home vs. recognition abroad
In 2020, films from Germany, the USA and Spain won substantially more awards at home than abroad. These results must be put into perspective for Germany, however, because our website lists the awards even at its smaller festivals with little international participation. German short films received 107 awards at home in 2020 (2019: 151) and showed a decline abroad, with 28 prizes (2015: 91; 2018: 53). If co-productions are counted, however, the number rises to 51 foreign awards.
The countries without a real short film festival scene, whose films thus receive awards almost exclusively abroad, include China and Russia.
Germany’s favourite production countries
The foreign shorts taking home the most prizes from Germany in 2020 were made in France (16 awards), the Czech Republic (7), Canada, Austria and the USA. Films from the Netherlands, Iran and Russia also continued to impress juries in Germany, but the UK fell far behind its success of previous years. US films, by contrast, saw a bit of a resurgence (6 awards compared to 5 and 2 the previous years). The Czech success is based on a single film (DAUGHTER).
Preferences in other countries
French films received the most foreign awards in 2020 in Germany, Spain, the USA and Portugal. Their current acclaim in the USA compared to before is striking.
Continuing a trend observed since 2013, British films were particularly strong in Germany and the USA. But the feeling is apparently not mutual, because German films have found little favour in the UK for the past several years.
Shorts from the USA, besides winning raves at home (65 awards), were also recognized across a broad range of other countries in 2020, particularly Germany (6) and the UK.
Spanish short films scooped up a few foreign prizes in 2020 in France (3) and Germany (2) – as opposed to no fewer than 44 wins at home.
Films from the South American countries in turn did best on their own continent and otherwise received appreciable recognition only in Germany and France. The most awards went to films from Brazil, among which QUEBRAMAR (BREAKWATER) by Cris Lyra was the most successful title.
Outside their home soil, productions from the Nordic countries reaped the greatest acclaim in Germany and the UK. The most successful short film abroad was NÅGOT ATT MINNAS (SOMETHING TO REMEMBER) by Niki Lindroth von Bahr (S).
German films for their part won a number of awards in 2020 in Spain (4), France (3), Poland and the USA (3 each).
International orientation of jury decisions
Among the countries where more than 20 short film prizes are presented annually, Switzerland, Portugal, Austria, Poland and France awarded the highest share to foreign films (in each case more than 60%). In Germany, just over half of all prizes were given to foreign productions (53.48%).
By contrast, Finland, the UK and Italy showered more awards on domestic than foreign shorts. In the USA, the scales already 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 (31 different countries), the USA (24), Spain (21) and France (20), followed by Portugal (13).
The 2020 award-winners came from 76 different countries. The trend toward greater internationalization over the past 10 years already started to stagnate in 2018 and has now dropped even further. In 2019, there were still 86 countries of origin.
The years’ most successful films internationally
The short film with the best track record by far in 2020 was the Czech animated film DAUGHTER (Dcera) by Tajik filmmaker Daria Kashcheeva. It tells of a woman keeping vigil at her father’s sickbed and remembering once bringing home an injured bird as a child. Without words, we are given to understand that her father’s lack of love and attention forever impaired their relationship. In this stop-motion film, Daria Kashcheeva stages rather clumsy papier-mâché figures as if shot with a restless hand-held camera in a documentary film. The short was made in 2019 as a co-production of the FAMU Film School with MAUR film (CZ).
DAUGHTER had its festival premiere in Annecy and received a nomination for the Student Academy, among other honours. In 2019, DAUGHTER was already one of the most successful films (in fourth place).
In second place in 2020 was the French animated film GENIUS LOCI by Adrien Mérigeau. The film centres on Reine, a solitary young Black woman who discovers in the chaos of a cityscape full of deserted buildings a kind of moving entity that becomes her spiritual guide. With a minimum of narrative, objects shown mostly in nocturnal scenes take on a life of their own. Stylistically, the film with its rough planes and strong colours is reminiscent of graphic novels.
The title in third place was the essay film HOW TO DISAPPEAR by the Austrian collective Total Refusal (Robin Klengel, Leonhard Müllner and Michael Stumpf). Shot almost like a documentary from within the hyper-real shooter game “Battlefield V”, the film shows the filmmakers as performer-players who attempt to break out of the game’s war narrative and escape or desert. An off-screen voice comments on the action and reflects on questions of obedience and discipline in real wars and on the ideology of computer games.
Tied for fourth place were the experimental animated film FREEZE FRAME by Soetkin Verstegen (B 2019), the anidoc film JUST A GUY by Shoko Hara from Japan (D 2020) and the French-Canadian animated short PHYSIQUE DE LA TRISTESSE (The Physics of Sorrow) by Theodore Ushev.
Four films shared fifth place: Moroccan artist Randa Maroufi’s staged documentary BAB SEPTA (F 2019), the tragicomic fiction film MASEL TOV COCKTAIL by Arkadij Khaet & Mickey Paatzsch (D 2020), the stop-motion animation MÉMORABLE by Bruno Collet (F 2019), and the fiction short THE PRESENT by Palestinian filmmaker Farah Nabulsi (PS/UK 2020).
In 2020, two German films made it onto the list of the top ten most frequently awarded films. The animated documentary JUST A GUY by Shoko Hara, about an incarcerated serial killer and sexualized female fan culture shared this distinction with the fiction short MASEL TOV COCKTAIL, which tells of the defiant son of Russian-Jewish immigrants who confidently confronts the anti-Semitism pervading his daily life.
In the middle field was the experimental photo film SERIAL PARALLELS by Max Hattler, which looks at the high-rise residential architecture in his new hometown of Hong Kong.
A total of 109 audience awards were cited on our website. After years of festival juries and audiences choosing similar favourites, this trend was already reversed in last year’s analysis. Only the most popular film with audiences in 2020, PHYSIQUE DE LA TRISTESSE (THE PHYSICS OF SORROW), received almost as many jury awards.
Conversely, no audience awards were registered on our website for the top-ranked films DAUGHTER, GENIUS LOCI, HOW TO DISAPPEAR, BAB SEPTA or SOMETHING TO REMEMBER.
The films awarded most frequently by festival audiences, THE PRESENT by Farah Nabulsi (Palestinian Territories), MARADONA’S LEG by Firas Khoury (PS/D) and I’M HERE by Julia Orlik (PL), received an equal number of jury distinctions. The next most popular films, FERROTIPOS by Nüll García (ES), GIRL MEETS BOY by Ferdinand Arthuber (D) and UZI (Fesseln) by Dina Velikovskaya (D/RU), each received only one jury prize.
And no less than half of the audience awards each went to a different film! Audiences thus displayed quite diverse tastes.
Sicherlich sind Filmkategorien oder Gattungen heute schwer zu unterscheiden, da viele Filme hybride Formen verwenden. Insofern die meisten Festivals bei der Einreichung nur klassische Gattungen oder Kategorien ankreuzen lassen, gibt es aber nur diese Daten.
The number of films with a hybrid character makes it difficult to distinguish these days between different film categories and genres. But since most festivals still ask filmmakers to choose between the classic genres or categories for their submissions, we are forced to base our analysis on these data.
So, with the caveat that we are lacking this information for 104 of the 1,235 award-winners registered on our website, an evaluation of the remainder paints a clear picture: 472 awards for fiction films, 299 for animated films and 222 for documentaries. Experimental films, a particularly hard-to-define category, received 105 prizes in 2020. And 37 awards went to shorts in the category “other” – most of them music videos.
There were no major changes compared to the previous year.
The group of films cited above as winning the most awards included only two documentaries; however, the virtual reality film and the anidoc can hardly be called classical examples of that genre. Four of the shorts are fiction films. With five award-winners, animated films were once again disproportionately represented at the top of the ranking. As in previous years, juries evidently had a lower opinion of documentaries and experimental shorts, and there are even fewer works in these categories among the audience awards.
In 2019, private and family themes were strongly represented in the top group of award-winners, but in 2020 socio-political issues came up more frequently. Fortunately, the juries did not hew to the media hype surrounding certain themes as might have been expected but instead recognized films addressing a diverse range of important contemporary issues.
It is perhaps noteworthy that many filmmakers have chosen hybrid formats to address such themes, combining different techniques and aesthetic strategies. Examples include the use of performative elements or staging for documentary purposes as well as the fusion of live action with animation.
In terms of festival policy, it is noticeable that the programmes of major festivals with short film competitions differ less and less from those of pure short film festivals. The most highly acclaimed films can now be seen almost everywhere. And, as was already the case in 2019, even the intersection with Oscar nominations is surprisingly high.
The long-standing trend of short films standing out at major premiere festivals and then rarely winning awards at post-release short film festivals was already broken in 2019. Of the thirteen films that received more than 4 prizes, only one was first released at a short film festival (THE PRESENT, Clermont-Ferrand), as in the previous year.
Three films had their premiere at an animation film festival (Annecy, Maribor, Stuttgart). The rest began their festival careers at events in Angers, Berlin, Rotterdam and Toronto, and at FID Marseille, Hot Docs and the Max Ophüls Awards.
In 2020, 769 of a total of 939 award-winning films received only a single prize. And a select group of 13 films swept up more than 4 awards each – the same as in 2019. In 2019, those 13 films accounted for 1.8% of all award-winners and yet took 9% of all awards. In 2020, they made up just 1.38% of all winners and picked up nearly 8% of all prizes. The distribution pyramid thus became somewhat flatter. Still, it remains an amazing phenomenon that so many pre-selectors and juries at nearly 200 festivals agree on just a dozen films they think are the best!
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
BAB SEPTA (F 2019, 19′)
Director’s URL: www.randamaroufi.com
DCERA (CZ 2019, 15′)
Director’s URL: http://dariakashcheeva.com/
FREEZE FRAME (B/D/FIN 2019, 5′)
Director’s website: www.soetkin.com
GENIUS LOCI (F 2019, 16′)
Director’s URL: adrienmerigeau.com
Production: Kazak Productions
HOW TO DISAPPEAR (A 2020, 21′)
Film website: www.leonhardmuellner.at/how-to-disappear/
URL of the collective: www.leonhardmuellner.at/total-refusal
JUST A GUY (D 2020, 15′)
Production company website: https://studioseufz.com/
MASEL TOV COCKTAIL (D 2020, 30′)
Official film website: https://kalamancha.de/
MÉMORABLE (F 2019, 12′)
Complete film on Vimeo vimeo.com/386669902
PHYSIQUE DE LA TRISTESSE (The Physics of Sorrow, CAN 2019, 26′)
Production and Trailer: www.nfb.ca/
SERIAL PARALLELS (Hong Kong 2019, 9′)
Director’s website: www.maxhattler.com/
THE PRESENT (PS/UK 2020, 24′)
Director’s website: www.farahnabulsi.com